There had been a game, once upon a time. A game he had played against a worthy opponent. He couldn't remember the outcome, nor what color their uniforms had been. They spoke afterwards. Something work-related, he thought, though the details eluded him. He did remember that something had sparkled, blinding him for a second before his vision cleared, only to be blinded once more.
Disappointed by his lack of recall, but no longer disturbed, he grasped what distraction he could, latching on to the bored voice attempting to catch his attention. It would not have been his first choice, but it would do. He had few reasons to be grateful for his twice-weekly meetings with his handler, but fortunately for him, loathing was an emotion beyond his reach at the moment, so he tolerated them with the same resignation he wielded upon the rest of his burdens. It was fortunate for the handler, too.
Her job was easy. She asked the same questions every week. He always answered the same way. He didn't even have to waste effort on a lie. It was the simple truth that he was getting by, and that there was nothing in particular bothering him. Nothing in particular at all. She accepted the bland response with a vacant smile, and let the rest of her conversation be equally as vacuous. The pretense of trying to squeeze something productive out of these meetings had long since fallen by the wayside.
He sighed when he was released from the stuffy office, profoundly unenthusiastic about returning to his equally stuffy apartment. Perhaps a stroll would... well, it would at least be a way to pass the time until he could sink into his habitual insomniac doze. His feet chose a random, meandering path on his way home through the colony streets, and he let them do as they would. He wouldn't get himself lost. He had once explored all of these streets with keen interest. Though the excitement of a rich future in a new scene full of promise had faded, the map remained in entirely inadequate compensation. It would take his body where it needed to go, but the rest of him was an entirely different matter. When he had agreed to go along with the government's suggestion of relocation and restart, he'd been promised assistance in finding his own direction, but the years had only proven that the government had a habit of reading their map upside-down, backwards, and oh hey, it looked like that ketchup stain wasn't a landmark after all.
Had he been a fool to believe, to have faith? Or had he, in fact, gotten exactly what he wanted? The world had peace, a stable government, hope, avenues for change... even if the people that had delivered it did not enjoy the same.
What was a person to do, once denied doing all that defined him?
His body remembered what he used to be, even if his mind was no longer there. It picked up on the sound of heels clucking against the pavement behind him, noting the presence of a person, even if he couldn't bring himself to be concerned. So what if it could be a hostile presence? Let it come and put an end to this.
He was let down when a woman walked past him, coat wrapped tightly around her as she hustled by. The night cycle had fallen; maybe she was on her way out to a late dinner. He himself lacked much of an appetite these days, and he suddenly envied her ability to enjoy a good meal. A humorless smile rose to his lips. He wasn't dead yet, it seemed, if he could still feel that.
The street went dead and empty again before another pair of shoes scuffed the sidewalk behind him, and he moved to the left to leave the person plenty of room to pass this time. He should have moved right, towards the open street. Coming up on his left was an alley, and into that alley he was suddenly shoved.
He stumbled, catching himself against some empty boxes stacked against the wall before he fell. There was barely time to register what was going on when he threw himself to the left, moving just in time to avoid the knife that came plunging into the cardboard he had just vacated. Landing with his butt on the asphalt, he scrambled backwards in amateurish shock. A part of him was surprised that his reflexes were still intact. Another part of him was startled like a civilian.
His stocky assailant was no random mugger. The man recovered from the miss quickly and jumped toward his target with deadly intent. With both hands, Heero caught the descending arm scant centimeters before the tip of a blade touched his chest, but the full weight of the man above him made the task daunting. The man's other hand settling snugly around his neck didn't help.
The wicked gleam in the attacker's eye made something flare to life inside of Heero. He shifted his grip subtly and found a pressure point in the man's wrist, squeezing as he heaved the man off to one side. It took a surge of sudden effort, but it sufficed to unbalance his attacker enough for Heero to press his foot to the floor and lever the man the rest of the way off with a twist of his hands. Despite his hope, the man kept his grip on the hilt of his knife as he fell to the side.
Climbing quickly to his feet, Heero was prevented from running by a tight hand wrapped around his shin. An arm followed, the hand jerked sharply, applying pressure to the back of his knee, and the joint folded. He reached out and caught himself on the edge of an open dumpster, using the support to take his other foot off the ground and kick while the man was drawing his knife hand back for a slice. Catching the man in the armpit, he had a moment of gratitude for the fact that he still favored steel-toed boots.
