The bouncer she knew by name (Max) still asked for ID.
She sighed, rummaging in her purse for the cursed thing. Music thumped in the distance, the bass loud in the night. Sticking it in his face when she was done, Max grunted and moved aside, and Bay resisted the urge to blow a raspberry. She stalked down the concrete stairs without looking back.
Professionalism! She scolded herself. What was she, a teenager?
… She was.
Next year she wouldn’t be, but it didn’t matter. The club, of all places, was the last she could afford to slip up, or to allow anything other than the perfect personality she had crafted to slip up.
She was actually a professional in her line of work–as pro as you could go being a mercenary for hire, anyway. She let the annoyance wash away, focusing on the task at hand. She liked Max. She was 90% sure he knew that wasn’t her in the shitty plastic card at all, but he ignored it. He was a good man in that sense. Good to her, not so good to the targets she was eventually assigned. She wasn’t annoyed at him for doing his job; it was the knowledge of what came after him that irked her.
She reached the end of the staircase, pink neon lighting framing the doorway. There was no actual door here, and she parted the curtains, wrinkling her nose as she stepped into the underground club. The music was much louder here, the thump-thump she’d heard earlier reverberating in her bones. There were people everywhere, and she sidled up to the bar, sticking to the wall. Avoiding the mass of grinding and dancing people, she sat down at the corner, drumming her fingers on the table. The bartender slid her a beer, to which she nodded her thanks. Alone, she tried ignoring as best as she could the stink of sweat, cigarettes, alcohol and other vices.
Fuck. She hated this job.
The Last Shot was always terribly busy, which provided higher levels of anonymity to the somewhat unpleasant characters seeking employment here. Bay had learned quickly that there were no higher-paying jobs than dirty, merc work, and she needed the money–personal reasons she wasn’t quite ready to share. Merc work often took her places and made her connections no matter if she liked it or not.
That didn’t mean that she had to love the ambience in the shitty bar.
She eyed a worker from afar. The girl had on what was basically a revealing set of lingerie, a fluffy skirt that covered nothing sprouting from the waistband of her underwear. She lounged on a couch, sliding her palms up and down her thighs, batting her eyelashes.
She caught Bay’s gaze from across the room and winked, sending a kiss her way. Bay turned slowly away, just enough sense to not look like she’d been shot. She picked up her drink instead.
In the brief moment she had looked away, a young man had slipped into the seat next to her. She looked him up and down discreetly, partially hiding behind her drink.
A lithe body, leather jacket, and piercing blue eyes. Eugh, another merc. She just knew it.
“Bay?” he asked, cautious. What an amateur.
“Who?” she said, playing dumb. They had a code, and this idiot had either forgotten, or…
Or this was a trap, a voice whispered in her head. Her senses sharpened, and she eyed him warily.
The young man looked hapless, honestly. His entire handsome face was showing while he fidgeted on the spot.
“This–I’m… I don’t think I’ve gotten the wrong person. You’re–okay.” He took a breath, taking a gulp of his own drink before looking her in the eye. “I’m Arin. We’re working together on the latest?”
“I don’t work with strangers,” she said, stilted. Arin reached into his pocket, and Bay tensed. He pulled out a small metal disk, and she nearly relaxed. A target chip, okay.
Arin sighed, a bashful grin on his face. “This is for work? Here, take it.”
He leaned into her, and Bay tilted her head to let him speak into her ear. All this while, her heart was fluttering, at the edge of racing as she got ready for a fight. Not this innocent man, she prayed. What a kind face. Not in the bar, not in the bar, not in the bar.
His breath was hot on her ears, and his tone shifted.
“The day is short.”
Chills ran down her spine.
“The night is long.”
He leaned back, smiling warmly, and disgust settled in Bay’s gut. She had her own mask, so this was hypocritical, but something curdled in her stomach at the thought of being able to switch faces so fast. She felt foolish, above all else, to expect anything different. A necessity for the job. It was necessary. It didn’t make him any less human.
Still, Bay hated the way he looked. He slithered a hand onto her thigh, cold metal pressing against his palm, and Bay gritted her teeth and took it. He started talking, casual. For the mission, a mantra she repeated in her head. For the greater good. Even so, she felt for the water in the air, pulled at the liquid particles in the cups. In her mind, she imagined it coming together, forming a weapon.
