Max, the bartender of the Mare Inebrium looked up from the glass he was polishing just as the main doors swished open. A raven haired angel walked through the portal and sauntered towards the bar. Skin tight syn-skin hugged her body, caressing her curves and displaying her charms to all in the bar. All conversation ceased as the woman traversed the main bar room. Every pair of eyes in the place tracked her lithe movements.
None of the bar's patrons knew this dark angel, and it was doubtful any of them would. For she was Tarja, seductress, assassin, a woman whose hands could kill as quickly as her looks.
Max knew Tarja. She was the girlfriend of Kestrel, the cousin of one of his ex-wives. Kestrel was a sniper in the Space Marine Corps, so it was not unusual really that he had a girlfriend like Tarja. He also knew that Tarja was one of the galaxies best assassins.
Max knew the she seldom took a night off to go drinking, and if she was here on this planet and in this bar, someone was going to die. He tried to think of who he had offended lately, then gave up. Anybody from his shady past could be out to get him, and a few now had the wealth to hire someone like Tarja.
He tried to put on a smile as the assassin fronted the bar, but it was a pasty imitation. Tarja gave him one of her sweetest mischievous grins and said, "Hello Max, how has business been?" "Um, not too bad," Max replied. "W-What can I get you?" Max cursed himself for his nervousness. But there was little he could do. The woman on the other side of the bar could kill every man in the room, and walk out as if nothing had ever happened. She could also keep a man alive for months, just on the cusp of death, begging for release. Max could deal with bar-room brawlers, and likely lads who fancied themselves as villains, but Tarja was in a whole different league.
Tarja was enough to make the Reever nervous, much less Max.
"Something non-alcoholic," she replied. "I'm working." She winked as he blanched. "Oh and Max...." The bar tender looked at her face expecting to feel pain. "Relax, you're not on my hit parade." Max let out a breath that he didn't even realised he was holding and grinned, just as Taja said, "Yet."
Now that he knew she was teasing Max laughed and got her drink. They spent a few moments swapping news of Kestrel, who despite being a 'grunt', as Max called him, was the bartender's favourite cousin.
Max began to see just what Kestrel saw in this beautiful angel of death. Oh, she was beautiful all right, but there was more to her than that. Even more than her skills as a killer. Max found that he enjoyed her company once he relaxed. She had a sharp sense of humour, if a little dark at times, and was up to date with all the news and intrigues happening, both in this area of space and in the rest of the galaxy.
The natural hubub of the bar had returned to normal by the time another party arrived to freeze the atmosphere with their presence.
Four heavily armed men marched in and surveyed the room, their stern faces doing a fair imitation of granite. A soft word spoken into a com-link was followed by the entry of a large fat man in an expensive tailored suit. Four more armed guards walked at his back, their penetrating stares an open challenge.
Tarja watched them enter and then picked up her drink. She sighed and said, "Work time." With a smile and wink at Max she discreetly headed to a darker corner of the bar. She found an empty table and sat down facing where she guessed the group would sit.
The fat man and his entourage headed straight to the table Tarja assumed they would. She allowed herself a small smile and sipped her drink.
A waft of sour whisky, and a rough voice dropping the worst pick-up line in history caused her to grimace and look up. A drunk, unshaven man with slept-in hair stood waveringly in front of her. Obviously a private eye or a bounty hunter. Tarja would have preferred to be left alone, or to have someone at least half-way pleasant sit next to her. But she knew that an attractive woman alone in a bar draws attention sooner or later, and attention was something she did not need at the moment. At least the smell of this man would keep everyone else away. She motioned for him to sit and went back to studying the group who were ordering drinks from Trixie.
There was little she could pick up from where she sat. The man was well shielded by his bodyguards, and they seemed very professional and alert. She felt the gaze of one flicker over her, barley resting for a second before moving on. These men would not easily be distracted by her feminine charms. Tarja felt the first stirring's of respect for these men. Most men turned to putty if she even smiled at them, and that weakness disgusted her. Respect for them however would not stop her from killing them all, if they got in the way.
The drunk next to her flopped about in his chair droning on about his gallantry and courage, spraying the table with whisky flavoured spittle.
Taja ignored him as a second group entered the bar. This group was a mirror of the first, armed guards in first followed by the man they guarded, dressed expensively and looking as if he owned the galaxy.
The two groups met in the middle of the hushed bar. The air was charged as all waited to see what would happen. The two men approached each other while their guards tried to outstare their counterparts. The two men shook hands, and the fat man motioned for them to retire to a private room. The group shuffled off between tables with the security men pointing weapons at any patrons within lunging distance.