The arm wrenched his leg around before it slid off. His knee smarted sharply in protest when he got his feet back underneath him, but he paid it little heed, other than to notice irritably that the hesitation in his step had given his assailant the time to block his path to the alley's exit.
The two of them studied each other carefully as the unknown man slowly unfurled himself back into a ready position, with the knife still prepared to strike, though in the other hand now. The shoulder of the original arm looked rather dislocated. With a part of his mind disconnected from the action, Heero wondered who would be trying to kill him. He'd have thought that the list now should have been significantly shorter than it had been five years ago, right after the last war. Since then, he'd been living off the grid. Who would have tracked him down and sent a killer after him?
The hitman feinted with his knife several times before going for a true attack, a downwards slash towards a forearm. Heero dodged it, along with the second one aimed towards his midsection. The third, a stab, he blocked to the outside, seizing the arm to swing around behind the man. He slammed the man against the side of the dumpster, then gave special attention to pounding the arm against it as well, sending a thunderous clamor bouncing between the narrow walls. In the distance, a dog began barking. The sound didn't bother him. All that mattered was the knife that eventually fell from the man's fingers. He kicked the weapon beneath the dumpster and out of reach.
One of the assassin's feet snapped out, pushing Heero's outstretched leg far enough to throw him off balance again. Taking advantage of the loss of leverage, the man shoved himself backwards, pushing Heero towards the boxes stacked against the opposite wall. Footing was scarce, and in the time it took for him to recover, the assassin had picked up another weapon. The garbage can lid hit Heero in the back of his head with enough force to send him to his knees again.
Stars glittered across his vision, and he sensed dimly that there was blood dribbilng into his collar. Fighting down the nausea, he knew he had to act despite the lack of clarity. His attacker had paused momentarily; seeking a weapon with which to deal the death blow? Fortunately for Heero, he found one first. His tumble into the boxes had spit forth a green glass bottle, and he snatched it up.
The crunch of boots behind him alerted him to the return of his assailant and he instinctively half ducked, half fell down prone as an old metal pipe sailed through the place his head had been. Rolling onto his back, he kicked upwards to nail the man in the nuts, and as the man doubled over, his head came into range for a smash with the glass bottle. It broke, showering Heero with a fall of glass slivers even as it left him with an even better weapon.
Without thought, he slashed back in the other direction with the jagged edge of the broken glass, catching the assassin across the face. It showed how much of a professional the hitman was that the deed was endured with only a choked gurgle. In a second, Heero was on him, pushing him to the ground and slicing uncleanly through the carotid artery. A crimson puddle began to grow beneath him, but it wasn't enough to kill immediately. The assassin's hands rose to try and finish their job.
Tossing aside the broken bottle, Heero punched the man across his bloodied jaw, once, twice, but nearly missing and scraping his knuckles against the pavement was a good clue that it wasn't a good idea to continue. Getting a good grip over the man's mouth and the rest of his face, he hauled the man's head up, only to bash it mercilessly back onto the pavement. Only when the man's legs stopped twitching did Heero stop his repeated actions. His breath sounding far too loudly in his ears, though less powerfully than the pounding of his heart, he struggled to get to his feet, and fell over in the attempt. Shit, he was out of shape.
When he regained his senses, he knew he was still seeing stars from the head blow because not only did stars not twinkle in space, they definitely didn't do it against the artificial night sky of a colony. He didn't think he'd been out long. The warmth of the body next to him proved it. If it wasn't a corpse yet, it'd be one soon. Judging from the dark red pool seeping into the cracks of the pavement, there couldn't be much left in there to bleed out. And at the moment, it didn't really bother him. Morality had long since left his dreary thoughts for greener pastures, and it was especially moot when jumped in an alley by one intent upon his death.
He sat up groggily, hand going to probe tentatively at the bump on the back of his head. With a hiss, he let his fingers trail downward. The dulled edges of the handle on the old garbage can lid had cut into the flesh at the base of his skull. Probing the wound carefully, he encountered some metal embedded in his skin. Great. After all this, he was going to die of tetanus. Wonderful. Perfect. Pathetic. Gritting his teeth, he dug into the back of his neck with his fingertips and extracted the bit of foreign material.
