I put the key in the lock, my cracked and bloody knuckles shaking as a cool shiver went down my spine. With one hand I twisted the dull brass edge of the key, the other quickly brushing thick red hair out of my eyes. I could feel my breath in my chest, like a balloon near bursting-point.
I heard a low ‘click’ as the bolts locking the steel door to the two-by-two box retreated. I slid the door to the side, and grabbed a flashlight from a pack strapped tightly to my back. Shining the light into the box, I saw the silver flare of the handle of the pistol. Jackpot.
I slowly drew the gun out, the weight odd in my hands. This was nothing like the high-tech, aerodynamic models we trained with in school. This was heavy in the back, and seemed to resonate with pure physical power. There were no settings, no long-range or short-range dials. Just a Flick The Safety, Point At Target, And Shoot kind of gun.
I examined the chamber, and to my relief there were four golden bullets. My hands stopped quivering at the sight of them, as if they were a drug and I the low-life druggee.
All at once, while staring entranced at the bullets, I became aware that I was not the only person in the weapons chamber of Hartsdale’s Laboratory. I heard a low exhale of breath, followed by a quiet rumble emanating from my mystery man’s throat. I lifted my head slowly, attempting to conceal my presence, as I clicked the chamber shut and flicked off the safety. My eyes narrowed, and I straightened my spine, the seams of my dark navy jacket thankfully silent as my neck craned upward, then to the right, then to the left.
At the very edge of the room, half-hidden behind a row of test tubes and layers of petri dishes, I saw him: a masked figure with an inhumanly long arm at its side, half of it the same metallic silver as my gun. The figure raised its arm and I heard a high-pitched wind-up, like the sound before a doctor’s report, or the withheld breath of the dead – the sound that we all attribute to silence.
On instinct I dodged to the side, agile and swift, living up to my nickname of “The Red Fox” given to me by my professor of Ancient Assassinations, period seven, three years in a row. A bullet narrowly missed my head, a millimeter away from skimming my ear. I cursed under my breath, and lifted my gun. Without blinking I clicked the trigger, once, twice, three times, and on the third the golden arrow made contact with the figure’s mask. My orders were clear; a headshot was to be administered for anyone who stood in my way.
“Jesus, Alice!” The figure cursed, and my hazel eyes widened with surprise as his mask came flying off. I saw his deep chocolate skin, and beautiful muddy eyes, rimmed with a scar I gave him from training two years ago. My breath stopped short, as if I were suddenly smacked in the chest, and I managed to whisper his name before my common sense kicked in.
But in that narrow lapse between my astonishment and my knee-jerk reaction to shoot him in the heart six times, he raised his gun and fired. A stinging pain ricocheted through my shoulder, throwing the entire left side of my body backwards and sending me crashing to the cool tile floor.
I shrieked, and pushed myself to a sitting position with my good arm. I raised my gun, though my shoulder felt as if it were on fire, and slammed my finger on the trigger.
I was just able to see the cold fear in those muddy eyes before the bullet drilled into his forehead, and he flew backwards, slumping against the wall.
Panting, I pressed the palm of my hand into the sticky wound on my shoulder. I would never hesitate to shoot again.