Chapter Two

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

One o’ clock in the afternoon brought the rainstorm. It barely took any time at all for the streets to flood, arresting the citizens to their homes. All emergency services were exhausted; panic attacks, electrical fires, illness, injury, and looting had made sure of that. The transformers for several blocks on either side of the museum simultaneously blew and London was plunged into darkness. The weather had made it only too easy. No one would worry for the preservation of the museum’s artifacts until later. It was a fact they were counting on.

The timing was perfect. Closing had come an hour ago and two guards remained in the silent building, awaiting the new guards who would begrudgingly relieve them in a half hour.

High above the exhibits, curled away from the security camera, hung the threat the guards had been hired to watch for. Sasha kept completely still in the corner of the Greek History section, back pressed to the ceiling, hands crossed protectively over her chest. The harness keeping her suspended over the room was fastened together with only one clip. She was more than capable of holding herself up without it, and the top three clips constricted her breast.

It had taken weeks for her to plan the heist, days to get together the materials, and hours to blend seamlessly into the architecture. They had occupied the museum since before closing, Sasha and the party who had hired her. She had dressed as plainly as was possible for the occasion: jeans and a Raiders t-shirt.

Blending into the crowd was something she had managed to perfect in her extensive career. On this occasion she had even procured a mock date. She had been cursed with paid escorts on many other missions; escorts that only got in the way. She would settle for nothing less than someone who required none of her effort. Just the thought of the peacock she had entertained in Naples amidst her assassination of a visiting Cuban dignitary brought a shudder through her spine. She had been successful, she always was, but his presence had robbed her of thirty dollars an hour. She did not enjoy bleeding money. She enjoyed even less pretending to listen to a young man’s small talk.

Kai, the thieves’ leader, was a dour sort, much like herself. It made for a less than ideal partnership since Sasha demanded complete obedience and he was always reluctant to give it to her, but he was attractive enough and he played the part of her date well enough. It was his near-constant complaining that put a damper on her mood, though.

She did not concern herself too much. There was only one more night to suffer through.

The camera beside her face inched slowly back and forth, searching the room and keeping her stuck in place. The high arches of the room meant anywhere from a thirty to a forty-foot drop. The vents around her blew cold air in her face. The sound of it marred her strict attention to her surroundings. She needed to see clearly. She needed to hear clearly. If she did not, it could very well mean an unfortunate end to their night.

Kai hung just a few inches away, keeping out of view of the camera in the same way she did. His head was shaved for convenience’s sake and black clothing and a heavy harness replaced the business suit he had been wearing hours before.

The most difficult part, bar hiding in the bathroom until the last of the patrons had been ushered out, was keeping her eyes open. Amidst planning and training, sleep had not been an option for the last few days. The encased dramatization of the Trojan War below her had stopped being entertaining hours ago. Her eyes started to droop.

A kick to her ribs changed that.

“Hey!” she growled under her breath. Kai’s face was covered by the mask, but she could tell he was smiling smugly in her direction. “Will you focus?”

He rolled his eyes. “Fine, Sasha.”

The same two guards, Burns and Blackford, worked the evening shift every Thursday. Both sat in the security room, more than likely looking between the wall of surveillance camera feed and whatever outside entertainment they had brought for the evening. If Sasha listened hard enough she could hear them bickering about the score of a soccer game through the open door to the security room. Despite her aversion to televised sports, it was so much better than waiting for the imminent show in silence.

Kai nodded to her. Sasha watched as he slid down silently, close to the wall until he touched the ground. Good. Her father would not like the client’s neck to break before payment was finalized. Once his feet touched, he released his harness, surveyed the room, and bolted for the basement door. Moments later the lights went out. Without the ventilation system echoing around her, eavesdropping on the men became much easier.

One of them was swearing.

“The back-up generator’ll take care of it,” the other replied lazily. “Just give it a minute.”

“Do you have any Double A’s?” Fred Blackford asked his older partner. Sasha dismissed the twenty-nine-year-old immediately. A boy playing soldier, nothing more..

“Just take ’em out of the remote,” she heard Burns grunt back. “The generator should have come on by now.”

“The rain might’ve blown out the box.”

The older man left the room, putting him in Sasha’s line of sight. Burns pulled back his sleeve, studying his watch. Despite the impending end of his shift, he seemed determined to go to follow Kai to the basement where the corpse of the generator would meet him. There, he would realize that the building’s back-up power had been tampered with. It would take mere seconds for him to call the police and escape would be near-impossible for Sasha and her new…friend? Given the inherent danger, she would be forced to make a few drastic changes to the plan.

