Chapter One: You're Wearing Your Skin Like It's Too Tight
11032007 – 0658P
AN: I've wanted to do a spy/mystery novel (and do it right, since "Darling, Dearest, Dead…" obviously fell flat on its face) for a long time now. But what you should know about it is that because it's just a whim novel, no matter how long the whim has been around, it might be hard at times for me to find the drive to continue it. At times updates will be few and far between, and at others, they will be up in quick succession. It all really depends. I just ask that, if you enjoy the story enough to continue with it, you have patience with me.
For those of you who might not be familiar with my other works (there are over twenty, so I would love for you to check them out sometimes), I always put the title of the music I'm listening to at the beginning of each chappy. This chappy was "Bulls Make Money, Bears Make Money, Pigs Get Slaughtered" by Chiodos.
Some of the things I do are unwise. I know I'm here for my own protection. I know that I have to keep a low profile.
But when the Company has conditioned a person from the age of eight to know only one way of life, and to eat, breathe, and sleep it, it's difficult to leave it behind.
In a city estimated to be the home of seven and a half million, the odds of them finding me are astronomical. Still, I'm pushing my luck by continuing my training, even in my own apartment. I know that one day I'll be summoned back to the Company, when this all blows over, and if I can't continue my job, they won't have mercy on me. All Untouchables, or spies, are the same. If they become no longer useful prematurely, there is no retirement. No lifelong protection. No passports, fake names, or fraudulent papers.
There is only termination.
I refuse to allow that to happen.
So as I wait, I continue my work as through I'm the English ears of the Irish Company.
(11 years ago)
"Don't! Please! NO!"
I covered my ears with my hands, screwing my eyes shut, but I still couldn't block out her screams. Even at such a young age, I was sickened by my own cowardice, though I couldn't name this reason consciously.
After a few moments, I risked lowering my hands, but my eyes remained shut tight. There were no more screams, just silence, and then careful footsteps. Almost against my will, I opened my eyes. I was met with the striking figure of a tall, slender girl. In a flash, she had a .45 caliber pistol pressed to my forehead. I sensed, rather than saw her finger begin to tighten around the trigger, and I sucked in a breath.
"Stop, Nathalie," a man's voice interrupted, and before I could even release my breath, the gun was gone, tucked out of sight, and the girl was looking at me through narrowed eyes, her arms crossed over her chest. I heard footsteps again, and a man even taller than the girl, and probably a good bit older than her stepped into view. He peered down at me, seeming to scrutinize everything about me.
"She comes with us," he finally spoke with a nod. "She looks like she might be useable. And if not, we can dispose of her later."
I didn't understand what they were talking about, or what they meant. But then, I hardly understood anything back then. It would be a long time before I was truly aware of what I was going into.
But I did understand one thing, as I saw my parents' bodies in the other rooms as the girl carried me past: I had nothing here anymore.
Nathalie would slow when we passed the rooms. I think that she did it on purpose, to make sure that I saw, and understood that there was nothing left for me.
As much as it hurt at the time, I would realize much later that there was nothing I could ever do to thank her enough for that.
I remember that when I got to the Company, I was frightened. Besides the trauma of losing my parents, of seeing their dead bodies on the floor, I had then been carried deep into the forest, and down through what appeared to be a trap door in the mossy dirt floor. After we got to the bottom of the stairs, the general sterile nature of my surroundings startled me. Considering the fact that we were over ten feet underground, the place was remarkably institutional. Stainless steel was everywhere, which I would later find out served the dual purpose of reflecting light and insulating the cavern.
The hallway that we had entered was long and narrow, branching off in all directions into other halls and rooms. The entire place seemed like a maze, and I cuddled closer to Nathalie, despite what I knew she had done. She did her best to pull away, but it was difficult, being that she was carrying me.
She took me first to a large community lavatory, where I was stripped bare and scrubbed clean of all blood and dirt, along with anything else that may have gotten on my skin in the course of the night. My long red hair was chopped off to just below my chin, and then it, too, was thoroughly washed, blow dried, and brushed before I was given what resembled a hospital gown and pajama pants, but pitch black. Nathalie didn't speak a word through the entire process, guiding me with her hands rather than voice. I was in some state of shock that didn't allow me to speak or cry, and I was later thankful for it. My stoic demeanour was probably what allowed me to survive and stay with the Company.
I would learn later that the black clothing and stark surroundings was to take away our interest in colour. We couldn't afford to be colourful. The difference between colours and neutrals could also be the difference between life and death for an Untouchable.
