"Agent 424, you have been activated." The voice was strong and feminine.
The words rang in my ears. I had been activated. So long to the life of leisure that I'd contented myself to these last few years.
"Interior, assignment details." My throat was taut and I breathed deep.
"Assessment Grade P4. Trace and surveillance. Target one Elizabeth Moorely."
Elizabeth Moorely? Agent 412? What was going on here?
I kept my questions above-board. "Certainty Level? Cause?"
"100 Percent certainty."
I inhaled sharply.
The Dispatch voice grew clipped at the end. "Cause restricted."
"Yes, Ma'am. Understood. Deadline?" I kept my words level, even though I seethed inside. I always hated when one of our own turned.
"12 Hours." A long stretch of silence followed. The conversation was over.
I snapped the beacon wire in my fingers and the line went dead. Placing the earpiece in my pocket, I went for my weapons.
"1 of these and 2 of these. And a few clips." I stuck them where they belonged and checked the cartridges for capacity.
I replaced the book and made certain the shelf slipped back into the groove. "Smooth as butter." Where had I come across that line?
I slipped down the back stairs like I was going for groceries. Out the back alley and to the front sidewalk. Business as usual, that's how I proceeded. I see Hank over there and Tibby on the corner. Why are they here?
Just then I heard the click that I knew so well. I felt the blunt point of the pistol pressed against the base of my neck.
I stood still and caught the whiff of lavendar. "Why?"
"I have to. You're my target." 412 paused. "I'm so sorry."
Just then a series of clicks and soft pings resounded through the open street. Bodies fell where they stood. Those shooters then dropped.
I needed to know. "Who?"
"Dispatch. They're on Final Cleanup." She sounded resigned. "After you it will be my turn."
"I would not have spoken a word. I just wanted to live my life."
"I know, but it must be this way. The risk..."
I finished for her. "...is too high"
Her hand shifted slightly.
"I had Orchids this year." I smiled as I remembered how fond 412 was of Orchids. "Purple ones, with white spots. And I was going to have a block party this year."
I twisted and ducked, feeling the trail of the bullet just beside my left ear. It sent tingles through my body. I did miss this feeling.
Close. I just let my hands and feet do their work as they had been trained to do. 12 years made these reactions automatic. 412 was fast, faster than I was.
"424, you're outmatched." Her voice was steady. She had always been like that, able to speak through exertion.
I saw the droplets of sweat on her forehead, though, and knew better.
"I still have some tricks." I dropped myself to the ground, grabbing her wrist and twisting while I did so. The extra leverage need to be enough. I kicked out and watched her body sail over me as I rolled on.
As I came up, the dagger spun away from me. Sometimes it's nice to be on auto-pilot. I watched as they dagger plunged into 412's throat.
She clutched her throat and rose to her feet. She tried to speak, but the blood pooling over her fingers and the hilt of the dagger sticking from her neck were distracting. Only gurgling.
She was angry and mortally wounded. Her body swayed and she mouthed a single word over and over. "Sorry."
I felt the needle-sharp pain and the world went black. My heart pounded. I thought of my Orchids.
Silently I spoke. "I had Orchids this year. I lived a normal life for at least a little while."
I felt the concrete against my face. It was warm. It was wet. Everything was dark. Can I grow my Orchids in peace now?