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Kill to Live
I always say, death is not that big of a deal. Everyone dies for a reason. Maybe you’re just old and your body can’t contain your soul any longer, so it stops trying. Or you get a disease, which sucks, and your body can’t handle that either, and it shuts down. Or you get shot, or stabbed, which really sucks, but there’s not much you can do about that. Not that that will ever be me though, dying from multiple stab wounds or a gunshot. I’m always the one causing other people to die.
I wake up, about two seconds before my alarm clock blares, obnoxiously announcing that it’s 6:30. I always wake up right at 6:30, my body’s been conditioned to, but I set an alarm every night, just in case. Better safe than sorry, which, in this case, means dead.
I shower and get dressed in a nondescript black t-shirt and comfortable jeans. Canvas sneakers, also black, top off my anonymous look. In my profession, the more you blend in, the better. I shoulder my backpack, grabbing a cereal bar before I head out the door. I do a last-minute double check on the occupant of the second bedroom; Dionne is still snoring away, which also means she’s still alive. I don’t bother to leave her a note as to where I’m going because if someone were to find it, it could leave us both vulnerable.
I climb into the car and start the engine, which purrs like a content jungle cat. I ease out of the drive way and onto the side street, slowly and following every memorized traffic law my brain can muster. Before I set off, I check my appearance one last time in the rearview mirror: hazel eyes stare back, deep purple circles hanging under them, my long dark hair lays flat on my shoulders, and my expression is grim, as per usual. I’m just your normal teenage girl who reads classic literature, loves Thai food, and kills to live.
I am an assassin. I work for an agency, known simply as The Agency, which employs other people like me- loners and orphans, with nowhere left to turn. After my parents were killed, I had to go live with my aunt. Dionne had never been married, much less had kids, and wasn’t too happy when she learned she would have to be “tied down” by becoming my legal guardian. She feeds me and gives me a place to stay when I’m in the States, for now. Sometimes I wonder if I met a better or worse fate than my older brother, Scott, who I haven’t seen in the nine years since our parents died. But that’s another story.
I turn onto a main road and begin calculating where the Mark should be today. It’s a Sunday, which means he’s either at home or at the park. I guess I could take the extra time to swing by his house before heading to the park, but it’s closer and will be more efficient to keep going the way I’m going. That’s the way I roll-efficient and clean. I’m a better field agent than most at The Agency, which is saying something, considering I’m a good deal younger than most too.
At sixteen years old, I have the education of the average American thirty-five year old. I’ve been extensively trained in various forms of martial arts, weaponry, and am fluent in twenty languages. I know how to get in, get the Mark, and get out, which is, at its core, my entire job. You could even say it’s my entire life, because I have nothing outside of The Agency.
At first, when I was young, it was easy to pretend what I was doing was OK. It had only been a few months since my parents died when the man and woman in black came to my aunt’s door. I remember that, even at seven years old, I could tell that the woman was in charge. (I later learned that said woman was, in fact, Director M of The Agency, which made her very much so in charge.) She just emanated this sense of power, and I could see that the man who had accompanied her was afraid of her. I hadn’t ever personally experienced a woman in power before, but I liked it, and wanted it for myself. Maybe my eagerness made it easier for Dionne to say yes when they asked to take me away. Looking back now, I wish I could look my hopeful, broken younger self in the face and say, “Don’t do this!” But it’s a little late for reminiscing. I’m already in too deep.
"Hey! Hanna!” a voice breaks my reverie as I sit in my parked car. I roll down the window carefully, and peer right into a blue-eyed cherub face.
“Nara!” I exclaim, opening the passenger’s side door and motioning for her to go around. She runs like a gangly gazelle and hops into the seat, grinning. Her expression makes me smile, for the first time in too long.
“What are you doing here? And don’t yell my real name like that in public, it’ll break my cover.”
“Oops, sorry! I finished my first mission, so Director M said I could come visit you, if I wanted. I’m supposed to help you, but stay out of your way, if you need it.”
Sounds like something the director would say. Nara is so young; she reminds me of myself when I first became an agent. She’s only nine, even younger than me when I made my first mission, and plans on breaking all my records. Something deep in my gut makes me want to tell her to run, get out now, and never come back, but I don’t know why.
“So, how was it?” I ask.
“How was what?” she wrinkles her nose in a confused expression.
I sigh, rolling my eyes theatrically, making her giggle.
“Your first mission, silly!”