“Listen, I think you’re real cute,” he was talking still, murmuring as he caressed her thigh. “What say we get outta here, run around town a little?”
He winked. Bay felt queasy, nodding, raising her eyebrows in false amusement.
This was going to be a long night.
By the time Bay dragged herself home, she was well and thoroughly exhausted.
She didn’t understand. Talking to people was so tiring. She’d always felt that way, but now that she was truly on her own, things were worse than before. Unbuckling the leather mask she wore on her face, she shook her hair out and flopped on the bed, metaphorical and literal mask falling off. Home was a rented, tiny apartment above one of the many dilapidated shop lots. Why didn’t the owners just live here? The other rooms were used for storage, so that may have been why. Either way, she was grateful. It provided anonymity and low rent, who could say no to that?
Like many other nights before, Bay lay alone with her thoughts.
She’d left her hometown, never to return. Any hints of tracing her way home were best found through work. She had to make money to survive and find a way home. Merc work had her in a chokehold the second she crossed the threshold of simply escorting travellers. It had flipped like a switch when she dipped her toes into dirty, dirty work.
Fishing out the small metal plate, she turned it over and over. Though she knew it wasn’t a bomb or a tracking device, there was still slight paranoia in her. Exhale.
She focused, condensing the water in the air into her palms, the liquid growing from little more than a drop to a large bubble of water. She set the water aside, pulling threads of it into the little metal circle, picking it open. Lockpicking was hard to learn, and easier to execute through her own methods. Finally, the metal popped open. Bay tapped it upside down once, twice, and a little message came rolling out. Really, paper was archaic by now, but she knew better than to complain.
Her eyebrows pinched as she read the details of her next mission.
She met Arin on the rooftop of a building. He passed her an earpiece, which she inspected before putting on. She hated working with other mercenaries–most were truly despicable, and most she genuinely didn’t want any contact with ever again. Some were well-meaning, somehow, and they were the worst. They were almost always naive and amateurish, and Bay never kept in touch with them after the first one she knew had passed. Being killed and murdered was common in this line of work, but she had cried so hard she threw up. Those were the mercenaries she hated getting to know.
Never again, never again, never again. She pressed the leather of her mask to her face, inhaling. Two-Faced Arin, as she had come to know him, was ruthless in his work. She didn’t want to think about the blood on his hands, but he’d taken a liking to her, despite her barely concealed contempt for his character. She wasn’t quite sure if the charming, innocent persona he put on was really only a farce, but he was a killer either way.
So was she, of course, but she placed herself upon a higher moral pedestal. She only killed when necessary.
“You ready?” Arin was decked out in a sleek, dark bodysuit, his usual clothes for missions such as these.
She had done as much research as she could have on him, after what happened at the bar months ago. As far as she knew, he was just a regular human, and their work together proved that theory.
She nodded. “Alright.”
Bay gave herself a running start, eyeing her target. They were set to steal valuable cargo from the warehouse across the street and to incapacitate anyone within. They were the enemy, a rival group her boss often sought to sabotage. Bay was determined to keep the bloodshed to an absolute minimum this time round. She had the capability to do so. All she had to do was to go for it.
Her earpiece crackled to life.
“I’ll be in 5 minutes after you,” said Arin. “Everyone else there is for me to pick off, yeah?”
“Okay,” she muttered.
Giving herself a running start, water gathering around her legs, she leapt off the edge of the roof. The liquid boosted her off the ground, and for a second or so she was flying through the air, the wind whistling past her. She hit the metal roof, cringing at the loud clang it still made. That was inevitable.
Silently, she made her way across the roof, hunting for the window they had seen on the maps. When she finally found and stared through it, there were 4 minutes left. According to their surveillance, there should be a maximum of ten workers here tonight. There were fewer people on the Wednesday shift for reasons unknown to her–she didn’t actually do surveillance. There were others better suited for doing the work and staying in the shadows..
Rearing her fist back, water gathered around it, solidifying into a gigantic fist.
She punched through the window and pulled herself through, alarmed screams and yells filling the air. Glass showered down across metal racks and crates.
Leaping onto a nearby metal rack, she lay low, counting the workers.
