Eryn’s First Day
“Two of us?” Eryn gasped. She shook her head and looked squarely at the competition. “No.”
The room she was in was small, dark, with only a solitary light shining from above, pointed almost directly at her face. She couldn’t see much of her employer. He was all shadow and ink, with only his hands clearly visible, resting atop a green ‘Info Chip!’. The chip contained all the relevant information about the task at hand. Someone was going to die. That was the only thing that made every assignment similar. The latest variation was intolerable, however.
Adrielle gave a sweet smile and she spread her hands out wide. “I do not question the directions of the Corporation.”
The woman was a liar; surely she was as outraged as Eryn was, but too honey-tongued to admit it. Eryn looked, as best she was able, at the man behind the desk. For every task, there was a new man, a new voice, but never before had the Corporation asked her to ‘share’ in her duties.
“You are wise not to question,” he said to Adrielle. He pushed the ‘Info Chip!’ across the wooden desk. “The Corporation expects results. The situation is delicate and time-sensitive.”
Eryn reached out for the ‘Info Chip!’ the same time Adrielle did. Their hands touched and she glared at the blond, petite woman, who in turn did the same. Eryn narrowed her eyes further into small, viperous slits. She pressed her finger atop the chip. “Let go.”
“You let go,” Adrielle replied, mimicking Eryn’s actions.
“I’m sure you both will do fine,” the man said without modulating his voice. “This meeting is over.” He reached under his desk and a door behind the two women opened, letting in scant, pale light.
Adrielle retracted her finger. “We can view the information together.”
Eryn snatched the device up and stuffed it in her pocket. “Perhaps.”
“Obey the Corporation,” the man behind the desk said, with just a small, but detectable, inflection of anger.
“Fine,” Eryn sighed. She strolled out of the room into a long hallway, lit by white, bright lights that starkly contrasted the meeting-chamber. She waited for Adrielle to follow.
The woman was insufferable. She was short, beautiful, with long, golden hair, worn in a tight bun and a sense of fashion that irked Eryn. Whereas Eryn wore dark slacks and a form-fitting jacket, Adrielle chose a white dress that brought out her angles and curves, without exposing any flesh below the neck, save for her perfect, little hands. How many people had she murdered with those angelic hands? Seventy-three! Four more than Eryn, another reason why she hated her.
“You really shouldn’t be so cross, it’s just a joint-project,” Adrielle said smoothly.
“I work alone.” Eryn stalked down the hall. “Or I did.”
Adrielle followed, her footfalls made no sound on the polished floor. “Part of Corporate life is teamwork, Eryn. If you want to move up, you have to be aware that sometimes two cogs in a machine work more efficiently than just the one. Besides, perhaps we’ll have fun.”
“Fun?” Eryn whirled and faced her rival.
She towered over her, but Adrielle was unfazed. She smiled and tilted her head quizzically.
“This will be anything but fun, Adrielle. I don’t need you getting in my way. I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Ohhhh…” she said.
It was Eryn’s turn to tilt her head. “What do you mean by, ‘ohhh?’”
“Nothing,” Adrielle replied. She walked past Eryrn. “I didn’t see it as me babysitting you, but now that you mention it- perhaps that is what this is all about.” She looked over her shoulder. “Let’s view the ‘Info Chip!’ in room 33-G. I like the view from up there.”
Scowling, Eryn followed.
33-G did have a nice view of Merger’s capital, Coadunation. High above the city, she could make out in the night, thousands of smaller sky-scrapers, glowing with advertisements and connected by tubes equally illuminated with demands that the public buy this or that. Massive blimps moved like celestial whales through the sky, adorned with company slogans and products, ranging from ‘Wake Me Up!’ brand drink, to ‘One-Shot One-Kill!’ rifles.’ Almost anything could be purchased in the Corporate Worlds, and absolutely everything could be bought on the planet of Merger.
Beyond the city, Eryn could make out, lit by the lights of a million advertisements, burnt out, skeletal structures of steel and stone. They had belonged to a long-dead alien culture that once thrived on Merger. From what Eryn knew, they had discovered atomic weapons and nationalism at the same time- an unfortunate, and in their case, fatal combination.
“Ready?” Adrielle said. She was seated in a high-backed chair facing a holographic projector set into the wall.
Eryn stepped away from the broad window of the private office and fished the ‘Info Chip!’ from her pocket. She inserted it into the holographic projector and took a seat next to Adrielle.