The man was waiting for us outside the lavatory when we were finished, and without a word, or even a glance at me, he turned and led us down the hall and through another door.
It was an examining room, sparsely equipped with a stainless steel examining table, a white counter with a stainless sink, and a metal desk with a rigid metal chair where a man in a crisp white lab jacket was sitting. I was lifted onto the examining table, and I remember that the steel felt like ice, even through the cotton fabric of the black pants I was given.
"A new one?" the man in the lab jacket asked, standing and striding over to where I was sitting. Nathalie and the other man nodded. "Has she been approved?" he asked.
"That's why we're here," Nathalie finally spoke with a bite in her voice, but after a sharp look from the man who had been accompanying her, she diverted her eyes. "Dr. Walls," she added in a respectful undertone.
"You should train your dog better, Stephen," Dr. Walls said conversationally. The other man, Stephen, nodded. "Now, about the girl: it's my policy with all new arrivals that they must stay under observations for a minimum of twenty-four hours, and undergo a vigorous physical checkup. Do you agree?"
"Whatever you wish, Doctor," Stephen said.
"Very well. You may come back tomorrow evening for my decision. For now, I will perform the physical, and then move her to an isolation room for the night. In the morning, if she's passed everything so far, I will move her into a room with Adrienne. We have to ensure she's suited for human interaction. The past ruins some of them."
"We understand, Doctor," Stephen answered respectfully, before bowing out of the room and taking Nathalie with him.
Dr. Walls was a rough man, and I felt like a rag doll in his hands. But he was also a respectful man, and as I would learn later, a licensed pediatrician. The Company kept only the finest. He explained to me everything that he was going to do, and wouldn't continue until I nodded. This he required, even if he wouldn't force me to speak. I was examined with everything from lights in my ears to swabs in my throat to x-rays and CT scans of my insides.
When I was finally pronounced healthy, even if I was a little shell-shocked, I was taken to a small room. It was, like every other one so far, sparsely decorated. In one corner was a twin bed with a stainless frame and white sheets. Beside it was a small white cabinet, and in the middle of the room there was a white square card-type table and a single matching chair. Along the wall opposite the bed, there was a large mirror.
That night was one of the loneliest of my life. Perhaps it was the knowledge that I was now alone in the world, or the sterile environment full of strangers, or a combination of the two. Either way, I felt so alone, and I couldn't sleep. I instead spent the night lying on the bed, staring up at the white ceiling.
In the morning I was taken to a large room with many steel picnic-style tables, where I ate scrambled eggs, sausage, and butter-less toast off of a metal tray. Dr. Walls watched me the entire time.
"You didn't sleep much last night," he observed. I shrugged. "What were you thinking about?"
"Where am I?" I countered his question.
"I can't tell you that until you've been approved," he answered calmly. "So make sure you are." It was all very easy for him to say, but I had no idea what it meant, or what I was trying to get approved for.
After I ate, I was taken to yet another room, another floor down. These were the residence halls. Dr. Walls knocked on a door, and waited only a moment before opening it. The first thing I saw was a gun barrel trained at the doctor.
"I didn't invite you in," a female voice spat, and I was surprised to see a girl my age, no older than eight. She was dressed in a school outfit, with a pleated skirt, knee socks, sweater vest, button-down shirt, and loafers. She looked like any normal student, except her whole outfit was black. Her honey-coloured eyes flashed to me for only a moment, but that was all that the doctor needed. He grabbed her wrist and with hardly any effort on his part, the gun fell from her hands with a clatter.
"You're getting too trigger happy, Adrienne. We'll have to find you a master soon," he said in a bored voice, stooping to pick up the gun. He flipped something on the side before handing it to her. "Besides, if you shoot me, who's left to treat you? I'm the only one who knows how."
The girl, Adrienne huffed and dropped her eyes.
"This is a new arrival," the doctor continued. Adrienne looked to me again in mild curiosity.
"What's her name?" she asked, her voice considerably softer than the first time she spoke.
"She doesn't have one yet," he answered before I could. I was surprised. Of course I had a name. I don't remember now what it was, but I remember the shock that went with his statement. But Adrienne didn't look surprised. She nodded. "We're going to put the two of you together for the day."
I don't really remember what Adrienne and I did that day, but I do recall that she was just as secretive about where we were and why as everyone else. I remember being confused by her, and wondering why she had a gun. She sat at her table, taking it apart and cleaning each little piece individually before putting it back together before taking me to the target room, and giving me a pair of goggles.
I remember her shooting and hitting the target each time, right between the eyes.
