Sighted on target. Poised on the balcony above. The prince is walking in to the room. Perfect. They drilled this routine so much that the poor bastard is making sure to hit every mark exactly where they are supposed to. Otherwise, it won’t look right, and might offend some of the people in the room. Stopping at certain points to wave to one group of people, then another. Showing the right respect to the various ethnic groups. Everything is pitch-perfect, down to the motion of his hand. Kudos to this British ponce, he has this down to a science. Her Majesty’s staff trained him well. The worst part is that this only makes it easier for what I’m about to do.
Sighting is right on the money. Look down, follow his descent, but keep sight on target. Down the stairs, further and further. It all comes down to this. If this doesn’t work, it’s all fucked. Did I leave anything to chance?! No, I hadn’t. Got to the bottom, all the people around, looking at his regal features. He is to pause to wave now to everyone gathered. Show courtesy. Like true royalty. Sorry, dude. Your brother wants the throne more than he loves you. I fire. Suppressor muffles the shot, and with all the noise from the pomp and circumstance, there’s no way anyone can tell where it came from. Bullet goes through the support on the chandelier. Armor piercing round goes right through the exterior casing and hits the chain holding it up. Time stops as it jerks, then falls. Poor bastard didn’t even have a chance to look up and wonder before his body was smashed to bits underneath it. The beautiful crystal glass looks spectacular as it smashes everywhere. Mixed with red as blood burst out from his destroyed body. A subtle beauty in that.
No time to stay and marvel at the horridness of it. People will be looking around, and I can’t risk being seen, even though I’m in the dark. Too many assassins are caught sticking around. That’s not how I work. All of this is nothing but a paycheck to me. From there I hop over the awning onto the roof of the building. I’m in a cleaning uniform. In seconds I’ve disassembled my weapon and put it into a bag. A Finnish model rifle, gotten through an intermediary who gets weapons to terrorists. Nobody in the world knows who this guy is, and he can get anything.
Once packed up, I put the weapon on my cart and head down to the maintenance room. Someone acknowledges me, but not in a serious way. Just a courteous “oh, you exist” kinda way before moving on to something else. Once outside of any camera’s view, I send a simple text. “Contract complete, 12 hours to wire payment.” I pull the SIM card, and that’s it. They will never hear from me again, unless they don’t pay. But this client knows better. Government officials always do. A shame that all of this was family drama, but that’s how it goes.
I get in the truck that I knicked from their employer’s office, driving it back and parking it outside their fence, away from cameras. From there, grab my bag, and head out. A simple job, all things considered. Hardest part was getting the uniform and vehicle out of their undetected. And just like that, a specter, I disappear. Headed home.
On the flight, I check my company’s account, and a payment was just received. $15 million. Not a bad paycheck for killing a future king. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had the perfect venue for this, I would have charged more. But I always do my own analysis for this. Have a information network that was able to give me a complete breakdown of everywhere my target was going to be over the next few days, and what to expect there. A gift from a life of being a military assassin – resources in low places. Would allocate funds as needed for their work. I run a “respectable” business, after all, and my “independent contractors” need to get paid.
Surprised that all of this is done through a legit company? Don’t be. Private military companies are all over the world, and if you incorporate in the People’s Republic of Texas, you can get away with anything. Their legal rules about owning a business enable so much crime that you wouldn’t even believe. I have legitimate contact with cartels through their state. One of the many hypocrisies about America that I just love. It never, ever ends.
After everything went down with leaving the STARS, I immediately knew how to put my skills to work again. It wasn’t like I could walk away from the kind of work I did. Not ever. Everything playing out the way it did, killing is the only legitimate life skill I have, outside of espionage. And that was something my company also offered. A company with one active agent, that’s why we were able to pick and choose our contracts carefully. Everything was done within the comfort of euphemism, after all. Same with regular PMCs. There was “threat suppression,” “intelligence gathering,” and “asset protection,” among others.
Took years of work to get where I wanted it to be, but now I got business done from some of the best/worst people in the world. Didn’t matter to me. The whole thing is burning down anyway, so why should I care if I have to watch some global leader burn down with it? Everything in my life that mattered was gone. Now I just wanted to live a good life in a place that was beautiful, until I got too old to do this kind of work and retired.
