By Nicola Ward
It wasnít as simple as walking into the room and shooting the guy, I knew that much was certain. The letter I received containing the information obviously had limitations about what could and couldnít be said. It stated:
You have been assigned the task of the assassination of Lucifer Cattral, the leader of the city of Metra. The assassination must take place one week after you receive this letter, whereupon you will devise a method of killing him while he is attending a gathering of the world leaders. This is the only chance that you will get to attempt the assassination. Failure will result in the ultimate penalty.
The letter wasnít signed by anybody but, as Iíd received letters like this before, I didnít doubt the capability of the person or group that had assigned me the task of murder. I hadnít failed a task since I first became a mercenary. I wasnít about to start now, even if this was my first major killing. I also understood the need for secrecy so I gave limited information to the Headmaster, Jackson. I gave him all he needed to know but didnít show him the letter. I had burned it ages ago.
At eleven oíclock in the morning I went down the village of Orion to catch a cab to the nearby city of Ranglt in order to buy supplies for the time ahead, including my meeting with the leader of Metra. I wanted the killing to be quick, but also sufficient enough for the person or personís who had sent me the letter, so I decided that poison would be my best bet. (I wanted the killing to be sufficient because the last thing I wanted was my employerís to come after me and tell me I did a bad job). Of course, if I were to be caught by Mr Cattral, I would use the stash of extra poison kept in my sleeve as an easy escape route if it came to that. Seeing as the date for the assassination wasnít until next Monday, I had plenty of time to see that everything was prepared for that night.
I sat there, thinking about the task after I came back from Ranglt, when I heard a knock on my dorm door. Before I opened it I pushed a button on the receiver next to the door and asked, "Who is it?"
"Itís Kate. Let me in, Chris, come on!" Kate Engalis, fourth of my five friends, jovially skipped into my small lounge and leaped onto the sofa. "How are ya?" she asked.
"Iím okay," I replied. "You look pretty good. Any good news?"
"Well, yeah, as a matter of fact. I got another job. Not really a big one but the guyís offering good pay and itís the only one thatís around for the moment. Any luck in your department?"
"Yeah, I got a job last Monday. Canít tell you anything though. Itís sorta secret." I sat next to her. "So what brings you here?"
She turned her body to face me. "I wanted to ask you about Ian. Youíre the one that knows him the best and, since heís only been here a year, I donít want appear too forward. Can you tell me some stuff about him?"
"Kateís got a crush, Kateís got a crush," I teased. "So who should I tell first? Hmm, maybe I should tell the lad himself."
She whacked me over the head with a cushion from the sofa. "Oy, donít mess around, Chris. This is serious. Iíve been thinking about it long and hard and Iíve decided that heís one guy I would like to get to know better, if you take my meaning. I know Iím only sixteen and all, but that shouldnít make a difference." Her short blonde hair bounced around her shoulders as she tilted her head to one side and grinned. "Come on, be a sport and tell me what you know about him."
I stroked my cheek thoughtfully with a finger. "Well, his birthdayís unknown. Iíve tried looking it up and I canít find anything so donít bother trying. He used to come from Astro Academy on the other side of Charden Isle where he worked as a Goldsmith. Then his job was made redundant and his new job never came because he was blamed for a robbery he didnít commit. The Astro Academy took him in and now heís working here as a trainee mercenary. That good enough for you?"
Her brow creased. "That isnít much information," she said accusingly. "Are you sure that youíre not holding anything back?"
I raised my hands in a gesture of surrender. "Absolutely. Thatís all I know about him. Youíre going to have to find out the rest of it for yourself because Iím certainly not going to ask him."
Kate sighed. "Well, of course youíre not are you. Youíre a boy and boys donít ask each other things like that unless theyíre queer."
"And Iím not queer," I said quickly, "before you get any ideas. No offence to guys that find other guys attractive but thatís not really my department."
Kate grinned. "So youíre not even curious as to what goes on in their little heads?"
