Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 3

Author's note: After writing in the first person for the last three and a half years, I find it much easier than writing in the third person. So, back to the first person it is!

< Chapter 2                                                                                                        Chapter 4 >
The door to the apartment shared by Jeanine and the old man is blown into the apartment.


With the instincts forged through two decades of training, I dropped to the floor. In my peripheral vision, I saw my grandfather do the same. The door to our little apartment tumbled over us. Despite the noise from the blast, I heard a surprised grunt come from the balcony as the door crashed into someone coming in the back way. I rolled away from the line of sight from the doorway, triggering the catch for the dagger strapped to my right wrist. It slid neatly into my hand as I rose into a crouch.

“Balcony,” I said, my right arm already in motion.

With the flick of a wrist, I released the dagger. It spun toward a man partially covered by the door. He spotted the whirling blade a split second before it buried itself in his throat. His hands rose in a futile attempt to staunch the blood spurting from the throat as a second man leapt over the railing and onto the balcony. With professional detachment, the new man did not even spare a glance at the plight of his fellow. He should have taken a quick look. The man’s right foot landed in the spreading pool of blood and the foot slid a few inches. It wasn’t much of a slip, but it distracted the man and kept him motionless for just a tick too long. The dagger from my left wrist plunged into his right eye.

There was no one else coming over the balcony railing, so I spun toward the front door. Three men sprawled on the floor, already dead, as my grandfather broke the neck of a fourth.

“Clear,” I said, amazed that my voice remained calm and even. Lord knows I was anything but calm on the inside.

From the hallway, I heard the sound of a single person walking toward the doorway, the footfalls too heavy for a woman. I found its measured pace frightening as if an implacable and unstoppable enemy was after me.

My grandfather looked over his shoulder at me. “Argenta protocol.”

I gasped, my fear rising toward terror. Argenta protocol was simple—I ran for my life while my grandfather fought on alone. I never thought I’d hear my grandfather speak the words except as part of a training exercise.

Turning away from me, he did a second thing I never thought I’d see—he took his ceremonial sword off the wall and drew it from its scabbard. The blade I’d never before seen slid free, its brightly polished metal wreathed with glowing energy. Then I realized that the luminescence also surrounded my grandfather.

“Go!” Grandfather ordered, his eyes on the doorway. In a low voice only I could hear, he added, “Don’t forget your date tonight.”

I ran for the balcony, grabbing the bag with my blaster as I went.

A strong, pleasant voice filled the room. “It’s been a very long time, Jared.”

“Not nearly long enough, Phillip,” my grandfather snarled in reply.

I vaulted the railing of the balcony and dropped toward the street two stories below. Behind me, metal struck metal and energy crackled. I fell past a third man huddled below the balcony, hit the awning for the shop on the ground floor—one reason my grandfather selected this apartment—rolled over the edge of the awning, and dropped lightly to the street below.

My sudden arrival startled everyone around the shop, all of them drawing back from me and my bared blade. When the third man rolled off the awning and dropped to the street in front of me, the pedestrians recoiled even more. So you can imagine how they reacted when I drove my dagger up under the man’s ribcage and into his heart. Looks of fear turned into screams of panic as people ran from me. Their terror served my purposes. If these mysterious attackers had allies on the street, they would have to fight the stampede to reach me and that would give away their identities. Either there were no allies or, far more likely, they didn’t want to make targets of themselves. Whatever the reason, I had no trouble blending into the running crowd and then slipping into the first darkened alley I came to.

As I’d known, there was a fire escape in the alley. I quickly ascended several floors until I found an open window. Slipping through it, I walked quickly and quietly down the hallway toward the stairs. Most of the residents no doubt used the drop chute, but those things can be death traps. You’re a sitting duck if they shoot at you or a dead one if they simply turn off the grav unit. Besides, I needed a minute to brush dust from my clothes and straighten my hair.

Five minutes later, I walked boldly out of the building’s main entrance. I smiled and held the door for an elderly woman carrying a package, completing the illusion I was simply a resident on my way out.

The woman smiled her thanks and said, “I hope your young man appreciates just how lucky he is.”

“Pardon?” I asked, my mind still on the events at the apartment.

“A pretty girl like you all dressed up like that?” the woman replied. “It’d be a downright shame if there wasn’t a young man waiting for you.”

I forced a smile, hoping it didn’t look ghoulish. “That’s so kind of you to say, ma’am. Yes, there is a young man waiting for me.”

The woman nodded sagely. “First date jitters, dear?”

I guess my smile wasn’t as genuine as I’d hoped. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Just be yourself, dear, and try to have fun.” She waggled a couple of fingers at me and I released the door.

I forced myself to walk casually down the sidewalk, just a girl heading out on the town. I kept my eyes sweeping the area, watching for anyone paying too much attention to me. I caught a few men eying me, but their eyes focused on my breasts and butt instead of my face.

When I reached a shopping district, I ducked into a clothing store, selected a far more daring outfit from the catalog and slipped into a fitting and fabrication unit. A few minutes later, I emerged wearing a skirt barely long enough to cover my backside and a midriff-baring top that showed a lot of cleavage. I didn’t have time to change my hair color, but I’d put my hair up and covered it with a hat. Anyone looking for a redhead in black pants and shirt would look right over me—I hoped.

Twenty minutes later, I rounded a street corner and saw the tavern where Drake and I were meeting. Drake was standing outside, right where he said he’d be. He caught sight of me and his smile of greeting quickly widened as he took in my outfit. Still working hard to look casual, I sauntered up and gave him a kiss on the lips. It wasn’t a long kiss, but it lingered just long enough to build his hopes for an interesting evening.

“Hello, there,” Drake said, his arm snaking around my waist. “Are you hungry?”

“Mmm hmm,” I purred, “but why don’t we pick something up and take it back to your ship?”

“Just like that?” he asked.

“Just like that,” I replied. “After all, you heard what my grandfather said I needed.”

“He’s your grandfather? And he suggested I, um, you know?”

“Yes, he is.” I desperately hoped that was still a true statement. “And yes, he did. Are you going to take his advice or not?”

Without another word, Drake flagged down a passing cab and we were on our way to the spaceport. I was one step closer to getting off this planet, just as my grandfather ordered me to do.

What happened to Jeanine’s grandfather? Who is Phillip and what’s with those swords? Find out more in Chapter 4, coming Friday.