And she hated changing the plan.

Fixing his hat upon his bald head, Burns turned on his heel to leave, despite his friend’s protests. “Burns!” Blackford called. “The night guy’ll get it! Burns!”

“I’ll be back in ten minutes,” the guard said. “Find the batteries.”

She followed him with her eyes as he navigated the blackened museum with only a flashlight, waiting for the chance to lower herself to the floor. When he showed Sasha his back, she took that chance, releasing the cords from the hook Kai had hastily installed in the ceiling hours earlier, shortly after closing. Almost instantly, one cord snapped, unable to accommodate the sudden shift in weight. She grabbed for the top clips of the harness she had left unclipped all this time, but it was too late. She had made a very crucial mistake. Sasha knew that she would pay for it as she slipped from the open collar of her harness and plummeted, head-first, to the floor.

The mission was blown.

She grabbed for the vest she had vacated, clinging to it, but it, too, was falling. When it reached the end of its lead, she stopped short. Up above, the ceiling protested. Sasha heard a crack. She knew, without a doubt, that it was the metal pulley, coming free from the ceiling. There were two of them, sharing her weight so it would not be too much of a strain. They were small and out of sight and one was coming free from the wall.

The sound of that steel hitting the floor would not only make her location, it would make a dent in the floor. It would leave evidence. She needed to release herself from the wasted device. If she could break herself free of those cords, she could swing safely enough to the floor on the others. Pulling the knife from her pocket, she sawed her way through the ropes sending her to her death, one by one, all the while keeping her eyes open and searching for a way out without notifying Burns to her presence or breaking her leg.

In a decade, she had never blown a mission. She could not go back to her father with anything less than good news. She absolutely refused. The mission was not blown; it could not be blown.

The last cord pulled taut, and she swung, lopsided, toward the wall. This pulley would not last long either. She needed to get close enough to the ground to jump, or she would pull it from the wall, or worse, swing into a display. The dark made depth perception difficult, but Sasha released herself anyway, rolling against the granite floor as silently as she could, and flattened herself against the ground.

The room was filled with interspersed glass cases and informational podiums. It would be easy to hide. Sasha looked back and forth between the harness floating above her and the guard a few feet away while she crawled to safety behind a podium in the center of the room, nearest to her position. The guard went stiff. He spun, flashlight waving in every direction in search of her. Sasha held the harness still and kept her cover behind the display until he was through and opening the door to the basement.

He hurried through the door and Sasha seized the opportunity to chase him. He did not look back at her, but she kept to the shadows and slipped into the basement behind him.

The generator was in the furthermost corner where the wires connecting it to the building’s main box could be bolted to the wall. Sasha was thankful for the ski mask over her face, wiping the sweat from her forehead.

Burns passed the boiler to find the generator. His loud, clumsy footsteps reverberated through the cave-like enclosure like a sad metronome, or a quickening reminder of his impending demise. The fire raging in the boiler cast a red glow over the room, but that was its only source of light. Burns’ black shadow stretched out from toe to ceiling, covering every inch of the floor before him in a shroud of darkness.

The boiler growled, spitting a small surge of glowing embers onto the concrete floor. As they approached the generator, everything seemed normal, the large black square, undisturbed. The building’s central power box screwed into the wall appeared untouched as well. The thick black cords connecting the box to the generator were hidden mostly by the shadow of the machine, but one cord was pushed unceremoniously away from the metal strip keeping it bolted to the concrete. Burns knelt to its height and trained his flashlight on the offending wire.

There was a slice running cleanly through it. It had been cut.

“What the hell?” he muttered, rolling the wire between his thumb and forefinger. Sasha stepped closer to him, no longer caring about keeping hidden. Her only avenue of escape was gone now; she would need a new way, and fast. It only took a single step out of the darkness to catch his attention.

His large figure had cast a much larger shadow onto the floor, but while he was kneeling to investigate the generator, the light from the fire illuminated the room around him. Sasha’s shadow moved slowly and silently about the floor, stalking him. His body froze and coiled to spring. Sasha watched his grip adjust on the flashlight as he rose slowly to his feet, but she was ready for him.  She watched the movement of his hips, noting which way he would turn, where he would hold his weight, and how he would strike before he knew it himself.