I grimaced. "Kate, if I was I wouldnít go spreading it around and youíd be the last person Iíd tell. No, Iím not even remotely curious as to what goes on in their little heads. Itís up to them what they get up to Ė not me."
"Uh-huh. Thanks for the info, Chris. Itíll come in handy, donít you worry about that. And I am talking about Ian, not about our little chat." She got up off the sofa and sauntered out the door, closing it behind her.
Jesus bloody Christ. Whatís up with her? Oh well. Canít brood on it and wonít brood on it. My stomach growled hungrily at the end of that thought and I decided that that was a good time to pop down to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. On the way there I bumped into Ian. "Hi, Chris!" he said. "Here, can you do me a favour? Can you tell me some stuff about Kate? Youíve known her longer than me and I could do with a bit more info." I rolled my eyes and tutted slightly. "What?" Ian asked. "Whatíd I do?"
The city of Metra was once an extremely powerful place, with a population of over ten thousand people who were known as the Metropolis people, changing the Ďaí to an Ďoí. It's power lay mostly with its trade, selling silk and other wealthy items to other towns and cities across the world. The city had strong connections with the city of Ranglt and together the two leaders met and formed a partnership where they sold each otherís goods to different areas, which the other couldnít get to, and from than on they divided the profit between them. It was only until the last leader, known as Retail almighty by the public, retired that the partnership was never restored. The current ruler of Ranglt didnít get along with the Metra leader, Lucifer Cattral, because he believed him to be part of the Devilís order and all that silly whatnot. Both cities have been getting on with business, although not at the rate they had when they were in partnership, and the people within the two cities were unable to look after what they owned because of the high tax rates. Everything dropped to how it was before and the leaders did everything they could for their people.
Well, that was fine with me. Lower everything meant lower security and that made my job much easier. I hired a car for two weeks, ensuring that there would be enough room in the vehicle for the supplies I was going to be taking with me. This job would be as easy as pie, if I did it correctly. But I still had to talk to a few people to make sure that they didnít come after me. Theyíd get into all sorts of trouble if they did. I met my five friends, also including Anri Rydun, and told them that I was leaving on an errand and wouldnít be back for some time. Thea treated me to a hug and wished me luck in doing my task, whatever it was I had to do. All the others shook my hand and offered their congratulations for getting a job at last and hoped that I got enough profit to give to the rest of them. I told them where they could stick their hope because that cash was mine. We all laughed and had a good time before we all retired to bed, but I knew I still had one more person to see.
Six days passed like nothing and in those six days I had gathered everything I would need, including the liquid poison carefully secured in a pouch and placed in my zipped pocket. I had one day left to ensure that everyone who needed telling knew why I was leaving the Academy for a time and I still had to see Lor. He and I were good friends now and I couldnít just leave and not tell him why. I walked to the Medical Centre at seven oíclock in the morning of Sunday 12th and asked for him at the Waiting Area. He came almost immediately. "Why if it isnít Christopher Leo," he grinned. "Whatís the problem?"
"I came to say goodbye for a while. Iíve got an errand to do and I probably wonít be back for some time." I looked around the Waiting Area at all the people who were sick. "Is something going round? These people donít look too good."
"No, they donít do they," Lor agreed. "I bet theyíve all got the same condition as the one Iím examining now. All of the ones Iíve seen so far show unusual blood loss and they say that they donít remember cutting themselves in any way. Kinda spooky if you think about it. Maybe thereís a vampire out there. Better take some garlic with you when you leave."
"Ha ha, very funny," I said sarcastically. "Anyway, you better take good care of these people. Thatís what youíre paid to do and besides, I might need your assistance when I get back so you better be prepared."
Lorís look told me he was amused. "Yes, Sir," he saluted, "Iíll do my best."
I took his hand and shook it. "Iíll see ya soon, mate. You take care now, you hear?"
"I hear ya. You look after yourself. I donít want to have to repair any broken bones when you get back, all right. Good luck."