The projector hummed to life and before them an image of ‘Mr. Corporate’ appeared- the ubiquitous, bald and smiling male used in every dossier, no matter the topic.
“Hello,” Mr. Corporate said with false enthusiasm, “Find-Right Corporation greets you and hopes you’re having a wonderful-” the projector beeped. “night. Your corporate goal is to eliminate the leader of an Upper-Arm mercenary outfit. The mercenary outfit is known by their leader’s moniker, ‘The Traveling Tyrant.’ He has recently taken control of the mercenary outfit and this has made Find-Right Corporation very sad.” Mr. Corporate frowned once. He was instantly cheery afterwards. “For Find-Right Corporation to once more have control over the Traveling Tyrant the current one will need to be removed. Please kill,” the machine beeped, “Mordid.”
“Ever hear of the Traveling Tyrant?” Adrielle asked.
Eryn nodded. “A little. They are theme-based, if you can believe it. Whatever their leader chooses is what the company models itself on.”
The woman laughed. “Really? And what was their last theme?”
“Pirates or neo-Victorian space-rangers. I can’t recall.” She shrugged. It didn’t matter what costumes the toy-soldiers chose to wore.
“Get ready,” Mr. Corporate said and uplifting music kicked in, “for the details of your assignment!”
Eryn settled in for the customary lengthy informational meeting. Everything would be provided that they needed to get close to Mordid and kill him. Eryn crossed her arms and let out a rush of air through her nostrils. Would the Company consider the kill hers, or Adrielle’s? She eyed the woman. She was smiling with all the feeling of Mr. Corporate, but her eyes betrayed the truth. They had widened and become nearly black. It was mildly satisfying to know that Adrielle at least took some emotional interest in her work.
The Upper-Arm was radically different than the Corporate Worlds. The city she had been deposited in was bleak. No advertisements hummed and blared. Technology didn’t brim from every corner. Black and gray structures littered the rocky, lifeless landscape without order or pattern. Each structure was unique in shape and size, though all of them held a uniform dreariness. The sun never fully rose, or fully set, and a chill wind raced between the buildings of the twilight-world. The planet Freebird was one of many Upper-Arm planets belonging to no single entity. Business was done by all sorts, from planetary dictators, to corporate agents such as herself, and even the occasional representative from Earth Government arrived, trying in vain to remind the distant people that they were, technically, citizens.
Adrielle pulled her long coat about her frame and she navigated the twisting streets with practiced ease. Vagrants watched her, and while Adrielle’s tiny frame did little to dissuade them from doing more than just watching, Eryn’s stare kept them at bay.
“There!” Adrielle said. She pointed at tall, narrow structure laden with landing pads. It looked like a dying tree. Shuttle engines glowed and navigation lights blinked indicating arrivals and departures.
Eryn followed in silence.
They entered the building and it stung at Eryn’s eyes. Outside was a world shrouded in an eternal gray-pall. Inside, the lobby of the building was bright as a sunny day. Somehow, the light wasn’t quite right though. It was too bright and too man-made.
The room was filled with Upper-Arm folk. They tended to have a ‘look’. Pale skin, dark hair and what some might describe as a sickly demeanor. Eryn shared their look. She was Upper-Arm born, but not raised.
Adrielle’s hair glowed and her choice of pale clothing made her look like a candle compared to the muted grays, blacks and browns of the men and women wandering the lobby.
A security guard, clad in battle-scarred armor and toting a compact sub-machine gun, approached. He surveyed both women and said, “What?”
“Friendly,” Adrielle teased.
Eryn forced a smile. “We are here to apply for work with the Traveling Tyrant.”
The guard grunted. He pointed at an elevator. “Floor thirteen.”
Eryn quirked a brow. “Thirteen? Really?”
He said nothing.
“Come along,” Adrielle said. She walked toward the elevator and pressed a button.
When the doors opened, they both entered. Horrid, mind-numbing music played. There was something the Corporate Worlds and the Upper-Arm had in common! Eryn pressed the button numbered ‘thirteen’ and with a _bing_ the doors shut.
The pair of them had gone over their cover-story. Mordid, since his recent acquisition of the title, Traveling Tyrant, was in need of a public relations officer, someone to help advertise the product- namely him.
Eryn and Adrielle agreed it would be easy to get an interview alone with him and eliminate the man. Escape would involve the usual escapades of gun-fights, knife-fights, and leaps from windows.
