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Shadows of the Mind Collection
By Mandi Jourdan
Clarisse glared at the list of names projected above the holofile on her desk. She’d been studying the list for the better part of an hour, and no matter how she tried to shake the beginnings of a bad idea from her mind, she couldn’t entirely rid herself of it.
The words “Known Assassins’ Guilds” glared ominously up at her from the top of the readout hovering several inches above the smooth, flat silver screen. Clarisse flicked the right edge of the projection, and its title disappeared to give way to more items on the list as the cursor scrolled downward.
I don’t want the help of any of these. Caedis, Laurea, Viperae… Clarisse shook her head. They can’t be trusted. How did we get to the point that we can’t stop the guilds, anyway? How did we lose that much power?
As she surveyed the names, she fiddled absently with the small chain links of the gold bracelet on her left wrist. She remembered the day she’d given one just like it to her niece, who had, as a child, wanted to follow in her footsteps and work for the government. Clarisse had brought Ravenna along on several visits to the White House when she’d been Senior Advisor to President Hartley, and now that she had been reassigned to head an organization that was far more trouble than it was worth, Clarisse found her thoughts returning to her niece again.
Would she want to be part of this? Could I even tell her I was the one hiring her? I would have to arrange something. I’d be drawing attention to her; I have to make sure she’s protected.
Clarisse skimmed the list for a few seconds longer without seeing a word projected, and then she pulled in a quick breath and pushed herself backward from her desk. She slid to her feet, and her chair bobbed slightly where it hovered just above the floor at the loss of her weight. She rolled her shoulders backward, smoothed out her skirt, and kept her hold on the holofile as she strode out of her office and down the corridor.
The walls on either side of her path were lined with paintings that had been considered antique for hundreds of years; former leaders stared somberly out at the hallway. Clarisse refused to allow her eyes to linger on any of them for too long. She doubted most of them would have allowed their nation to be put into this position in the first place.
When she reached the door she sought, Clarisse pulled in a long breath and knocked.
“Yes?” called the voice of President Isabella Hartley from the other side.
“It’s Clarisse, ma’am.”
Clarisse pushed open the door and entered the Oval Office. Isabella sat at her desk, her hands folded and her long red hair pulled back into a tight bun.
“Have you had any luck solving our problem?” Isabella asked.
“Somewhat, Madam President,” said Clarisse. “As you know, my niece is… ah…”
“She’s run into trouble with the law?” Isabella supplied.
Clarisse’s cheeks burned. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Where is she, now? Still in Chicago? Did she align with one of the guilds?”
“No. She works alone.” Clarisse pulled in a long breath and let it out again. “Madam President,” she continued, “I’ve thought about this for weeks, since your proposal that we enlist a guild to take the Seven down. I think we would stand a better chance of remaining off the radar if we hire lone assassins. People who won’t draw attention because they choose not to be found even by others like them. If they succeed, word won’t spread, and if they fail–” The words died in Clarisse’s throat. She refused to allow herself to picture Ravenna failing at such a dangerous game.
When Clarisse said nothing for a few moments, Isabella spoke again.
“You want her to be one of them?” she asked, raising a red brow.
Clarisse swallowed, her fingers moving to her bracelet on reflex. “I know Ravenna’s capable,” she said. “I only waited this long because I worry about her. I decided I trust her to do it and keep herself safe.”
Isabella glanced to the photoscroll on her desk. Though it was facing away from Clarisse, she knew it contained a series of images of Isabella’s family programmed to play on a loop.
Isabella, no doubt, was thinking about her daughter, who was Ravenna’s age.
“In exchange, I’d want her pardoned,” said Clarisse. “For everything. Off the record.”
Isabella’s eyes flicked back to meet Clarisse’s, her mouth pressed into a tight line.
“I knew it would be something like that,” Isabella muttered.
“She’s made mistakes. I just… I think she can change–can stop going down this path. And when she does, I want her to be able to put it all behind her. Please, Madam President. I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me.”
I gave up my real job as your advisor to head the Division. And now the blood of everyone those androids have killed is on my hands, Clarisse wanted to say.
Isabella watched her, and Clarisse kept all her focus on remaining still and slowing the thrum of her pulse. At last, Isabella sighed.
“Fine,” she said. “An unofficial pardon in exchange for one of them being silenced.” She held out her hand. “You have my word.”
Relief crashed over Clarisse, and she grabbed Isabella’s hand a bit more firmly than she’d intended.
“Thank you, ma’am. Thank you.”
Everything about this hit felt wrong.
Ravenna had been hired to take out a target in Washington, D.C. Her rational side had screamed at her not to agree, as the odds of being caught were considerably higher here than most any other place she could have gone. But her heart had become hollow, and she had nothing to lose. The only thing of any value to her was on her wrist, tucked beneath the arm of the black sweater she’d chosen to block out the biting wind. She’d received the bracelet from her aunt Clarisse before leaving home as soon as she’d graduated high school. It was the twin to Clarisse’s own, and the reminder of the relative Ravenna had always admired most was welcome, when she hadn’t seen anyone in her family for years.
As though the overwhelming presence of the law in the city had not been difficult enough to navigate to get to the spot her mark was supposed to be, the lack of information provided by her employer was complicated matters. Ravenna knew nothing about the man she was to kill apart from his name. No history, no justification for what she planned to do.