"Iíll try my best." I left him to his work and, when I got back to my dorm, fished a rucksack out of my closet and packed it with food prepared for tomorrow. It was mostly salted meats and fruit wrapped in sealed packages that would hopefully last for a few days and I made sure that the pack was also heavy with drinking water too. Canít be too careful. I spent the rest of the day conserving my energy and hoped that Lady Luck would shine on me all the while I was away.
A buzzing sound ran through my head in the most irritable way and, groaning, I shut off my alarm and looked at the time. As I had set the alarm for, it was indeed five oíclock in the morning and today was the day that I left to go to the city of Metra. I sat up and let my eyes adjust to the darkness of my bedroom before I switched on my lamp, the light almost blinding to look at. Slipping on a shirt and a pair of jeans and some trainers, I flung my rucksack over my shoulder and carried my leather jacket in the other. Before leaving I made sure that there was no evidence with me that I was from Orion Academy; the first and foremost rule I was taught was to not let the enemy see who had hired you and where you were from. After a completing a thorough search, I reversed my car out of the drive-in car park and sped along the A1 highway, pausing only when there were traffic lights. The traffic was small and there wasnít any sign of policemen so my travelling was unhindered and in less than an hour I could see the city rise up and up into view. I stopped at the toll and was asked a few questions before I was let in. The usual, Ďwhy are you here?í and Ďwhatís that stuff youíre carrying with you?í I was lucky that they didnít search my body because Iíd forgotten to put the stash of poison in a hidden pocket in my clothes. If theyíd found that I wouldíve been taken Ďdown towní, as is their favourite saying.
I drove slowly through the city, getting my bearings as to where the safest places to hide were, as I would need them after the job had been taken care of. There was no quick escape route in a job such as this. If I got away too quickly than I might as well have just walked up to a copper and said, "I killed Mr Cattral. Take me in." I came up outside ĎThe Iron Greyí Inn, done up in the style of the early seventeen hundreds, and parked my car inside the small car park in the basement of the Inn, which was very convenient I might add. This being done I walked into the Inn and requested the room I had reserved beforehand. The Innkeeper was a young fellow, obviously new to the job, and he shakily gave me the keys to my room. I smiled and thanked him for allowing me to reserve a room, which wasnít really allowed to be quite honest, and the only reason I did a get room was because of the large amount of money Iíd offered to him for his services.
The room was on the second floor, out of four floors, and the room was the best old style one Iíd ever been in. The Innkeeper seemed to have made this room a special sort of case because in his eyes I was a very special person, most likely. There wasnít even a clock on the wall so I was lucky I had brought my watch with me. It was twenty-five past seven now and breakfast was just being served downstairs, so I treated myself to eggs and bacon with a slice of buttered bread and orange juice. Other people were there as well and most of them were dressed in the old styles of the early seventeen hundreds, portraying themselves as thieves and pheasants of the old-world, smoking their pipes and glaring at people under their hats. Sometimes I just smiled back before returning to my thoughts.
A sharp gust blew through the door as a cloaked figure wandered through, hunched over and gasping for breath. Nobody took a blind bit of notice until the old man, as he appeared to be, came and sat in the chair beside me, not really giving a toss about what people thought about him for sitting next to a complete stranger. He threw back his hood with a wrinkled hand and called for ale from the Innkeeper, placing coins on the table surface. The old man was nearly bald and his eyes seemed to bulge out of his eye sockets, but when he looked at me he gave a kindly smile, with hardly any teeth, before breaking out in a series of racking coughs. "Are you all right?" I asked softly, leaning closer.
He nodded. "Oh, lad, you donít know what Iíve been through just to get here. Itís all right for you young ones. You donít have the years upon your shoulders, getting heavier when each one passes. What I would give to have your strength again, lad."
I smiled grimly. "Yet you must be glad to have lived so long, sir. Not many people live to your age nowadays."
"Now donít you be calling me Ďsirí, lad," he replied. "The nameís Bunker, if youíre going to be calling me anything. And donít you forget it, lad. Gotta have someone remembering my name when I keel over, right?" He laughed.
"All right, Bunker it is than." The ale came soon after and the Innkeeper asked if I would like anything.
