The desert sun beat down on the top of her head as she walked through the crowded market. Her head was covered with a light scarf to hide her conspicuous red hair, another scarf drawn across the lower half of her face to keep the sand from blowing in her mouth. A pair of desert pattern camo pants covered her legs, a white tank top and cargo jacket hiding the guns she had holstered at her shoulders. Her small feet were clad in black combat boots and she was well armed. There was a dagger down one of her boots, daggers in wrist sheaths hidden under her jacket sleeves and a sh!t-eating grin hidden beneath the scarf covering her mouth that wrapped up and around to obscure her flame red hair. Mac O'Rourke was on a mission, one that nobody would get in the way of.
There was a team dispatched to her location two days prior. They had been performing recon and establishing their base the past three days. Their goal was simple, to kill a single man; a high-profile target, an incredible threat to the national security of the United States. Things were never as easy as they seemed on paper, but this was no regular team, this was the Paragons. The Paragons are an extremely small covert squad made up of the best of the best from the SEALS. Their one mission is to protect the US and her assets at any cost and to anybody's knowledge, they do not exist. They are off the books and answer to one man and one man only. He and the Secretary of Defense are the only ones who know of their existence. They are inserted into hostile environments on a constant basis. Sometimes their mission is to save somebody, sometimes the opposite. They carry out their orders while still being self-contained. There is no chain of command that they are answerable to, but this also works against them. If they are caught and held, there is nobody coming to save them.
It was a team of four members, four men who were near and dear to her heart. They were unofficially led by Casey "Hotshot" O'Rourke, 28 years of age. He was a sniper, one of the best to live, and his personality was somewhat similar to his call name. He was cocky and confident and at times quick to temper, but he also had a damn good head on his shoulders, able to quickly improvise battlefield strategies and remove (or insert) them from whatever situation may arise. Brady "Chameleon" Calhoun, age 29, was Casey's best friend since the age of three. He had an uncanny ability to blend into crowds and take on new personas. He was their grifter and more ofttimes than not, the one who gathered intelligence. The 26 year old Tristan "Maverick" O'Rourke was the Paragon's heart and soul. The middle of the three brothers, he was relatively unpredictable and renowned for his hand to hand abilities. Despite his unpredictability at times, he was the heart and soul of the Paragons, as well as their moral compass, always the first to call out somebody for questionable actions and always the first to lend emotional support when needed. Killian "Phantom" O'Rourke was the last member of the Paragons. 24 years of age, he was eleven months older than Mac and had been her best friend and partner in crime. After her reported death, he had become quiet and somewhat introverted. He spoke little now, where before he was one of the most talkative people you'd ever meet. When (to their knowledge), Mac had died, part of him had left as well.
The four of them were scattered throughout the small town, all in tactical positions. They were waiting for their target, a somewhat influential politician who was running a human trafficking operation paired with an arms dealership. He was the scummiest of the scum, but he was filthy rich and able to afford the best lawyers that the world had to offer. There was always a scapegoat lying around somewhere. So unable to bring him up on charges, it had been decided that he was enough of a threat to the safety of people to be taken out through other measures, lethal measures.
Mac had known these men her entire life. She knew how their minds worked, she knew how they worked and she knew their tactics. She had already surmised where they'd be positioned and managed to hack into their radio signal. The earwig that she was wearing allowed her to hear anything and everything that they were saying to each other as she innocuously strolled through the open market, appearing as just a normal customer to any who would look her direction. A light shone from within her unnaturally colored eyes as she stood in front of a cart of fruit, inconspicuously watching the crowd. The man they were looking for would be sticking out like a sore thumb as he traveled with an entourage.
About five minutes later, dust started blowing up from the unpaved road as an unmarked sedan approached the market. "This is Hotshot. Target is en route. Repeat target is en route." He would be somewhere relatively far away. Her guess and recon put him on the ridge several hundred yards away, set up with his scope, ready to pick off the target when and if he was needed.
"Perimeter is set. He's not making it out of here alive." That would be Phantom. His voice elicited more response in her than any other. There was a pain that resonated in his voice, one that had not been there the last time they'd spoken. Albeit, that was nearly two years ago now.