As I thought about that, something did come to me – is there nothing that matters still? What about Emily? Sweet kid. She was getting her cast off in a couple days and asked that I be there. Was so antsy to be up and about again. Asked if I could help her get fit. Kiddo was still all about joining the Navy to become a pilot and get into space. Maybe it wasn’t just a flight of fancy. Poor kid. She was gonna pay for that when I started putting her through training. I won’t expect her to immediately be able to meet Outstanding High fitness requirements for boot, but I would push her as far as I could.
However, there was a thought about having a young protege to teach my Navy knowledge that felt nice. Like a student of mine. I would take her on walks to my place and we’d hang out. Would hear about her random space knowledge, geeky habits, and her asking me about Navy life. We hadn’t gone into the personal stuff like last time in ages, but I knew the questions would be coming back. I think she was being careful. Sweet kid. She didn’t want to risk things fraying with us. Probably because, as I’ve gleaned from our conversations, she doesn’t have a particularly large friend group. So much like me at her age. I had one legit friend. Still do. He’s part of my information network. Helped me start the business. Technically, he’s CFO on my incorporation paperwork drafted up by his lawyer.
It was becoming like having a little sister to look after, and that was a nice feeling. Rolling my eyes as she talked about boys, but not saying too much. Guess she figured it was awkward, because I’m gay. I told her it wasn’t, but I don’t think she believes me. It really isn’t. I was a teenager and remembered a couple girly-mates (my best friend’s term for girls who are just friends) talking about their crushes. Before I was outed as gay, I would just listen and pretend to be all awkward and cute when people would bring it up. I could play it off with the best of them.
Almost home. Would take a long shower and then crash. Some green herb sounded nice too. The perfect way to relax. One of the many perks of living in Washington. Something mellow and toasty, to keep my brain relaxed. Memories coming back. Was tired now. No further tasks to accomplish. Could sleep…
I sighted down on the target. So far away. The breeze wasn’t strong, but it was steady. Cold winter forests of Canada. Learning from some of the greatest snipers in the world. It’s a fact. The Canadian sharpshooters are known the world over. Their only real challengers are the Arabic ones, though for very different reasons. Canadian sharpshooters have a history going back before World War I. Studying it was one of the few times I’ve actually enjoyed being in school.
Our teacher here was the kindest, most polite person you’d ever meet…outside of training. When we were doing arctic survival or sharp-shooting training, this man had absolutely no mercy. None whatsoever. Which is where I found myself now, sighting down on a target over 2,000 meters away from my position. The mark I had to hit was the size of a pin-head, even in my scope. This was madness! How could someone be reasonably expected to hit something that small?!
Capt. Francois Deauveau was standing over my shoulder. Could feel his cold gaze down upon me. A Quebec man, born and raised, with all the haughty French Canadian arrogance. Though he did earn it. I’d seen this man show up all of us on the first day. We were definitely in good hands. His troopers weren’t fucking around, either. But they didn’t have the insane testosterone levels that you saw in American men. Being stuck around a group of all men without me feeling like keeping my knife close. There’s something.
“I can feel you wanting to rush, Seaman,” the Captain said in that level tone of his.
“Just getting my sighting down, sir.”
“You have all the time in the world, Seaman Pierce. That target isn’t going anywhere.”
His badgering wasn’t helping.
“You only take the shot when you know you have the target. I have failed three of your program for this challenge. Do not add your name to the list. The test is not what you think it is.”
What the fuck did that mean?! Are they not testing my shooting skills?! If they aren’t, then what the fuck are they testing? So frustrating. But then I remembered something Lulu told me, a long time ago. He said that all tests have a trick question, and to try and see around it. I was just told that this test had a trick question. Told that I’m rushing. That the target isn’t moving. Only to shoot when I’m ready. It suddenly hit me what I was being tested on. And I knew how to pass it.
