Charlie tucked a loose strand of her long, plum hair behind her ear. She had lost clear audio a few moments ago, but her hearing was sharp and it had only taken a few extra stolen yards to come back within range. Laughter rippled through the air, a woman’s, but Charlie had lost visual to maintain her hearing. Just then, the sounds from the cabin stopped and all she could make out were the rustling of fabric and the birds chirping in the forest to the west. She closed her eyes and pressed her head against the log wall behind her. Involving civilians was always a fu*king problem. Why did she care so much?
They were the ones associating with known monsters. She was practically saving them.
“Get down, Samantha, shh!”
And there it was. The point where there was no turning back. He knew they weren’t alone. Now they both had to die, and the blood of a civilian would be on her hands again. Briefly, she wondered how long it would haunt her. How many bottles of vodka were between this originating moment of guilt and the moment she accepted the stain on her soul and moved on?
When had that become what her life came down to?
Before the soon-to-be-casualty could ask what was happening, Charlie rose to her full height and leveled her golden twin DreamEaters between both of their eyes. The target knew, though, he knew immediately and instinctively what had befallen them in their quiet, isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere, miles beyond any neighbors or tracker paths. Low tech and discrete, he’d thought they’d be safe.
His eyes were the first to beg, but his voice was only a heartbeat behind. “Please, let her go. It’s me you want.”
In a millisecond she’d pulled both triggers and the blood splatter hit the walls, the stovetop, the back of a wooden chair, the face of a clock with copper hands and a dazzling blue sapphires clasped in the carefully wrought fingers. Two sapphires, one at seven and the longer one at six. Fragments of bone and wet brain tissue bespeckled the roast set on the table, still steaming, hot from the oven. They’d died before their last meal.
Charlie wondered if it mattered whether one died with or without a full stomach.
She saw them on their knees, muttering bloated pleas for their lives, and though it never happened it may as well have. It was the only image of them she would ever know outside of the Rorschach ink blot patterns of their cerebral matter on the walls.
Charlie left the scene without touching it. Let someone else clean up the mess. She already had a headache waiting for her at headquarters. It was time for her bi-weekly debriefing; once she reported in she would be there for at least three hours between the questions, paperwork, psych analysis, TEAPUD (Tactical execution and performance under duress) testing. At the end of it she could start taking greedy sips from her flask and move on to a full glass in the car they would have drive her home.
Her drinking was never questioned during the psych evaluations; she felt certain it was a deliberate oversight.
Four hours later she lit a cigarette as she shut the door to the interrogation room behind her. She was tired and hungry and thirstier than she’d expected to be. On her way to the lockers, she ashed on the windowsills. A girl she knew from her private school years nodded at her in quiet acknowledgement. She thought of Mitch, and Stryder, and Seth. She wondered if they were alive and didn’t let herself think any harder on it. She’d already known over a dozen of her graduating class that were not so lucky. Living wasn’t a guarantee.
In the car, she downed a tumbler of gin – the only full bottle left in the small bar – in one mouthful between puffs of her cigarette. Before the liquor even settled in her stomach, she was running through the catalog of companions she could call up. Sleep would not come easy and nothing tired her out more than a good romp. She told the driver the address and poured herself another drink.