Tarja stood and prepared to leave. She bent down and kissed the drunk on the cheek and whispered, "I'll be back soon lover. And then I'm gonna rock your world." The man swallowed and nodded eagerly, promising that he would sit right where he was until the world ended if need be. Tarja wasn't listening. She was already heading to the ladies room, scrubbing her lips with the back of her hand.
Once in the privacy of the ladies room, Tarja let loose with a string of curses, about drunks and men in general. She quickly ascertained that she was alone, and then climbed up to the air conditioning duct. The grill popped off easily, as Tarja had prepared it two nights before. No-one had seen her come in or leave. Her disguise had been perfect. Not even Max had known that he had served her.
Once in the vent, she replaced the grill and picked up her stashed weapons. Everyone had seen her enter the bar tonight in skin tight clothing. There was nowhere she could have hidden a weapon, so in their minds there would be no way to accuse her of what was about to happen.
Strapping the weapon belt around her waist Tarja quickly called up a mental plan of the ducting system and orientated herself so that she could find her way to the room used by the two men. Then with the stealth of a great cat, she crawled through the duct on her hands and knees.
She had just reached the strangely angled cross junction that led to the room when she heard a noise in the duct ahead. It was the squeak of flesh on metal. Someone else was in the ducting!
Adrenaline surged through her body. Who could be up here, now? And why? Whatever the answers Tarja could not afford to be caught in the ducting. Retreat was the only option. Quickly she drew out two remote cameras and placed them in the corner of the ducting. Then with less grace than when she came up the pipe, she slithered back to the grill in the ladies room. Breathing hard, she clipped on her comm-link headset and activated the receiver.
She had just toggled the first camera on when the tiny monitor was filled with the image of a dark bottom. Tarja watched with her breath held as the figure crawled down towards the meeting room. There was little doubt that this was another assassin, which made things very difficult for Tarja. It was not uncommon for two assassins to be sent against one target. But the etiquette of who has the killing right was complicated, and in the dark confines of the ducting, Tarja had no wish to argue them out. Her best option was to sit and wait to see what happens.
The other assassin crawled all the way to the grill and peered down into the meeting room. Then he did something very strange. With a little scuffling he turned and crawled halfway back to the intersection and sat, waiting. But for what? An accomplice?
As he waited, so did Tarja. But time did not, and Tarja's orders had been explicit. Both of the men in the room were to die and this was the only time they were likely to be together. Still Tarja waited and watched the other assassin through the tiny camera.
Then a thought occurred to her. The guards were professionals. It made sense that they would send someone to secure the vents. "Someone's thinking" she murmured. Now that it was clear that she would have to kill the other assassin to get to her targets, she studied the man more carefully.
He was dressed in black, loose clothing with a pistol on his belt and knives on each arm and each leg. His hands were bare, which was probably where the squeak that alerted Tarja came from. He wore a black hood over his head, which looked decidedly hot and uncomfortable. But it was his hands that interested Tarja. They were bare, and vulnerable.
Quietly she crawled up the duct until she was just short of the intersection. Then taking great care not to get any on herself, she spread a fine powder on the floor. She did not use much as a tiny amount was all that was needed to kill. Then she slid slowly back down the vent.
A quick look through the camera confirmed that the man was still in place. Tarja then did something quite against her nature, she sneezed. It was just a tiny tickling sneeze, but the noise carried to the man waiting in ambush.
He stiffened and strained to hear anything more. When no more noise was forthcoming he began to crawl quietly towards the junction. Tarja watched as he looked down one tunnel and then the next, trying to determine where the sound had come from. To her exasperation, he chose the wrong one. She cursed his stupidity and flicked her nail against the wall. This time the assassin picked the right tunnel. As he wormed his way through the poisoned powder Tarja checked her chrono. This was taking far too long. The meeting would be over very soon.
A dull rasping cough signalled the man's death. Tarja swallowed an antidote pill, just in case she got any of the powder on her, and then quickly crawled back to the junction. She had a difficult time getting past the corpse, as he was surprisingly large. But after a few minutes she was past and sitting looking through the grill at the two men below.
As she had surmised the bodyguards were stationed outside the door leaving the pair in seclusion. They sat at a large table, both with their backs to her, looking at a vid-screen. That would make her job much easier. The only problem was how to get into the room without the men hearing her and raising the alarm.
She checked the grill, it was loose and with a slight scrape it came off. The smaller of the two men must have heard because he turned to look at the vent.
"Relax Henry" said the fat man. "I told you I have a man in the vents. No-one can get past him. I only employ the best you know." The other man grunted and returned his attention to the screen. Tarja grinned to herself. "His arrogance just cost them both their lives" she thought.
Carefully she slid out of the vent and dropped silently to the carpeted floor. She crouched there for a moment sizing up the room. Only one door, no windows. The table in the centre and the chairs were the only furniture.