"I'm in the crowd. We have what appear to be no hostiles or non-natives present." Chameleon, or as he was referred to at times, Cam. He was the one who'd be watching for anybody or anything that would force them to re-work their plan. Mac was planning on doing her absolute best to avoid coming into close contact with him. She was here simply to make sure that they didn't fail. His hand to hand skills were widely renowned. She's go so far as to say somewhat legendary, at least in the circles they traversed.
"Mav here. Target is a go. Repeat. Target is a go." Everything had been pre-planned. Their target had a schedule that he adhered to day in and day out and that would play a large part in his downfall. Accompanied by two burly bodyguards, the slight man standing no more than 5'7” exited the sedan. He was extremely paranoid; hence the daily visit to his local market while he was in town; so that he could choose his own fruits and vegetables and ensure that nobody other than himself handled them. His bodyguards wore matching uniforms of loose cargo pants and tight black v-neck t-shirts, over which were trapped their shoulder holsters and shiny guns. The little man between them wore loose cargo shorts and a comfortable white t-shirt. At first appearance, he was just a normal man. But if you caught sight of his eyes when he removed his aviator shades, the first thing you'd notice was the ice blue color and the second; how dead they were inside.
There were about fifteen people other than her milling about the market and all of them went about their everyday business as El Jefe searched lackadaisically through the fruits. Five minutes later and a voice crackled through. "We're not going to get a better shot than this, Mav. Do I still have a go?"
Mac had still yet to surmise where her middle brother was hiding his handsome face, but suffice to say, he had an incredibly clear picture of what was happening. She was standing about fifteen feet away when the first shot was fired, straight through the skull of one of the bodyguards. The first shot hadn't even registered before a second one was off, taking down the other. A good few glancing drops of the arterial spray splattered across her face, staining the cloth of the handkerchief hiding her identity and marring the pale white of her exposed skin.
The market had erupted into mayhem. Any sane person was cowering on the ground with their hands over their heads or had run for cover. The Paragons, herself and El Jefe were the only ones left standing. His eyes were wide and scared and he was sweating profusely. And then the shot came. By some odd happenstance, it missed and that was when things got tricky.
A melon on the stand next to her exploded as the target sprinted off on foot, moving faster than any man his age and weight should be able to. She took off after him, dodging through buildings and alleyways as everybody else sorted out the ensuing pandemonium. Tracking him down between two brick buildings, Mac shoved the vile man up against one, his head banging against the mortar with a cracking noise. He began babbling in a language that she could not comprehend, although it was easy enough to tell by the tone of his voice that he was begging for his life like the gutless cretin he truly was.
Hooking a leg behind his, she used a simple grapple to take him down to the ground and secure him in a hold before rolling atop him and using her knees to pinion his arms to the ground, her thighs to restrict his movements. Pulling a gun from the thigh holster of her pants, she took it out and held it to his forehead before shooting him point blank and putting him down like the animal that he was. Nearly silent footsteps fell on the ground as a man appeared out of the shadows behind her. It was easy to identify the cadence of Brady’s footsteps and her entire body froze atop the corpse of the target, her memories of Brady running rampant through her thoughts. Mac had practically had to beg him to dance with her at her graduation party and against both of their best judgments, a kiss had been shared. That was the last night that any of the Paragons had seen her ‘alive’, because by all accounts, Mackenzie O’Rourke had perished in a car accident that night.
Holstering the gun, Mac kept her back turned, slowly dismounting the body and rising to her feet. The mission was completely, there was no reason to stay; or at least that was what she told herself. With shoulders hunched in an effort to obscure her silhouette, Mac sprinted into action and took off with a single look over her shoulder. A merry chase was lead as the outer limits of the small town approached and with the outer limits the hidden location of her getaway.
Pouring on every ounce of speed that was in her, a plume of dust rose behind her as she ran. At the age of 22 she had stamina, skill and speed, but none of it was enough to outpace Brady. It was three agonizing minutes before he caught her with a flying tackle to the ground. If Mac were to be honest with her in this moment, she’d have said that she allowed it.
In a move of expedience more so than grace, Brady applied an arm bar to Mac’s throat, slowly cutting off her oxygen. She chose not to fight it as she tilted her head to the side, avoiding his gaze. “Look at me.” It was a nearly guttural growl as he disarmed her of everything within reach using his free hand.
Mac simply shook her head back and forth, not risking him identifying her voice even if it was disguised. He loosened up the pressure as he asked again. “What the fck do you think you’re doing here? Who the hell sent you? Who are you?” Again all his answers were met with a resounding silence.