Taking a look down the scope again, I let out a breath. There was all the time in the world. Which meant I could try and see a way around this. After all, that is a tiny target to hit. If it isn’t moving, perhaps there is a way to guarantee my victory. Looked around. Around the target was made to be like a base. There were tents signifying structures, along with equipment. I thought that this was just to signify a base, but what if there was more to it than that?
Focusing my sight a little bit, I tried to get a closer look at the nearby tents. There was one right by the target. What was in there? Boxes, stacked vertically. The target was a ways away from the rest of the camp. Any base has rules that you have to store munitions away from the main structures, to avoid friendly casualties. That’s it! Sighting in, I took a deep breath and held it.
Could only hear my heart beat. Bang! The air hung there for a couple seconds. Then, the area lit up orange and yellow. An explosion! I sighted back at the target. It was blown to bits!
“Fuck yeah! Suck on that!” The grin on my face was from ear to ear. Suddenly realized that I was in the presence of a superior officer. Clicking the safety on the weapon, I lowered it.
“Sir, target neutralized.”
“Aye, a good shot too. How did you know that hit the tent, Seaman Pierce?”
“Sir, as you stated the target was not in motion, I took the time to analyze the surroundings and came to the conclusion that the tent was storing munitions. As such, I deemed that I could hit it with this rifle and detonate what was inside. Doing so provided a higher probability of killing the target than simply aiming at it.”
“True, but this does make a lot of racket. Is that a good way to take out a target?”
“Sir, confusion is a blessing as well as a curse. Enemies who are in disarray cannot organize a proper counterattack. And given my distance from the target and only firing a single shot, the chances that I would be detected is minuscule.”
His seriousness went down then as a smile came to his face as well. “Your reasoning is sound, Seaman, but keep in mind – in the field, best to not get up and cheer after making a shot. Raises your chance of being noticed.”
Some snickers from the others in attendance.
My face went bright red. “Aye-aye, sir.”
Patting me on the back. “You pass, Seaman Pierce. Safety your weapon and return to camp.”
Snapping to attention. “Aye-aye, sir!”
I got back just in time for the appointment for Emily to get her cast removed. After getting back and logging the mission report in my black box, I finished the required contractual paperwork with the client, and then went to bed. Crashed right into it. My bed was so soft, but the back was firm. So many people have shitty posture. Wasn’t going to risk that. There were never bad dreams when I got back from a mission.
The following day, I reported to the hospital at 1300. Emily was no longer in her chair. By this point she was walking with crutches. Her clavicle had healed a week before, enabling her to walk again. A fact that made her happy beyond reason. Meant she could go back to her own room as well. Though it meant she had to go back to school, but her father made very sure that her physical ed requirements could be put on hold until her cast came off. This guy is a really good dad.
“Quinn, you’re here!” The brightening of her face was somewhat infectious.
As much of a happy look as I could, I nodded to her. “Excited to have the cast removed?”
“Yes! This thing sucks.”
I remembered back to when she had injured herself and the doctor’s medical report.
“Wouldn’t mind seeing what the scar on your leg looks like. The medic said that it should form a near-perfect ring around your foot. A little curious to see if he’s right.”
That got a down look from her. “Yeah, an ugly scar that I’ll have to explain for the rest of my life. Yay…”
Gave her a look. “Don’t be so glum. Could be worse. You could have had that leg get ripped off, or died.” Didn’t actually think the last option was that bad. My life meant very little to me, at this point.
“Yeah, yeah. Dad’s been saying the same thing to me.”
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
Her father came back from the coffee shop, with something for him and the kiddo. Wish my dad had been a third of the man that he was when I was her age. But that’s just a bad memory from another life. One that I didn’t even work to keep in my heart anymore. Truth was, until I had these two come into my life, my own family was always very far from my mind. Last I had heard, big sis got married and had a couple kids with some choir boy who loved him some church. Good for her, I guess.
He also brought me a mocha. That was awfully thoughtful of him. I think he was happy with me becoming a surrogate big sister to Emily. He’d said to me that given how alone she was a lot, he worried about her sometimes. But even though we’d met under unfortunate circumstances, me coming into her life had improved her mood dramatically. Now she couldn’t shut up about me. Gave me some pride, if not also agreeing that it was unfortunate that I met her at a low point in her life.