She shivered. Little excited her as much as the thought of danger. Life was never as full as when bullets were racing past, or when her blade was jammed in a man’s gut. She recalled the last time she used a knife on a target. He had stared at her in confusion, and before expiring, became comically gassy.
Adrielle’s brow arched. “Are you alright?”
Eryn pursed her lips. “Fine.” She straightened her stance and adjusted her jacket, sweeping back her raven locks in a repetitive gesture. Licking her lips, she restrained a smile when the elevator went _bing_ again and the door opened.
She was greeted by chaos. The room before her was large and well-lit. There were tables and chairs, doors to other parts of the rented-out floor, but the people within were a mess; thematically at least.
Dozens of mercenaries lounged about. Some wore black and gray tunics; others wore blousy things and brilliant headbands. For every military-style boot she saw, another man wore pointed shoes. For every sidearm she detected, there was a man with a saber, or modernized flint-lock, tucked in his belt, or sash as the case often was.
The pair of them, dressed in modern, fashionable, pale and dark attire, and being female, instantly drew the eyes of the mercenaries.
“Hookers!” one of them hollered.
Adrielle stiffened. “I think not.”
Eryn smirked. “You boys couldn’t afford us anyways. We are here to see Mordid.” She smiled and batted her eyes. “Would one of you kind gentlemen show us where he is?”
Two of the men approached. They wore a mismatch of pirate and outdated military garb. She now knew what would have happened had the 18th and 20th century had a child. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.
The first man grinned, revealing a gold tooth. “I have to search you.”
The other had short, black and gray hair, and wrinkles around the eyes. He had the decency to look distressed by his companion and said, “Just a precaution, ladies.”
“We can’t use, lass anymore?” the first said.
“I dunno. Doesn’t seem right, does it? Me saying ‘lass’. To be honest, I’m glad we’re giving up the neo-piracy thing.” The older man shrugged.
The one with the gold tooth sniffed. “Says you, Karlson. Marching? Drills? Training? Bah! I’m all for sticking with wenching and pillaging of yore. Soon as my contract is up, I’m out of here. I never asked for the new guy.”
Karlson opened his mouth to reply.
“We’re here for the public relations position,” Adrielle said in sharp tones.
Eryn followed up with, “We are expected. If you make us late, I will blame you, Karlson.” She nodded at the man and flashed a smile. “Because I know your name.”
Karlson blanched. He jabbed his elbow into his companion’s side and said, “Sorry, miss. Follow me, please.”
Eryn followed Karlson through the room and down several hallways. He opened an unguarded door and within was an executive suite. The room had a massive desk that was littered with paper! Actual, archaic paper and a pair of men were seated, rummaging through the stacks.
Both wore militaristic attire. One was old, balding and reminded Eryn of a corpse. His uniform was entirely old-fashioned. He looked like he’d be more at home with Napoleon than in a space-faring fleet- proof that the company of the Traveling Tyrant had been through more than just a handful of themes. The other was ‘her man’. He was short, not fat, but squat and clean-shaven. He was smoking a cigarette and an ashtray nearby held several spent sticks. The room was dimly lit, which brought out her target’s eyes. They were a vibrant blue.
Mordid looked up at them. “Yes?” His eyes widened. “Oh! You’re from the PR firm?”
Adrielle cut in front of Eryn. “Yes. My assistant and I were directed here by ‘Look-Good Industries’. And to be honest, you defiantly need your image fixed up.”
“Tell me about it!” Mordid said with a smile. He gestured to a pair of empty chairs on the other side of the desk. “Please sit.” He looked them both over. “I love how corporations send me pretty women. Packaging matters right? And this package,” he gestured to himself, “needs beautifying.”
The skeletal man cleared his throat. “I don’t want to interrupt, Mordid, but these files are important. And what your about to do is stupid.”
“The paperwork will be here tomorrow.” Mordid winked at the man. “Now, off you go, Mauss. I’ll call you when I need you. Besides, no one will hire us if we don’t project a new and better image, right?”
Mauss blinked slowly.
“I’ll take that as a yes!” Mordid shooed him away.
Mauss strode around the desk and passed Eryn and Adrielle on the way out. He dipped his head and murmured, “Ladies,” before leaving.
Karlson backpedaled and said under his breath, “Well, I’ll leave then, too.” He shut the door.