Later that night, I was pronounced "useable". Stephen nodded, and took me with him to Adrienne's room. I found out that she would be my roommate. I was given a uniform like hers, shown where the bathroom was, and then taken to another hall, another floor. I was suddenly back in the target room.
That day was like a whirlwind. I was given a gun, taught where the safety was and told to keep it on at all times if the gun wasn't in use, and then Stephen knelt behind me, holding my arms steady as I shot my first round of bullets. I was taught to reload a clip. I shot another. Reloaded. And another. I was given no more ammunition after that. My gun would remain empty until I was trained to use it properly, like Adrienne.
Adrienne taught me to clean my gun that night. She taught me to take my gun apart completely, down to every gear and spring, and then reassemble it. We repeated this process over and over, until it became second nature. It was as easy as riding my bike or tying my shoes.
I remember the metal felt heavy in my hands. Over the next several years, that gun would become nothing more than an extension of my arm. But at that time, it felt awkward, foreign in my palm. Adrienne already handled them like they were nothing. It made me wonder how long she had already been there.
Adrienne understood the rules of the Company as well as any adult there. She kept her clip under lock and key when she wasn't using it, until I was deemed safe with a gun.
It was two years before I was allowed to know the basics about the Company. Before you could be granted knowledge, you had to be found to be sane, able to safely handle a gun, have no flight risk, be taken off of twenty-four hour watch, and in my case, be taken off of suicide watch. Any children who were brought to the Company under the circumstances that I was were placed on suicide watch.
"Here's the way it works, Kaylynn," Adrienne said in her explanatory voice. Kaylynn. That was my new name. "When you first come to the Company, you're a pup. Pups don't have jobs, and they never leave headquarters, which is where you are. Pups just train all day. That's all. When you get older, or you've been here long enough, or you're just really in need of discipline, you get a master, or an older, experienced member of the Company. All masters were pups at one point, and then dogs. Dogs are like the master's partner, but they're not as… in charge. You have to be a dog before you can be a master, and your own master has to retire before you can become one. That means you'll be a dog for anywhere from ten to twenty years, in most cases. I'll be one for at least another fifteen years."
Adrienne had received a master when we were nine, thirty-year-old Jennifer Bonham. But Adrienne remained a pup until she was nearly ten, despite the presence of her master.
"You don't actually become a dog, until you go on a job," she explained when I asked about it. "You still have a lot of training to do after you get a master. You have to learn to work with them. You have to learn to take direction. To do whatever they say, without doubting it. You have to be conditioned. You have to be prepared to give up everything to protect your master. Including your life. But if you have a good master, you never have to worry about that."
"Is Jennifer a good master?" I asked quietly. Adrienne smiled.
"Everyone likes to believe that their master is a good one," she said simply.
"What did you do on your first job?"
"That," Adrienne said, turning her honey eyes to burn into my green ones, "I will never be allowed to tell you."
By the time I was ten, I was the oldest pup in the Company, but also the most skilled. I could shoot and hit a target every time, even if all I had was my peripheral vision. I was skilled in hand-to-hand combat. And I was smart. I studied everything from art to math to physics to history. I read every book in the Company library, and then moved on to the technical manuals that came with my weapons.
Because I was so old for a pup, it was considered for a while that I would never be useable as an Untouchable, and that maybe my training should be taken in another direction, possibly as an engineer for the Company.
But then I met Gregory Montgomery, a dog of twenty-six whose master had just retired. He chose me over the other, younger pups, and became my master. Together, we made up team 63.
Life in general gets better once you have a master, because you start to have worth and potential in the eyes of the Company, but training quickly becomes hell.
"I'm so hungry," I whined, watching Adrienne bite into her sandwich. She rolled her eyes.
"Yeah. And you'll be so hungry by the end of this that you can barely move," she said grimly, taking another bite. I looked at her pleadingly. She shook her head as she swallowed. "No. Giving you food now will only make it harder in the long run."
"Make what harder?" I whined. That seemed to be my new chosen pitch. "I don't even know what's going on. Why are they doing this to me?"
"You'll see. It shouldn't be more than another day or so," she said with a shrug. I sighed irritably. I was in no mood for Adrienne's secrecy.
"Just tell me!" I cried. She narrowed her eyes dangerously.
"I can't, Kaylynn. Do you know what they would do to me if I told you? I could be taken away from my master. I could be tortured. I could be killed. You don't seem to understand that the Company takes secrets of the business very seriously. And training falling into that category."