“Oh.” She replies quietly, looking down at her hands in her lap. “I didn’t like it very much.”
I rub her back, and she looks up at me with tears in her eyes.
“It gets better, don’t worry. The first one’s always the toughest. Was it clean, at least?”
She nods a little, and suddenly, I spot the Mark through the window over Nara’s little blonde head. An idea occurs to me, and I smile again. “I think I know just how you can help me.”
“Excuse me sir, can you help me? I thought I left my book by this bench somewhere, but it’s gone now. Have you seen it?”
Nara is perfect in the role of an innocent kid looking for a lost toy. The Mark starts to help her search for her missing whatever, while I watch from a safe position behind a tree a few yards away. They crawl on the grass, and slowly she tilts her head slightly to the left, our signal. I reach for my gun, a sleek pistol with a silencer, and walk swiftly towards her and the Mark. I subconsciously note her edging away so she can stay out of range of any possible shrapnel. Good girl. As I near him, I raise my gun to the Mark’s back and am prepared to pull the trigger, when he turns and faces me for the first time. I gasp as memories tumble unbidden from my mind.
A park, much like this one. My father, laughing and chasing my brother and I, while my serene, beautiful mother sits on a picnic blanket in the grass. Peaceful and quiet, no one there but us four. Suddenly, chaos; two boys too young to look so awful, with eyes dead like dull marbles, with them guns and a knife, blood everywhere, and Scott is screaming, they’re taking him away, and Mom’s eyes are glassy and her neck is all wrong and there’s so much blood…
Tears flow from my eyes, and my fingers tremble. The Mark is looking at me with a plea in his eyes, his eyes that are the exact shade of hazel that I look at every day. I want to kill him, so badly, more than I’ve ever wanted to kill a living being before. He’s the last thing linking me to my past; without him, I could trick myself into believing what I do is acceptable. Good, even. I’ve killed so many people, and I’m used to the usual look of shock and the way they beg or the sounds they make as their final breath escapes between their lips. But this look he’s giving me, this man who must be eighteen now, who is, without a doubt, my brother, is so unlike and yet so like every facial expression of human emotion I’ve seen. My gun falls free of my clenched hands and clatters to the ground. I allow myself to sob as I fall into his outstretched arms.
The sentiment doesn’t last long. The hairs on the back of my neck stiffen and I whirl around with my knife drawn to protect myself and now, Scott. Nara’s tiny once-cherubic face is now twisted in anger, and she clutches the gun like a drowning man clutches a life raft. I shake my head emphatically, trying to persuade her.
“Nara. You don’t want to do this. Can’t you see? Things have changed now. He’s on our side. Please, put the weapon down. Let’s talk about this.” The words feel foreign coming out of my mouth, and I realize it’s because I’ve heard them so many times before from my victims.
Her lips are white with rage as she whispers hoarsely, “You lied to me. You told me you were alone, like me. You said you were an orphan. I can never trust you again!”
“I thought I was!” I protest, but I know it’s futile. In the final moments before she pulls the trigger, I feel my body instinctively reacting to the danger. My knife comes up, and before I realize what’s happening, I slash the gun right across the barrel. It does nothing to stop it from firing, but does knock it out of the way enough so that the bullet buries itself harmlessly in a tree. Nara becomes even more irate, but I grab her by the waist and lift her into the air before she can try again. Thank God she’s light and I’m strong.
“Nara Anne Whitley. You are a wonderful, talented young woman. I refuse to see you become what I’ve become. Run. Get the hell out of here. Don’t ever come back. You can do something better with your life than this.” I put her down carefully. She looks at me, looks at the gun, and throws it into the bushes. I expect her to turn and leave, but instead she embraces me, squeezing the air from my lungs, though I know it’s not to attack me. She looks up at me one last time, misty eyed, before she goes.
I turn to Scott, and slip my hand in his. This sign of affection, though new to me, feels right. He flashes me that boyish, familiar smile, and we leave the park hand in hand.
“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” he jokes.
I nod, laughing, for once without caring who hears.
I’m disgusted. If that traitor honestly thinks I’m going to let her off the hook without saying anything, she’s dumber than she looks. “Talented young woman” my rear end. She doesn’t care about me. She betrayed me. I pull my cell phone out of my pocket and call the first speed dial number.
“Director M speaking. What do you want, Agent N?”
I smirk, filled with the satisfaction of being a snitch. “We have a deserter.”
There’s a short pause before she answers, “I’m on my way.”