They were alone! Eryn took the offered seat, Adrielle slid into the other. In a flash, Eryn scanned the room. The window was shatter-proof glass, but if she struck it just right she could escape that way. The ceiling was made of a cheap material and she tapped her foot on the floor. It was also poorly constructed. The Tyrant should have rented a better room. She carried a little explosive device in the heel of her shoe, and with it she could flee any number of ways. Killing the man would be easy of course, with Adrielle there as well it would be unfairly simple, but soon as he died, it wouldn’t take long for his motley horde to be stirred up like wasps. The death of the man would be delightful, the chase afterward even more so. She licked her lips and kept a growing smile in check.
Eryn slid her hand into her jacket and reached inside a hidden pocket grasping the handle of a switchblade. It was old-fashioned, but highly effective.
“Now then, Eryn and Adrielle,” Mordid said as he plucked the still lit cigarette from his mouth and set it on the ash-tray. Little streamers of acrid smoke rose into the air. He propped his booted feet atop the desk and placed his arms behind the back of his head.
Eryn paled. “Wh-what did you say?”
Adrielle bolted up from her chair. “He knows!” She moved with adroit skill, pulling forth a sleek, plastic pistol. It was a lightweight, one shot one kill weapon, small and easy to miss in a search and undetectable by most other means. She pointed it at Mordid’s head.
“Woah!” Mordid cried. “Of course I know. That’s why Find-Right sent you. I asked them to.” He stared at the barrel of the gun. “They find the right people for the right job, right?”
Eryn pulled her knife out. She pressed a button and the sharp, silvery blade _clicked_ as it emerged. She rose from her chair, taking care to be slow and cautious in her movements. Eryn circled to the left of Mordid.
Adrielle drifted right, keeping her weapon trained upon him.
“And why would a man request his own assassination?” Adrielle asked.
Mordid let forth a laugh. “Hardly! I said I wanted the best assassin, and someone with a sense of style and fashion. Which I might add you both have! PR meets murder-for-hire. Your employer said they would find the right person for the job. I had to pay in advance though! Bastards.” He blinked. “Oh, consider this an interview. I’ll offer one of you a spot in my command team, ridiculous wages, and the knowledge that I’d never send you to your _certain_ death, because for one of you, that’s exactly what Find-Right just did.”
Eryn let a tiny laugh slip. “You don’t think we belie-”
Eryn stumbled back and grabbed her stomach. She held her hand up, surprised to see the pristine white, and clean flesh, marred with blood. In horror, she looked at Adrielle.
The blonde woman stared back with an impassive face. She dropped the plastic gun and approached Eryn. Her hands clenched into small, deadly balls.
The door burst open.
“I’m fine, Karlson, go away,” Mordid said.
The door promptly shut.
Eryn staggered. She felt agony radiate throughout her body and continued staring in shock at her blood streaked hand. She fell forward, nearly hitting her head on Mordid’s desk, and sent paperwork flying. The knife fell from her fingers and clattered on the floor.
“Well, Mauss will be mad,” Mordid chided.
“You shot me!” Eryrn hissed at the approaching Adrielle.
“I just made a decision faster than you did,” Adrielle said without raising her voice. “The company has terminated our services. In my case, figuratively, in your case, literally.”
Eryn shied away from Adrielle, trying to use the desk as a barrier.
Adrielle halted her leisurely pursuit and her eyes flit to the floor. She picked up the switchblade and tested its weight. Her eyes glittered and she circled the desk. “I’ll make it quick.”
“Don’t hurry on my account,” Mordid said.
Eryn made her way to Mordid’s side of the desk. With one hand, she braced herself on the table, the other she kept pressed to her bleeding wound. Her vision blurred and she half-collapsed over Mordid’s propped-up legs. Groaning, she tried to crawl over them, but could only manage to sling her torso over his shins.
He supported her weight and regarded her with his intense blue eyes.
She saw the white, pale shape of Adrielle ghost closer. A tiny hand grasped her shoulder and spun Eryn about. Eryn flung her hands out wide. One landed in Mordid’s lap, her spine bent over his legs, and her other hand ended up in the ashtray. The pain from the burning cigarette hardly registered.
Adrielle’s hand darted toward her neck. The blade twinkled in the sparse light as it sought her jugular.
Panicking, Eryn’s bloody fingers clenched. She brought her hand up and rammed the burning, half-smoked cigarette into Adrielle’s eye.
The woman screeched and her murderous swipe halted.
Screaming, Eryn leapt on the woman. She was bleeding out, and fast, but she’d take Adrielle with her to the grave. She used both of her hands to grab at the knife.
Adrielle jerked and twisted, Eryn nearly fell upon her, but with iron-will kept her grip tight. A twist, and the knife fell free from pale and perfect fingertips.