Once we got back, the nurse got right to work. This woman clearly had lots of experience. Her tools cut right through. As expected, the leg had a decent amount of hair grown in. Emily openly lamented that, while her father rolled his eyes and remarked about women. Silly man. The things he can never understand. At least from a teenage girl perspective.
“Back when I was on deployment, you think that’s a lot of hair. You have no idea.”
Got a look from her in horror.
“Like a bunch of monkeys on that ship.”
John was chuckling. Glad I wasn’t the only one to see the humorous side of this.
Looking down at the scar, the doctor was right. It formed a near perfect circle around her ankle. Was quite the scar, too. Like a creepy zipper all around. I remembered how ugly that looked when I first saw it. Glad the foot didn’t have to removed. Little mercies. More groaning from her about how much this sucked, but I tuned that out. You know, that mocha wasn’t half bad. I could go for another. And listening to the medic go over the situation with the two of them wasn’t so interesting. As such, I excused myself.
Headed to the cafe, I turned a corner and stopped dead. I couldn’t believe the person standing in front of me. Lieutenant Evans! Hadn’t seen him since I went AWOL, all those years ago. He didn’t come to my court martial. I had no doubt that I had disappointed him beyond the pale. Couldn’t imagine how angry my Alpha Team girls were with me.
“Lt!” I said, more of a whisper than I meant it to be.
“Pierce?! What the hell are you doing here?” Seems he was just as shocked.
“Escorting a friendly to medical for a follow-up. You?”
“Something like that. Never would have imagined I’d run into you after all these years here.”
“Aye, sir. Definitely wasn’t what I was expecting.”
He got a coldly analytical look, giving me the once-over. “You look like you keep in shape.”
“Aye. I keep up on my PT. Can’t let myself get soft, after all.”
“Aye. Got a job for a PMC.”
Rolled his eyes. “Why am I not surprised.”
Now it was my turn to be cold. “Not a lot of openings for a modern ninja assassin, Lt. I get the work that I can find.”
Leaning against the wall. “It pay?”
“Aye. Well. Making a hell of a lot more there than I ever did for the STARS, I tell you what.”
“Selling out your country for a better pay grade?”
“I didn’t sell out my country!”
“You sold out your Team, Pierce! Dress it up how you like, you ditched the STARS and didn’t even have the courage to come face us afterwards.”
My fist clenched. “You don’t know anything about why I left, Lt! Not a fucking thing!”
“Well, you weaseled your way out of a dishonorable discharge, somehow. So I guess it must have been big enough for someone up top to cover for you. Congratulations, Pierce.”
Was so pissed right then. “Is that how the rest of Alpha Team sees it?”
“Oh, they are angrier than I am, believe you-me. Those women would have followed you into Hell without a second thought. But you didn’t even give them that opportunity. You just left. Least you could have done was have the guts to talk to them afterwards.”
Guilt hit me like a load of bricks. It was cowardly to not even give them my side of the story. They wouldn’t understand! I was trying to protect them! But I couldn’t tell him about why. Couldn’t tell anyone. So all I could do is stand there and lower my gaze.
“That’s what I thought. Look, I’m sorry for your loss, Pierce, but you had no right to do this to those women. None! If you wanna dress that up, it’s on you. Personally, I think it makes you a gutless coward who insulted the uniform. But you got out of a dishonorable discharge, so what’s done is done, I guess. Personally, I would have thrown you out and let everyone spit at you on the way out the door. Have a nice life, Pierce.” Dude definitely had his drop the mic moment. Walking away, with is virtue fluttering. Couldn’t tell him. Couldn’t say why I did it, and what I did. Slammed my fist into the wall. People looked up. I decided to walk away. Suddenly didn’t want coffee anymore.
“What’s Alpha Team? Who are the STARS? Why did you ditch them?”
In horror, I looked up to see Emily standing there, a concerned look on her face.
Until next time, a quote,
“I’ll tell you what bravery really is. Bravery is just determination to do a job that you know has to be done.” – Audie Murphy
Happy Veterans Day to all those who swore the oath.