The guard spun, flashlight outstretched so that it would give a satisfying crack against her skull upon impact. That satisfaction never came; the head of the flashlight had fit itself into the gloved palm of the Sasha’s phantom hand instead of her masked temple. His shock showed plainly on his face.

While he was recovering, Sasha followed this attack with a blow to the neck. The tips of her fingers shot out, connecting with Burns’ windpipe and doubling him over. Ignoring the hoarse gurgle of protest directed at her, the only sound Burns could emit from his collapsed throat, her steely hands gripped Burns’ lowered shoulders and forced the older man’s gut into her knee. He fell easily to the concrete ground and his hat went flying across the room.

Spitting blood through his teeth, Burns slumped flat against the ground. She stood mockingly above him, pulling the black ski mask off her head. She wanted him to see her face. To know the adversary who had bested him.  She stared down at him. Her cheeks were split by a wide, taunting smile.

Cracking her knuckles once in reminder of his crushing loss, she shook her head. “I was truly wishing for a worthier adversary, Mr. Burns. You have disappointed me greatly,” Sasha murmured smoothly.

She crossed the room leisurely to retrieve his hat and fixed it onto her head. “It looks better on me, I think,” she concluded, outwardly blasé. Truthfully, she watched him like a hawk; her training never allowed for carelessness. He seemed to be down for the count, but she had been tricked by opponents into a false sense of security before.

His accusing eyes held no effect. She had been doing this far too long to feel anything. “Do not feel bad, Mr. Burns, you would not be the first man to be bested by me, and you will most certainly not be the last. It is what I do.”

“W—” Burns gasped, unable to move, or speak.

“Nothing you need concern yourself with Mr. Burns,” she promised, striding back to him with the brim of his cap pinched between her bony fingers.

He tried to speak again, but all that emerged was another breathy moan of pain.

“Goodnight, Mr. Burns,” she sighed in contentment, bringing her foot down onto his face and driving his nose into his brain. It elicited a sharp crack. His body went slack. The uneven gasps for breath ended.

Worthless. They were always worthless. These men parading in uniform always thought themselves superior, or even inhuman, but they were never enough to even knock Sasha on her back. And yet, they underestimated her. Always.

She circled her prey twice, admiring her work; specifically, how quickly and cleanly she had broken the man’s face. It was not the way she would have preferred to carry out the deed, her apartment was littered with toys for the job. She had not brought a single one, since this night’s task was supposed to include only a theft, but she should have known better. Someone always ended up dying by her hands in these sorts of things, she just could not help herself. Pushing the hair to have fallen in her face behind her ear, she straightened up, pinpointing another presence in the dark. As usual, he was watching her. Protecting the investment.

“How long have you been watching?” Sasha demanded. When he did not immediately answer, she turned her back on him. He would speak of his own volition soon enough.

“Didn’t your father ever tell you not to play with your food?” the wary voice questioned with a deep sigh.

“I am afraid my father did not feel any need to remind me of such trivial things. However, this hardly constitutes your metaphor. I am many things, Kai, but a cannibal does not make the list,” she insisted.

“Ugh,” he replied. “Let’s just get the book and go. If I have to deal with your…interesting mannerisms anymore tonight, I’ll put a bullet in my own head.”

“And then where would we be?” she muttered. “Let me know when you find that book.”

“Why the sarcasm?”

“It is not a book. It is a scroll.”

Her partner merely shook his head in disappointment. He did not care, and neither did she if it was an entire library, so long as they got paid and could go home.

“Put on your mask, Sasha, someone might see you,” he ordered.

“No one who will live to tell about it.”

He snickered. “Conceited, aren’t you?”

“Realistic.”

“You don’t look so big and tough.”

She danced around him, “While I am not very big, I can assure you that I am not to be trifled with.”

“I’d really rather not risk that right now.”

“Oh please, I have yet to find anyone who can match me in a fight. At least not this decade.”

“Of course not. The Psionic Soldier’s been out of commission too long,” he said. “You never got the chance to have your ass handed to you.”

She laughed. “Well if you would like to consider figments of imagination as opponents then I suppose a dragon would be tough to beat, as well.”

“Imagination.”

“The Psionic Soldier is a myth. A story to keep children in line.”

Kai’s indignation showed in his face. “He’s not a myth! He was in the news, in the papers, they made action figures—”

“I did not know I would have to tell you that superheroes are not real. Should I tell you about Santa Clause, too?”