"Get this Ďere lad a glass of mead, would yer?" Bunker interjected and even paid from his own pocket. Nobody had done that for me before, at least a stranger hadn't.
"You didnít have to do that," I said. "But thanks anyway."
"I can tell from the look in your eyes, lad, that youíre a good fellow with a kind heart," Bunker said softly. "Iím honoured to be able to buy a drink for one such as you." He sat back against the chair and sighed. "You havenít told me your name."
"Sorry," I apologised. "My nameís Jay." We shook hands.
"You donít live around these parts do yer," Bunker said. "Can tell by your clothing."
"No I donít live around here," I sighed. "But Iím hoping to rent a house near here for a while. Been having family troubles and I just want to get away from it all."
"Aye, youíre a strong one, Jay," Bunker assured me. "Youíll get through it. And youíre a smart one too. It isnít good to stay involved in those family quarrels. Itís good just to get out and walk away from it all." My mead arrived and I took a small sip, testing it, before I took a swig. Iíd never tried mead before and it was hot, sweet and bitter at the same time, with a touch of vanilla. It warmed my insides and I could feel my cheeks heating up. Bunker grinned. "Itís good that stuff ainít it. I donít usually have too many of them though Ďcause itís bad for yer teeth. You make sure you give yer teeth a good brushing before you leave here, eh."
"It is nice," I agreed. "Iíve not had a good glass of hot mead for ages." It was important that I blended in, so a little white lie here and there didnít hurt anyone. "Forgive my asking, Bunker, but how old are you?"
Bunker blinked and stared into space for a moment. "You know I donít know," he said sadly. "Have the years been that long?"
"If you canít remember your age than that must be a good thing, in a way," I said, trying to cheer him up. "You can make yourself younger now."
"You know who you remind me of, Jay," Bunker said. "You remind me of myself, when I was your age. Hopefully you wonít turn out like this," gesturing to his face, "when you reach my age, whatever that is, if your luck holds out."
I looked at the time and gasped. "Bunker, could you do me a favour?" I asked. He nodded. "Could you direct me to a Mr Lucifer Cattral? Iíve heard that heís a decent fellow and I need help for lodgings, if you take my meaning."
Bunker nodded again. "You turn left outside the Inn door, turn left at the first left-hand street and then take a right and go straight on. Youíll come to a wall and to your right is a small alleyway leading to a big house. Thatís the one you want."
I thanked him and turned to leave. "How would you know exactly where to go?" I asked Bunker, pausing.
He looked up at me. "You donít become a good thief if you donít know where the money is, lad." I smiled and shook his hand again. "Youíll come back aní visit me Ďfore too long, wonít yer?" Bunker asked. "Just Ďfore I leave this here planet."
"I promise to come and see you again," I vowed, clasped his hands once more, and walked outside. Iíd made a friend there.
The street was extremely crowded when I walked outside and I struggled a bit in finding the flow that the people were taking. The time was five past nine and the air was hot and wavy. I took my jacket off and slung it over my shoulder, keeping a firm grip on it, and headed in the directions that Bunker had told me. I did indeed come to a house that was for a wealthy person and I regretted not asking how Bunker had got inside the house, if he was a thief, which I didnít doubt. I walked up the door and politely knocked, quickly slipping my jacket on to show that I wasnít just a common pheasant. Footsteps were heard indoors and the door opened to reveal a very posh looking butler. He looked down on me, as he was quite tall, but he also looked down his nose at me. "Can I help you, sir?" he asked.
"I request to speak with a Mr Lucifer Cattral," I said formally. "I presume I do have the right household."
"Mr Lucifer is busy at the moment," the butler replied. "He doesnít wish to speak with anyone as he doesnít have the time."
"Oh. I will have to talk to him later than. I apologise for disturbing him." I bowed slightly and walked off, thoroughly pleased with myself. I hadnít just talked to the butler. Iíd found weaknesses in the door and also found out that the household wasnít as big as it seemed to be on the outside. It would be very easy to find Lucifer and kill him, although escaping would be quite different.