It was obvious that it was nothing innocuous the moment his fingers started to explore it. The shape was too smooth, too regular. When he got it out, he squinted at it. It was a thin, flat wafer less than a centimeter in length. The greenish color had him thinking of the glass bottle until his brain managed to come back online with a dry snort.
So that was where it was hiding. From veiled hints his 'social worker' had dropped, among other things, he'd long suspected the military doctors of implanting a tracker on him during his stay at the hospital after the Barton uprising. Far too much of it had been spent unconscious. Chang had taught them not to leave Gundam pilots to their own devices during peacetime. He pitched it into the dumpster with a smug grunt, hoping that it was still working. Let them think his body had been carted off to be incinerated with the rest of the trash.
It was only as an afterthought that he realized that he was 'free'. The government couldn't find him anymore if he didn't want them to. Why wasn't he delighted by that idea? In fact, other than the adrenaline that was only now beginning to fade from his bloodstream, he wasn't even very excited about the fact that he had just survived an attempt on his life. Hadn't he just minutes ago been willing to accept an end to his miserable existence? It seemed his body, with its instincts and training and muscle memory, had betrayed him.
His mind, long idle, returned to that curious question of who might have sent a killer after him. Someone had wanted it to stay quiet, otherwise he could easily have been knifed in the middle of the street. Instead he had been pushed into an alley, away from the sight of others, where his body could possibly have lain for quite awhile before someone noticed it. The deed was to be performed using a knife, not a gun. Also an interesting clue, one that probably saved his life. A fake mugging?
If there was one thing he knew for certain, it was that he couldn't stay in that alley for much longer. No matter how much disdain he had for his life, getting caught up in a murder investigation would be damned annoying. Coming to his feet slowly, he straightened his clothing and brushed off some stray glass shards just as soon as he was certain that he could stand without too much swaying. He looked rumpled, but not obviously bloody. Most of the staining was confined to the collar of his shirt. It was fortunate that the tracker chip had not been planted very deeply in his dermal layer. There would be bruises later, but nothing yet. With luck, there wouldn't be anyone on the streets at this time of the evening, and if there was, he could pass as a drunk. Most well-intentioned citizens tended not to give the disreputable a second glance.
He had just poked his head out of the alley to see if there was anyone out there when he remembered the body, and the fact that someone had just tried to kill him. Was he supposed to just walk away from that sort of thing? It took him a little while to remember what the proper protocol was for this situation. His feet had him moving back towards the body of his assailant before he could even consider carelessly leaving the mess behind again. Once again, his old habits seemed still to be lingering far more than he would have suspected.
Quickly rifling through the man's clothing, he found a wallet. He tucked that automatically into his coat pocket for later examination, then stripped the man's body of his watch and boots, mixing them up with the other riffraff as he straightened up the boxes and crates he had knocked over earlier. His distaste for poorly accomplished jobs bade him to attempt at least a frail illusion of a mugging. His irony also appreciated it as he hefted the body into the dumpster, a difficult job when trying to avoid any further bloodying. There was nothing he could do about the large puddle on the ground. Hopefully no one would notice it until after the trucks came to cart away the garbage.
For once, he was somewhat glad he had been placed in the L4 cluster. While not as seedy as L2, it was not as well-policed as L1. At least, not where he was located, as far from the affluent areas the Winners might occupy as possible. Random acts of violence were known to happen on occasion here. With another careful inspection of the area, he slipped back into the street and started his walk back to his apartment with a brisk stride, sparing a few extra minutes to take a route different from his usual. It seemed kind of lame to go on with his life as if that hadn't just happened, and yet he didn't find himself filled with any sort of righteous indignation, outrage, or fear. There was only a mild curiosity. Someone wanted him innocuously dead. How interesting.
He didn't really know how else he felt about that. But lacking anything else better to do, he seized upon the few things he did know. Anyone that tried to kill him was his enemy. And he knew what to do with enemies.
Details were easier to figure out when the plan was taken one step at a time. Step one: get the hell out of town.