When choosing her clients over the years, she had elected to gravitate toward the targets that were guilty of one thing or another. It helped her sleep at night to know that some good might come of her actions, if only in the form of the prevention of future wrongs. She viewed herself as an agent of karma.
Now, however, things were different. She had no idea who the man known only as “Ra” really was, only that she was tasked with killing him.
Ravenna leaned against a wall in an alleyway, awaiting her moment of opportunity as she blended into the darkness. Her target was expected to pass this way within the hour, if her information was correct. The shops nearby had all closed for the night, and so far, Ravenna had only seen a few sets of headlights pass.
A group of tourists drifted down the sidewalk in front of the alley, chatting loudly. They looked around the right age to be high school students, and Ravenna’s chest clenched at the sight of them.
“Let’s hope someone doesn’t get herself separated from the group again tomorrow,” said one of the passersby, poking her companion in the shoulder.
“It wasn’t my fault! I left my phone at the hotel! I wanted to call you, but I couldn’t. Besides, the one time I was actually lost, none of you realized it until I showed up again and scared the hell out of you.”
“The flight simulator was incredible,” said a boy walking behind the first pair.
“It was,” said the girl beside him with a nod. “I still can’t believe you let me work the guns.”
Their voices gradually faded, their words mingled with laughter.
Ravenna wished more than anything to return to that age. In just a few short years, she’d lost everything she’d loved about her life, and there were days she couldn’t recognize herself in the mirror. She couldn’t recall the last time she had been genuinely happy.
After the group’s voices had deserted the area, a lone figure passed, his hands in his pockets and his vision directed toward the sidewalk.
Several seconds after he was clear of the alley, Ravenna slipped silently into the street after him. Her feet fell on the pavement in precise time with his, and she had almost convinced herself that things would go according to plan.
“You’re not bad at this,” said the man.
Ravenna’s heart leapt into her throat.
“Not fantastic, but not bad.”
The man turned to face her, and his features were caught in the glow of a streetlamp. His skin was olive, and his dark hair was pulled back behind his head. His eyes were a startlingly bright shade of green, and they held a kind of dark fire she had never seen.
She reached for the plasma gun at her side and drew it in a flash. Returning her attention to where her target should have been, she found that he had disappeared. She scowled and opened her mouth, but before she could make a sound, she heard his voice at her ear.
Ravenna jumped, whipping around to face him. She pointed the gun at his heart, and he slid to the side and into the next alley more quickly than she had ever seen anyone move.
“Not fantastic,” he said.
The taunts and the fear surging through Ravenna set her on edge. She fought to remain focused. To anticipate.
I can’t fire until I get a shot. The second I do, cops will be on their way, and I can’t leave until I take him down.
She trained the gun on him for a second time, and again he evaded her, moving in a blur farther down the alley.
What the hell? He can’t be human. Why would someone hire me to take down an android?
“Do you have any idea who I am?” Ra demanded. “You’re out of your depth.”
Ravenna charged toward him, her weapon raised. As Ra surged forward in an attempt to slip past her, Ravenna swung out her leg, focusing all her energy on tripping him.
Ra stumbled but did not fall. He caught Ravenna by the wrist, and her muscles screamed and strained as he used his grip on her to toss her toward the street. She threw out her free hand to catch herself. Her palm seared as it snagged on the sidewalk.
Ravenna forced herself to her feet and started into the alley after her target.
Enough. That’s enough.
Ra laughed. He stood exactly where she had left him, holding her bracelet up toward the light of a streetlamp.
“If you give up this charade now, I’ll let you li–”
Ravenna pulled the trigger, and her plasma bolt sank into Ra’s abdomen.
“Not your call,” she said flatly.
Ra frowned, looking downward. Blood spilled from his stomach onto the sidewalk.
Without hesitation, Ravenna walked toward him, firing one shot after the next. If he was an android, she knew one shot would not be sufficient.
An angry shout worked its way from Ra’s throat as he launched himself toward her. Closing her eyes and bracing herself for the worst, she fired again.
Endless moments passed in an empty silence.
Ravenna forced her eyes open and let out a sharp breath. Ra lay at her feet, unmoving, a few of the bracelet’s links spilling between his fingers and synthetic blood pooling in the new hole in his chest.
A scream cut through the night, followed by a succession of footsteps from the way the tourists had disappeared.
“Jo, call the police!” shouted a voice that sounded like the boy who’d walked past Ravenna’s hiding place.
“Time’s up,” Ravenna breathed.
She turned on her heel and ran.
Clarisse surveyed Ra’s unblinking emerald eyes. She’d always been unsettled by how inhuman they looked in each of the Seven.
Why couldn’t our engineers at least try to make them pass for normal?
She sighed and pulled the white sheet covering the lower half of Ra’s body up to conceal his face, as well.
“As promised,” said Isabella’s voice from behind her, “I will ensure that no one is looking for Ravenna.”
Clarisse turned away from the dead android and faced Isabella, who stood in the chrome-plated lab’s doorway.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Clarisse said quietly.
Isabella nodded. “And this was with him.”
She reached out and dropped Ravenna’s golden bracelet into Clarisse’s hand.
She’s fine. She succeeded, and she’s fine.
Still, Clarisse’s mouth went dry, and she slipped the bracelet into her pocket without a word.
About the Author
Mandi Joudan 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.