By Agent_Hannigan 4 Comments
She was bleeding. Okay, that was a start. She was leaping the gap, as Alan put it, that brief moment after extended periods of duress where her brain sort of... skipped, like an old record, as he would say. He always had a great way of explaining things, and right now, she could use an explanation. Black gloves. Blood. Not her own. Not even red. It was white-green, viscous and glittering. Whoever... or whatever she was fighting, this was a good sign. It meant that she was winning. She wiped the strange blood on the leg of her charcoal combat suit. Her hair drifted in front of her eyes. Was it... had it always been red? She had memories of it being different, maybe in her childhood. That part of her life was fuzzy to her, and everything she could remember was painful. That was why she joined the Front. It was like a dream. She was a wolf running through the snow, the thrill of the hunt, and she was good at it. Damn good.
Then, there was the psychic. The one she'd been tracking through the Siberian wilderness for days. She called in the others. No shame in calling for backup when you're up against someone who can evaporate your entire consciousness. They circled in, wounded him, brought him down, and she moved in for the killing blow. Then came the lance of searing, unfathomable pain that split her skull. That was when the 'leaps' started. Okay, her memories were back.
She stood up and wandered across the forest clearing. Twigs and leaves crunched beneath her boots. All around, tree trunks were littered with thick organic spikes that had been jabbed deep into the wood. In the center of the clearing, in a sliver of moonlight, sat her target. His green hood had been tattered. His right arm was hacked almost completely off. His stomach was spread wide open and his chest was riddled with bullet holes, all spewing that disgusting aloe blood. He stank of freshly cut grass and rotting meat.
Her finger pressed the communicator in her ear, "This is Liberator McCourt. Metahuman designation: Thorn has been terminated."
"Are you certain, Liberator?" Alan asked in response. The connection was patchy out here, but his voice was still comforting to him. When she had a leap, he always helped her reach the other side. He was the best field handler in the Front, but he had a habit of questioning her at the most obnoxious possible time.
She toed Thorn's body rather harshly, her foot sinking into the gash in his stomach and touching the bottom of his rib cage. "Possitive." she replied.
"You read his dossier. You know what he can do."
"He's got one of the weakest regeneration rates I've ever seen. There's no way he's coming back from this."
"He's come back from worse. McCourt, you've seen the pictures. You know what this thing has done to people. Remember the massacre in the Congo? Eighteen people strung up and skinned. It deserves this. Now, make sure he's down for good."
She ripped out the earpiece and reluctantly stepped over Thorn's corpse, standing over him, waiting for him to make it worth her while. He started gurgling. It was ugly, desperate. It made it easier. His eyes opened and locked with hers. She gritted her teeth and drew her pistol, aiming down at him. "Disgusting."
She fired and the gurgling stopped. She plugged him another three times, then put away the pistol and strode off into the woods. An hour later, she emerged onto the shore, walking straight into the tide. There was a fishing boat about a mile out. They put down the ladder and started applauding her like an American hero. She was an American hero. Everything the Front did worked to make the world just a little bit brighter, a little bit freer, a little bit better for the ordinary folks who couldn't stand up for themselves. That's why she was here. To stand up. To give some meaning to her life. It was a higher calling, and if tonight was any indication, she was damn good at it. One of the 'fisherman' put a towel around her and guided her below deck. Alan was waiting there, huddled over the radio setup in the corner. He leaned back and looked over at her with a sudden look of relief. "Hey! There she is!" he laughed, getting up to meet her. He was portly, but he had strong arms and a laugh that could make trees rumble. "What's the damage, red?"
"A few bruised ribs," she answered, rubbing her side, "My heads killing me and I have a few minor puncture wounds. The suit dulled those thorns of his, so they're basically glorified pin pricks, but they add up."
"The price of victory. You did a good thing today, Natalie. Thorn was an animal. They all are, but some need to be put down more than others."
"Some don't stay down."
"This one will. You made sure of that. I already took the liberty of adding him to your kill list. The higher-ups are proud of you. One of the most efficient recruits they've ever had."
"I still don't understand that," she said, "I'd never touched a gun or been in a fight in my life before I joined the Front. How did I pass the Liberator field test so easily?"
"Instinct. Some people were just made to do the right thing. They're born with the skills, the talents. All that's left is the drive and the integrity to put it to use. The Front lucked out when you showed up," His salt and pepper whiskers brushed together and formed a smile somewhere underneath, "Now, get some sleep. We're due back at Command tomorrow morning."
"Yessir," Natalie said, giving a mocking salute as she walked off to her quarters. She kicked off her boots, let her suit slide down around her ankles, and stepped out, and examined her scars in the slotted moonlight coming in through the window shade. It was strange. Nothing in her memories explained them. It felt like a collection of lies on her skin. She slipped under the covers and turned on the small television. The news either encouraged her in her work or kept her angry. Either way, it reminded her why she had dedicated her life to the Front. Tonight's report left her... confused.
"Welcome back," the anchor said in the matter-of-fact tone they all had, "Today marks the second month of the worldwide search for director of U.N. Metahuman Affairs, Melissa Hannigan." Natalie perked up at the mentioning of that name. Something about it made her... hurt. "Hannigan allegedly disappeared from the organization's mobile headquarters somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic. There have been very few leads in the search, but Acting Director Blake Heller has promised that they won't stop until Director Hannigan is found."
Natalie turned off the TV. Her first instinct was to say, "Bitch got what she deserved," roll over, and go to sleep. But there was something wrong. Her head hurt. She tallied the facts again, reconstructing herself. She had never had a leap just resting before. It was like being shot. Suddenly, everything about her just felt wrong. Somehow, she put it out of her mind, settled herself, and let the boat gently rock her off to sleep.
She had a dream. She couldn't remember ever having a dream before. In it, she was falling. It wasn't the kind of falling dream she'd heard about so often. It was real, and it was a long, long way down. She felt the desert sun searing her bare back as she plummeted off the cliff. Her skin was torn and strewn with needles. Her feet were shredded from running on rocks. Compared to whatever had happened leading up to this, falling felt like a release, but she knew that at the end, she'd have to hit ground. It was drawing closer. She clenched her teeth, embracing the end... but the ground didn't come. She opened her eyes again and saw that the ground was backing away from her. She was ascending back up the cliff face. Her wounds were sealing up, vanishing before her eyes. She twisted in the air and looked up to see a figure waiting at the ledge, a hand extended out for her. She got closer and the figure gained a face. It was a woman, a woman who looked like her. But it wasn't her. This woman was blonde. Maybe... her sister? No. Her sister was dead. She died when they were children, that much she could remember, however cloudy the details were. Still, the woman was there, and she was extending a hand to Natalie. Whatever feelings of fear or confusion that she had felt now gave way to serenity and peace. She reached out to take the stranger's hand, but before they touched, it was over. A white flash enveloped her consciousness and she shot upright in bed, sweat streaming her entire body. She wiped her eyes. She wasn't entirely certain that she was wiping away sweat.
Natalie tucked her knees into her chest began breathing heavily. One by one, she started counting down her memories, her identity. There was no leap, but she tallied the facts anyway, to comfort herself. Her name was Natalie McCourt. She served in the Human Liberation Front. Her job was to kill metahumans.