Tarja lay down on the floor and slithered closer to the pair. Their jackets were hung over the backs of the chairs as they both leaned forward studying the monitor. Tarja tried very hard not to think about what they were watching, but it was difficult. These men were the galaxy's largest dealers in child snuff movies. They were viewing their latest creations.
Using skills that a pickpocket would envy, Tarja slipped her hand into jacket pocket. But instead of lifting something, she deposited something. It was small, light and highly explosive. The detonator was set to fire when subjected the three 'Gs'. Just what a space shuttle would go through to go ex-atmosphere. She deposited another bomb in the second man's jacket and then sat back.
From their subdued conversation it was clear that a sale had been made and the meeting was nearly over. Tarja's job was nearly complete. Anything could happen to the bombs. They might be discovered, they could misfire, or the jacket could get left behind somewhere. Tarja was the best because she always made sure of her kills. So she only had a few moments to make sure the men did not leave the planet alive.
Carefully she pulled out two needles, each less than the width of a hair. Their ends were stained with a lethal but slow acting poison. The problem with this poison was that it was easily traceable. But not if the bodies had been completely blown apart.
So even if the bombs were discovered, or failed to detonate each man would be doomed when he left the room. Her orders had said not to leave a trace, or a focus point for any investigation that could be linked back to her client, or her guild. A shuttle explosion would have investigators looking in entirely the wrong direction.
Taking great care not to stab herself, as there was no antidote to this poison, Tarja pressed the needles into the heels of the men's shoes. When they stood up they might feel a little prick on their heels, but by then it would be too late.
Her mission nearly completed Tarja turned her mind to escape. She glanced at the gaping vent duct. There was no way she could get back up there without making too much noise. Both men faced the door so she could not sneak out there. She heard them packing up the vid gear and felt the first stirring's of panic. She had to find somewhere to hide! But where?
There was no way she could hide under the table without the men seeing her, and no way she would survive trying to run out the door. The vent was her only hope. She glanced up at the dark opening in the wall, judging the distance. If she jumped accurately she might make some noise, but pursuit would be impossible by the bulky men. She would be vulnerable to a bullet in the bum until she made it to the junction, but if she got that far her escape was assured.
Both men stood abruptly. Tarja saw them stiffen and wiggle their feet inside their shoes. They were doomed from that moment. In a smooth unfurling of her crouched frame, Tarja took two steps and leapt at the dark hole.
Her head and torso cleared the entrance, but her knee caught painfully on the corner. She bit her lip to keep from crying out and hugged her knee to her chest.
A deep voice from the room sent chills down her spine. "That is the third time I have heard you this evening Mr. Shands. You may consider your contract terminated. I have no use for an assassin who does not know the value of stealth." The fat man placed his hand on the door and pushed, ushering his fellow dealer through before him. "As I said, I only employ the best."
Neither man had even looked at the vent as they left the room. They would have seen little even if they had. But they surely would have noticed that the grill was off. Tarja could not believe their arrogance. She wanted the shout after them that the assassin was already terminated. But she wisely held her tongue. No sense in extracting your fat from the fire, only to throw it right back in again.
As she lay in the silent, dark pipe waiting for the throbbing in her knee to subside, Tarja mentally patted herself on her back. Another mission successfully completed
She lay there for about ten minutes before slowly crawling her way back to the ladies room. Once there she stashed her weapons and touched up her make-up before walking back into the bar.
Max looked over as she sauntered up to the bar, and seemed to visibly relax. He smiled and poured her a drink. She thanked him and brought the glass to her lips. A raspy whisky-filled breath intruded on her enjoyment of the cool liquid.
"Hey darlin', remember ya promised to rock ma world." Tarja smiled her sweetest smile as she turned to face the man wavering before her. He saw her seductive smile, her sultry eyes and the sexy pouting of her breasts. He did not see the sensuous lifting of her leg or the erotic blur of her foot just before it connected with his head.
With a sickening splat the drunk fell to the floor and lay there unmoving. "Consider your world well and truly rocked," said Tarja.
She turned her back on the man and gave her attention to the vid-screen, where news reports were coming in of a double space ferry crash. It seemed both craft had exploded in the upper atmosphere. There were no survivors.
Max saw her interest in the broadcast and asked discreetly, "You?' Tarja grinned and said, "Another day, another dollar."
Bio:I have been writing for several years now (because I am too broke to buy books) and have several "marines" stories as well as a fantasy novel. When I am not writing for pleasure or work (I teach at a secondary school) I climb rocks, or try denting them with my head by jumping off my mountain bike at high speed. I would love to hear what people think of my writing, good or bad. Any criticism can only make me better, so post a comment or e-mail me
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