I opened my mouth to rebut her answer, not really caring at that moment about the Company, but that very second there was a knock on the door. I stood up immediately, my hand resting on the gun at my side.
"Yes?" I asked simply.
"It's Gregory," the familiar voice called and I inched closer to the door, peering through the peephole. It was pretty much impossible to infiltrate headquarters, especially all the way to the resident floor, but I had still been instructed to be careful.
It really was Gregory on the other side, and I opened the door, my hand falling from the pistol. He entered the room, throwing Adrienne a solemn nod, which she returned.
"It's time," he said to me, motioning for me to follow him. I wanted badly to ask him what it was time for, but I knew better than to actually do it. He led me up to one of the examining rooms, and motioned for me to sit on the table. A new doctor, younger than Dr. Walls, walked in. He didn't introduce himself, didn't even seem to acknowledge me at all. He simply nodded to Gregory and walked over to a large cabinet in the corner.
When he opened it, I was strangely shocked. I had expected, like most people probably would, that the cabinet would be full of medical supplies. But instead there were numerous small computer monitors, each showing what seemed to be the perimeter of the forest, and about ten small boxes that I would later found out were a sort of router.
Opening a drawer in the bottom of the cabinet, he pulled out a metal cuff and hooked it up to a computer, entering codes into it and pressing a button before disconnecting it.
He then came over and put it around my ankle. It fit loosely, but not enough so that it could be taken off, and he locked it on. An LED light on the side glowed green. I stared at it. I couldn't figure out what it was.
After the doctor was done with everything that he had to do, Gregory took me to a storage room. I was given long pants, a tee shirt, boots, and an insulated jacket, all in black. As he picked out these items, he explained what was going on.
"This is your first survival training. You'll be put out of headquarters for a week. In that time, you must survive on your own. You have to find shelter, food, and water in the forest. I know you know the way out. Any dolt could find it if they walked long enough. So just to ensure you aren't tempted to roam into town, you've had a trace put on you. If you go past the edge of the forest, the LED light will turn red. You have five seconds to get back in the area before you're shot by area guard. And I can promise you, you won't survive that.
"You'll have your guns with two extra clips, your knife, which you've been keeping sharp if you have any sense at all, and four feet of twine. That's not enough to hold together any sort of constructed shelter, so if you're smart you'll be resourceful. You'll also be given a book of twenty matches. That's not enough to keep a fire going for the whole week, even just through the nights, so you'll have to be conservative, then crafty. There are wild animals in the forest, many of which are not at all shy of humans, so be alert or under cover at all times." As he finished talking, we had walked to a lavatory. "Well, that's all I can tell you. Go change, and then you'll set out."
And with that, I was pushed into the lavatory. I took that to mean that I didn't get to ask questions. I quickly changed and stole a glance at my watch. It was exactly 1300, on the sixth. I had to make it to this time on the twenty-third. That seemed like a very long time.
Seemingly faster than I could blink, Gregory took me to the stairs leading to the trapdoor and motioned for me to go out. I really didn't want to. I didn't have the faintest clue, outside of what I had read in passing, about how to survive in the wild. I just stood there for a few moments, looking dazedly around in the bright light. It was cold, and I shrank into my jacket. After a few more seconds of watching my breath condensate before me, I finally set out, hoping to find something to help me make shelter. My teeth clicked together violently as I shook.
I finally stumbled upon a small cave, what I estimated to be about a mile away from the entrance to headquarters. I peered carefully inside, remembering what Gregory had said about wild animals, but saw nothing, and as I cautiously made my way further in, I saw that it was completely deserted. It would do as a temporary shelter, at the very least. If nothing else, I could eventually make a new one.
The next thing that immediately came to mind, as my stomach gave a particularly loud rumble, was that I had to find food. I tried to remember every book I had read about the plant life of East Ireland and edible plants in general, but I drew blanks. After looking around for an hour, I realized that nothing was familiar by way of berries or mushrooms, and I wasn't yet desperate enough to risk being poisoned.
When I heard water, I walked until I came upon what I could only suppose was the Liffey River. I knew that it ran through some part of the forest, but I had no idea that it was so close to headquarters. It could only have been two or three miles, at most.
Fish swam close to the glittering surface by the shore, their fins occasionally breaking the glassy barrier between water and air, drawing ripples across the calm tide.
Forming a plan in my head, I found the sturdiest-looking stick along the riverbank and, using some of my precious limited twine, tied my knife to the end of it. I then waded out into the shallows, until the water was up around my knees. The river was frigid. It was late fall, the sixth of December, and as the sun started to set on the shortened day, the water grew even colder, and a fine frost settled on the grass nearby.