When she started to laugh she could not stop. The Psionic Soldier was a being that had occupied the forefront of everyone’s mind for much of the late eighties to the early nineties, using an arsenal of ‘superhuman abilities’ to fight crime. He had taken on the name Psionic because of the supposed psychic abilities that allowed him to move things with his mind. It was impossible and, as far as she and her father were concerned, a government hoax. A hoax that had ended without explanation, leaving the population reeling back in 1993.

“Shut up, kid, I was around when he was still fighting for us. You don’t know anything.”

Sasha curtsied. “I prefer to live in the now. Where everything is wonderful.”

“It was pretty great back then, too. I had a couple Psionic Soldier action figures. I might still have them.”

She lost the will to laugh, the fatigue was setting in. The night needed to end, soon.  “Perhaps you should make yourself useful. Take care of the other guard. We will need his uniform to leave the building.”

“What happened to the plan, Sasha?” he snapped.

“Your equipment was unsatisfactory. It was by no fault of mine.”

“Or, could it be, that you’ve just been careless? I see you broke your harness,” he accused, appraising her body for a long moment. “And he heard you coming! You’re not exactly living up to the legend.”

She could only imagine the face he was making under the ski mask.

“I may have to take it up with Freeman. I think I’m paying too much.”

Her face turned bright red. The grinding of her teeth washed any thought of civility from her head.

She did not face him. “Do you have the scroll, then? Since you can stand there and criticize my work. Where is the scroll?” It was a struggle not to reach out and strangle the large man.

“Killing was never part of this plan, we were just supposed to get the scroll and go.” It was clear that Kai had never done the killing before; as strong as the act he put up seemed to be, he was a weakling when all was said and done. From the second he finished speaking, she knew who would be carrying out the deed upstairs.

“Please relax. I have been doing this since my adolescence you worthless man. Even you can manage it once. I cannot wear this man’s uniform, Kai. Would you prefer it if I dispatched Mr. Blackford myself?”

“No. Don’t worry your pretty little head about me. I’ll do it myself.” His voice was quiet, but strong, and as cold as ice. Without another word, he turned on his heel and strode back up the steps the way he had come, blending easily into the shadows.

Sasha was fully aware that she had wounded the less experienced man and gloried in it. After so many years, she was long since accustomed to being worshiped and sought after for her talent in the field. She was, after all, the best in the world. Her father had been paid handsomely for her participation today, just like he was on every other occasion an outside party hired her, and the rest was yet to come. Sasha never saw a dime, but she had other ways of collecting cash.

She stooped beside the body that had only just turned cold, pulling her gloves tight and searched the corpse for a wallet.

“Burns!” the young Blackford called upstairs. Sasha rolled her eyes. Not fast enough, Kai.

Unlike Burns, Blackford’s death was swift and painless. It was debatable, in fact, whether or not he knew that it had happened at all. A hasty kick to his tailbone. A twist of the neck. Done.

Sasha rose like a cat over the second body, stealth radiating from her every pore. Her companion stood against the wall, watching. He scowled at the corpse. The job was done now and his face was green.

“I’m going to throw up,” he said, covering his mouth and circling his arm around his abdomen.

“Don’t you dare! They can’t find any evidence!” she snarled, stripping Blackford of his uniform.

Once Kai had sufficiently calmed down, she continued, “Go to the basement and take the other uniform. The next shift will be here soon.”

Ten minutes later, it was two uniformed men that strode down the long set of stairs to the sidewalk, passing two similarly dressed guards entering the museum. A tendril of blonde hair threatened to fall from Sasha’s cap, revealing her to the new guards, but she blew it back into place. She held the scroll in her uniform, keeping it hidden. No one would miss it for at least a few hours. Kai and Sasha kept their faces pointedly toward the ground, obscured by the lack of light around them.

“Evening, Blackford,” one of the replacements smiled. “Burns.”

The false Burns gave an unintelligible grunt in response, whereas the other gave no retort at all. They stepped out into the street, wetting the hems of their pants in the puddles left from the rain on their way to the car. She was handed the envelope before Kai got in the vehicle without a word. It only took a moment to count the money, then she allowed them to leave with the scroll.

She walked ten blocks before she dropped the stolen uniform in a bush. Clad only in black, she gave no hint of what extra-curriculars she had partaken in that evening. She stuffed the envelope of what would now be her father’s money into one of the small pockets of her pants and made her way toward the airport.

 

 

 

 

 

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