I soon found out that the meeting was scheduled for that night, inside the house and not in another building, inside the main lounge at eleven. I had butterflies as I walked around the back of the house an hour before, and climbed over the wall, my fingers trembling. Ensuring that my cloak was wrapped securely around my body, and that the poison was also secure, I crept towards the window overlooking the garden, crouched down, and waited. A light moved past the window and I froze as the window was opened. I could hear the butler whistling to himself as his fingers undid the locks and slid the sheet of glass upwards. I could hear him breathing in the night air. Once he moved to another area I let my breath out slowly, shielding my eyes from the light inside, and grinned. The idiot had left the window open, but he was also a problem in himself. Seeing as he was still doing his rounds inside the house I knew Iíd have to be extra careful. I looked into the corridor and looked up and down, making sure the coast was clear, climbed inside and placed my feet softly on the floorboards. Listening intently, I realised that the butler had gone to answer the door and that the guests for the meeting were already arriving. I bit my bottom lip and crept the way the butler had come, not daring to see what was going on, but listening intently. "Yes, sir," the butler was saying. "My master is upstairs doing some business in the drawing room right now, but do make yourself comfortable in the lounge if you will." I didnít stay to hear the rest.
Knowing a house like this, and its owner, the drawing room would most likely have some sort of plaque showing or telling me that it was the drawing room. Seeing as there were only two floors to the house itself, the search wouldnít prove too difficult. I first had to locate the kitchen so I could place the poison in the wine and that proved to be a problem because I didnít find a kitchen. Instead I found a small larder, containing food and drink, and after a thorough search I came across a small compartment that contained what appeared to be Luciferís special wine. I took a bottle and tipped some wine into a glass before putting the poison into the bottle. The poison and the wine I poured out had to be the exactly the same in volume. But this didnít prove to be too difficult, and after screwing the lid back on to the bottle I quickly drank the small amount of wine left in the glass, which had been mixed with water to dilute the alcoholic volume. It was extremely sweet and I screwed my eyes shut as the most peculiar feeling shot through my head. Maybe it was a mistake to drink the wine after all.
Taking the bottle with me, I quickly found the staircase and walked up it, quickly but quietly, my ears pricked to the slightest noise, my eyes scanning the area around me for the slightest movement. Once at the top of the stairs I came to two lit corridors, the same length down my left and right, with at least five doors down each way. To my relief they did have small plaques on them telling me which room was which, however this made my search no easier. The wine had been a little stronger than I had thought previously and my vision was beginning to blur, my feet beginning to stumble beneath me. Eventually I found the drawing room and to my surprise it was left open. I looked inside and, finding no one, slipped into the room. The room was absolutely freezing; making my body tremble as the warmth left my body. I went to the table in the middle of the room and put the bottle down, afraid that my rapidly numbing fingers would drop it. There was no fire on the hearth and I wrapped my cloak around me tightly, trying to warm up, but to no avail.
I heard a noise behind me and whirled around to see what had made it. I saw nothing. Calm down, Chris. Your nerves are getting the better of you. Just breathe and everything will be all right. I closed my eyes and tried to think but the cold seemed to be seeping into my brain. I yawned deeply Ė a bad sign. I wandered around the room and tried to look for some information that Lucifer could have been involved in. My employers would appreciate any information I could get about the one that they wanted dead. I soon found something.
It was a newspaper dated 24th October 7090. I blinked and read the date again but there wasnít a mistake about it. If the date was strange than the heading was even stranger. It read, ĎLucifer Cattral disappears after mob attack.í I read further on and found out that his son, Vagrant Cattral, had also disappeared, fleeing before the mob had reached the chamber in which he was enclosed with his father. But how could that be? 24th October 7090? That was my birthday, only five thousand years into the future. The report had stated that Vagrantís birthday was also on 24th October, only he was in the future. If this report was true, than who was the real Lucifer Cattral?
A cloth-wrapped hand covered my mouth tightly; forcing me to breathe in the gas that the liquid gave off. My eyes closed and I knew no more.
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