As the sun set lower, I started to worry. As much as the water had calmed around my legs, as much as I controlled the tremors in my body caused by the cold, the fish still weren't coming within reach. There was only one thing for it: I would have to rely on my aim, and I didn't know how good it would be with a spear rather than a gun. With the last few rays of sunlight, I watched a fish some six feet away from me make its way back and forth, skimming the surface.
I struck sometime during its fifth loop, hurtling the spear away from me with all of my strength. It stuck in the muddy ground of the riverbed two yards or so away. I rolled my pants up a little more and made my way toward it, careful to watch for undertows and sudden dips in the riverbed along the way. I couldn't tell at that point if I had managed to spear the fish, and I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed as I wrapped my hand around the stick, pulling firmly. I heard a splash as the rest of the stick and blade came free from the depth, and opened my eyes. The fish gave one final sad flop on the stick, just below the blade, and then moved no more.
That was how I survived the week, wading for fish at dusk, and hunting small game, such as squirrel, for dinner. The days actually weren't so bad. The worst animal I came across was a large snake. It turned out not to be of a poisonous variety, but I hate snakes and I wasn't taking any chances. Before I thought of what I was doing, I pulled out my .45 and shot. The snake didn't move and I hurried away. I don't know if it was dead or just stupid, but I'm betting on the latter.
What was bad were the nights. The temperature, which was already somewhere around the low fifties during the day, dropped up to twenty degrees at night, and I only had the clothes on my back to keep warm. I tried to keep a fire lit at night, but Gregory was right and I soon realized I didn't have enough matches for that. I wound up keeping the fire burning only as long as I was actually awake after the sun set, and letting it burn out as I slept.
By the end of the week I was dirty to say the least, covered in soot and ash from sleeping near the fire, dirt from the outdoors, and scratches and dried blood from my many encounters with thorns and other nuisances in the forest. I was also in a great deal of pain. I was extremely dehydrated, since I didn't want to drink too much of the river water in case it was polluted and I had no way to boil and purify it. I had also sprained my wrist at some point, and broken a rib. I was extremely fatigued, barely able to keep my eyes open, and my lungs burned from the smoke of the fire.
Adrienne met me at the bottom of the stairs when I got back to headquarters. She smiled grimly.
"Glad you made it," she said. "The first time is always awful."
While survival training sessions like the one in the forest were definitely the most obviously physically demanding, it wasn't all that was required of me.
I was woken before dawn every morning to run at least four miles in the gym. I learned ten ways to kill a man with my bare hands, and even more ways using common household items. I learned to scuba dive, mountain climb, scale walls, and shoot by sound rather than sight. I learned how to nurse everything from a bullet wound to accidental amputation. I learned tracking and stealth. I learned defense. I learned to make bombs of every kind, explosives to gas. I learned more than I could ever begin to recount. And all of it was designed purely to keep Gregory alive. My own survival was merely secondary.
I didn't get my first job until I was eleven, and the job itself was hardly ideal. Aside from my survival missions, I hadn't been outside of headquarters in three years. And right off the bat, my job required tracking, stealth, and eventually assassination.
The target was forty-six-year-old politician Anthony O'Donnell. He was a notoriously corrupt far-right republican.
I think that, despite all that Adrienne told me during the last two years, that job was the first time I fully realized that the Company was politically-driven.
AN: Wow. Eleven pages. This was a very long chappy for me. If you're familiar with my work, you know that. I hope I did a good job with it, and it didn't just drag on and on. That's what I'm always worried about with longer chappys. :)
The story about the job itself will be in the next chappy.
If anyone is wondering, and about to tell me about how unrealistic the language used by two eight to eleven year olds, let me explain a bit: it's a psychological fact that children who are subject to a lot of trauma in their younger years do one of two things. They either digress in behaviour, or they become highly progressed for their age. The latter was the case for both Adrienne and Kaylynn. As for Kaylynn's internal dialogue, she's telling the story at the age of about nineteen or so. So of course it would be more mature when told in retrospect.
Well… hmm… thoughts? Suggestions? Reviews are greatly appreciated, and I always reply to them, or at least send thanks. :)
Sneak peek of the next chappy: "How do you expect to be an Untouchable," Nathalie spat, "and uncover secrets and protect people, when you can't even begin to understand or protect yourself? You're going to get Gregory killed, and maybe even yourself. But you won't have to worry, because if Gregory's killer doesn't get you, the Company will. Failure to protect your master is punishable with death."