Someone wanted him dead. That someone would find out sooner or later that he wasn't, and it was unlikely that that would be that. As soon as he got back to his apartment, he culled a few things here and there from his belongings, taking what he needed without making it obvious that he was skipping town. Fortunately, the effects of what were no longer habits still lingered, and he pulled an old gun out from beneath his bed, and another from the closet. Now where did he keep his ammo? Oh yes, there were a few clips floating around his desk, though he was fairly certain the one he used as a paperweight was empty. He found the things he would need for maintenance of his weapons in an old shoebox, along with a spare detonator and another clip. All of that went into his backpack, together with a few other personal items. He barely remembered to change out of his bloodied shirt and clean up the clotting wound on the back of his neck.
Despite himself, he took one last look at the apartment where he had spent his last few unproductive years. The government had 'helped' him choose it, just as it had 'helped' him find a job and 'helped' him stay off the grid and away from those who might want to use him. It had helped him become a person living outside of the world. It had helped him become a person that couldn't even withstand a little concussion anymore. Well, nothing like an assassination attempt to get one out of one's funk. He shut the door behind him, locked it, and resisted the temptation to throw away the key.
Eight hours later, he was setting up shop in a netcafé several colonies away on L4-X2890. His preference would have been to leave the L4 cluster altogether, but he didn't yet have a destination in mind. He would have to be unnaturally lucky for his unknown enemies to assume that their plans had been a success without a body to prove it, although perhaps he had won himself at least a couple of days while they performed a search. Afterwards, what would they expect him to do? Perhaps it was arrogant to assume that his death was worth that much effort to someone, but better to work with the worst case scenarios.
He had spent some of his time on the shuttle reviewing current affairs, and continued to follow the interesting stories now. He was painfully out of touch with today's issues. When had he stopped caring? he mused idly, flipping through the news archives. At least the world was still at peace. There were the expected flare-ups of tensions, but nothing the government wasn't able to keep under control.
Was something new starting, then? Or was this just something old, choosing now to rear its ugly head? He decided to concentrate on the former. If it was something he had already done, then there was nothing to be done about it now. If there was something yet to be stopped, then... he waited for the surge of protectiveness to rise up in him, but he gave up on it after only a brief moment. It had been far too long since he had cared about the state of the rest of the world.
How the hell had this happened? Yesterday, he'd been a nobody, and now suddenly he had ended up on the lam, and he didn't even know why. Why someone had tried to kill him, nor really why he had decided to leave town. He rubbed at his temples irritably, knowing it would do nothing for his rather unpleasant headache, but never once did he consider going back to his old apartment to pull the covers over his head. He did, however, still wish the rest of the world would just go away.
He pulled the stranger's wallet out of his pocket for another look. There was a government-issued identification card, but it was a sure bet that the name on it was a fake. Assassins carried such things around only in case of emergency. If stopped by chance, nothing made the authorities more antsy than a man without any identification.
His seat of choice was with his back to a wall, where he could dig for information without fear of anyone paying attention to his queries. He performed a cursory search of a few public databases, searching for references to this Marvin Jenkins. As expected, nothing interesting came up. A birth record from the L1 cluster, an accreditation as a mechanic. No trouble with the authorities. Professionals knew when their fake IDs were hot. Heero made a mental note to have a picture taken so he could appropriate the alias. He would need one to get much further.
In the wallet, there was also enough cash to cover emergency contingencies, though once again, no amount great enough to arouse suspicions. It became fast friends with the bills in Heero's own wallet. Alas, there were no convenient notes, business cards, or other sundry to clue him in on who might have hired the man. Only a few receipts from local businesses. Gum, isopropyl alcohol, coffee, dated from two days previous. The man had been in the area for at least that long stalking Heero. It annoyed some faint, lingering instinct in him that he hadn't made that very difficult.
Returning to the news sites, he could do nothing more than read. Many of the articles he skimmed over, conscious that he might be missing out on some information, but not really caring. If something came up, he could research it more later. For now, he just needed a broader understanding of the day's social climate.
It seemed he'd missed quite a few things. Important things. And when he got to one article in particular, all his priorities shifted.
last modified : 1/6/2006 22:39:25 PST