Reaching down, his calloused hand began to pull away the scarf that was obscuring her features. Before he could do anything more than reveal several strands of the crimson hair, her body went wild beneath his, flailing, kicking and punching in an effort to dismount him. That only made him focus harder as he grabbed her chin in one hand and the edge of the scarf in the other.
Bringing her knee up between his legs Mac applies pressure to where it would hurt a male the most in an attempt to give her enough time to escape. The effort was for naught as it only pissed Brady off. “That’s about enough of that. You’re female but you’re nothing near helpless if you’re in this damned place.” He was rougher this time around, releasing the arm from her throat and using one hand to pin down her wrists as he scooted lower on her legs, effectively using his body weight to keep them in place.
Once again he began removing the scarf, this time his movements rough and angry with irritation and displeasure. Mackenzie turned her head to the side so as to avoid having to look him in the eyes as he essentially unmasked her. The resounding gasp that left his lips as he fell back onto his ass in the sand was enough indication.
The night of her high school graduation, Mackenzie O’Rourke had been driving home from a friend’s grad party. Her car had been pulled over by an Agent and she had been taken into custody. Essentially, she had been black-mailed into serving her country because of her ‘useful’ powers of limited precognition and photographic reflexes. A cover story had been established that she’d crashed her car over the bridge and wound up in the reservoir. No body had ever been recovered and nobody other than herself and a select few government officials knew the truth.
Fast forward to four years later and she’d been on missions as the government’s weapon and personal assassin more times than she could count. It had been seven months since she’d gone off-grid and taken up the codename Renegade. Working now essentially as a support system for covert units in need of assistance, she had both the government and its enemies after her. It was a life of no rest, but it was somehow rewarding to her. The only thing it lacked was her family.
Ripping herself out of the doldrums of her memories, Mac turned her head and met Brady’s eyes. He was still sitting here astonished, reaching out as if he was afraid to touch her, afraid that his fingers would go right through her like a ghostly apparition. “Kenzie…” He was the only person who was allowed to call her that and the sound of his voice as he did so very nearly unnerved her.
“No. Renegade.” It was a word that was whispered among the units like the Paragons. A young woman who was just as well trained as them, possibly better, and who had these amazing abilities that made her the perfect agent and spy. Nobody knew her real name and nobody had more than the most basic description of her. But here she was, eye to eye with her eldest brother’s best friend and teammate, the man she’d had a crush on since she had been able to put a word to those feelings.
“Rene…no. There's no way. You can't be...“ There was heartbreak emanating from his voice as he looked at her like it was the end of the world.
Her pale purple eyes met his ice blue ones and there was simultaneous ice and warmth in them. “Yes. You can’t tell them. Killian couldn’t handle it and the rest of them can’t be burdened with keeping this from him. I was a local girl who was frustrated with the regime and wanted her place in bringing it down. That’s it, that’s your story. You never saw Mackenzie O'Rourke, because she's dead.”
“But you’re not dead; you’re alive and right in front of me.” He came up to his feet and lifted her to her own, his hand slowly running over her hair, rubbing several strands of it between his fingers before handing her back her weapons. Towering over her small frame he found it unbelievable that this girl he’d known her entire life, this girl who was almost like a sister to him was the one known as Renegade.
“I’m dead inside where it really counts, Brady.” There was pain and heartache in her voice as she took a small step closer to him. “They’re going to be converging on your location soon if you don’t report in or show up. I know them well enough to know that.” Placing a small gloved hand on his chest she went up on tiptoes and took them both by surprise when she placed a lingering kiss on his lips before stepping away and readjusting the scarf around her head. “Try and remember that. And keep to yourself everything that happened today.” Turning around she took off like a bat out of hell, only half a mile away from the location where she’d stashed her bike.
Mounting the performance bike that she’d use to reach the extraction point, Mac started up at the sun beaming down on her and wondered how the hell her life had gotten to this point. She had faith that Brady would keep her secret, if only to prevent her brothers from having to burden themselves with that knowledge and pain, but she had no faith that he wouldn’t come looking for her and that would lead to enough issues to complicate things for her.
Securing the helmet, her weapons and the pack on her back, the young Renegade kicked the motorcycle into gear and revved the engine, riding into the proverbial sunset as she attempted to cleanse her mind of worries.