Eryn caught the blade before it hit the ground and drove it up into Adrielle’s midsection. She draped one arm around Adrielle’s shoulder, while she struggled to stand. Cheek to cheek, Eryn breathed hard.
“You…” the blond assassin whispered.
“Stabbed you, yes.” Eryn twisted the blade and pushed. Adrielle fell to the floor; Eryn toppled back and struck the desk. She sunk to the ground and groaned. Her eyesight dimmed further and she rolled on her back and gasped at the sight of so much blood. Her clothing was soaked in it, her hands were crimson, and Adrielle’s white attire was stained and wet.
The other woman raised her hand, tried to rise, and then let out a tremendous amount of gas before collapsing.
Darkness closed in soon after.
“We have a winner,” was the last thing she heard before losing consciousness.
She heard voices as well as rhythmic beeping. She smelled the sterility of a medicine and could feel an uncomfortable cot supporting her. Eryn tried to open her eyes, but lacked the strength to do so. Everything was cold, distant, and muted. There was no pain and that disturbed her the most. Suffering meant she was alive.
“She’s nearly bled out, sir,” a gravel-like voice said.
“Nearly, not entirely. She has to live. Spare no expense.”
She recognized Mordid’s voice.
“You can get another killer,” the first voice said. “Besides, she might have brain-damage after this.”
“Even better,” Mordid replied.
Eryn slid into a deathly slumber once more.
The beeping woke her up. This time when she tried to open her eyes, Eryn succeeded. She saw, through hazy vision, bright light. Her eyes adjusted and she made out light blue curtains, medical machinery, and sitting on a stool next to her, Mordid. He was asleep.
Eryn licked her lips, and found them dry. She reached out and grabbed his arm.
The man’s blue eyes popped open. He looked around, startled and then saw Eryn. He grinned and composed himself. “Alive!”
“Bastard,” she croaked.
His grin turned into a frown and his brow knit in confusion. “You two were on your way to kill me, don’t think I should feel the least bit sorry for you. I _should_ have let you both expire on the floor and told your former employer to, ‘try again’.”
She dimly remembered eavesdropping on a conversation in which he insisted that no expense be spared to save her. Swallowing, she said, “Why didn’t you?”
He leaned in close. “Don’t tell anyone. Promise?”
Eryn managed a nod.
“When that other girl broke wind and you giggled, I knew, I _knew_ you’d be perfect for the company. I want you to be my head of public relations.” He cleared his throat, “I like your style. I want you to make me famous. I want you to also be like a reporter. Question, question, question!”
She relaxed her grip on his arm. “You’re mad.”
Another thought came to her. “Question?”
“Yes,” Mordid replied. “As you can imagine, my line of work is very dangerous. Everyone is always plotting. Just ask the last Tyrant. I need a Command Staff that watches out for me, but also watches out for one another. Closely. If I put any old person in charge of something as important as my public image, they’d end up dead, or as a pawn of Mauss, Hurth, or Thrask. That just won’t do. I need a woman who can stand up to the boys. A woman who, when she gets shot, doesn’t mind knifing someone in the gut for the offense.”
Eryn licked her lips. “So, you really want me to be the head of your PR department?” She tried to lean up, but his hand moved to her shoulder and pushed her back down. He patted her.
Mordid nodded. “Yes. You passed the interview; you just need to sign your life over to me. I promise you wealth.”
She laughed and it hurt. What choice did she have? Swallowing hard she replied, “When do I start?”
“Now.” Mordid crossed his arms and gestured to himself. “I am the Traveling Tyrant, the face of the mercenary company. What does this face need?”
She stared at him. His eyes were intriguing. They were blue and intense, but everything else about Mordid was mildly comedic. He didn’t have the face of an inter-stellar soldier for hire. He smiled too easily. He was too short as well. He wasn’t sinister enough, even with the gray militaristic uniform, he looked more like a man who raided a museum than a warrior. Eryn blinked. He needed something to offset his joviality.
She imagined something, something perfect.
Eryn giggled and winced from the pain.
“A beard. You need a beard. Nothing bushy and wild, but sculpted to your chin and brought to a point. Something a villain would wear.” She looked at her hospital surroundings then back at him. “And you _are_ a villain.”
Mordid beamed. “I am.” He rubbed his bare chin, and looked thoughtful. “That I am.”
Enjoy? Help an author out and purchase the book, The Traveling Tyrant: Paradisa Lost