One, two, three, four, five…
Shots rang out through the air, and she flinched. She could keep them alive, but definitely not unharmed. Water continued to gather around her, surrounding her entire body, coagulating around her fists. Scaling down the racks, she kept an eye out for their loot. She dropped from rack to rack and closed her eyes, searching for the nearest person. She felt the blood coursing through his body, felt his heart beating fast and frantic.
She jumped at him from between the rack, knocking aside the boxes stacked on top. They clattered to the ground, and Bay dragged him through the rack, throwing him beside her. He fired wildly, Bay ducking. An arm of water wrenched the gun from his hands, and she distantly heard the crack of bones as he screamed. Better injured than dead. She hit him square in the jaw and he fell silent. More shots and Bay hid again. She checked her watch.
Three minutes, and she’d only taken out one person.
Focus, focus. She couldn’t run out into the open, what with there being so many people, so she had to stick to fighting from the shadows–but it was so slow, and Arin wouldn’t hesitate to kill.
Only one thing she could do now, then.
Six, seven, eight, nine.
She burst into the open, flinging the boxes and crates. Bullets pinged off and through the boxes, a cacophony of noise throwing everything into chaos. She went for her second victim. Gun in hand, she sent a stream of water into the barrel of the gun as he fired. The gun ballooned, almost medically, and Bay socked him under the chin–sue her. It was the best way to knock someone out, from personal experience.
Someone else ran towards her, swinging a baton. She ducked under him, kicking and sweeping him off his feet. He fell with a startled yell as his co-workers opened fire. Bay tsk’d in distaste. She was impenetrable, bullets bouncing off her watery armour, but their friend was not. She punched him into the ground.
Standing up, she began marching towards the other man, revelling in their terrified shouts as guns clicked and metal sunk into the armour she’d made.
She punched her way through the men, power overwhelming them easily. She sent the liquid up someone’s nose, careful not to drown them as they gasped for air.
She hated doing this. She hated this. She hated this.
“I’m coming in,” Arin called. “We leave in 5 minutes.”
Bay grunted in response, swinging and sending a man flying across the room. Seven down. Three more to go.
Her armour was beginning to puddle onto the ground, rivulets of it running down her body. It was tiring to hold it all together for so long, and with only three left, it should still be a piece of cake. One man was already running away, tripping over himself to get away. Coward, and a fool.
He threw open the large metal doors of the warehouse.
A ping rang out, and a body collapsed to the floor. She’d looked away as his head snapped back, but she could sense him, somehow, the red mist she could see clearly in her mind.
Gone. Just like that.
Arin laughed menacingly, the sound drowning in her ears. Bay’s blood ran cold, chills gathering across her arms. She turned her attention to the other two she could keep alive.
They rushed at her, and Bay lunged back at them.
“Mission accomplished!” Bay hefted the crate of weapons they had stolen off the ground, Arin tucking the inventory list into one of many pockets. He pulled off the silencer on his gun, admiring it in his hands. Bay stayed quiet. “Can’t you do anything but sulk?”
“I’d really rather sulk,” she muttered. She turned over what they’d done in her head. They secured the remaining workers, tying them up before leaving right out the front door. If I ever see you again, Bay had cautioned, silhouetted by the night, it’ll be for the last time.
They’d stepped over the dead man, the first sight at the entrance. She wondered if he had a family, loved ones, people who cared for him. She hoped not. It was unlikely that would be true, but she stifled her guilt with thoughts of all the horrible things he could have done to deserve death as Arin talked her ear off.
She knew this job was more than simply robbing them; they wouldn’t have sent her in to rough up the workers if it was as simple as that. No. She’d been sent in to flaunt the might of her boss, to act as a threat. Arin was here to act as a failsafe, to carry out the parts of her job she couldn’t–wouldn’t do. She had an inkling it had always been that way, from the beginning, and wondered if Arin was aware of it all.
Perhaps, in another universe, she would be grateful for saddling herself with a partner so reliable, and for the higher-ups to care enough about her to keep her around, even with the disadvantage she imposed upon herself.
However, all Bay felt was mounting dread as they stalked from the rooftops.
This can’t go on, she thought, as the night crawled under her skin.
I can’t keep doing this.
Written by: Crash