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Targeted For Success

This short story was January 2016’s Short Story of the Month! If you enjoy it, and would like to support more, please consider throwing me a buck here.

This story is part of a serial project called Terran Action News Feed (or TANF) that I’ll be building over time! It’s a world of Bondesque action and romance in a sci-fi world. Please let me know if you like it: there’s lots more of Mary and Zil to come!

The sun was hitting my eyes in the most annoying way. I grumbled for the sun to fuck right off and pulled blankets over my throbbing head. I could hear a shower running somewhere in the background, but it was hard to focus. I had a really terrible headache. Knowing me, a hangover.

I sighed, and took stock of where I was. This wasn’t my room, and I didn’t see my clothes. Real nice sheets, though. Top quality. I turned to my left and looked out the window, seeing an unfortunately familiar landscape outside.

“Are you serious, past me? Christ.” This was the view from Emille’s window. Great. Fantastic. And as I looked around, it was clearly his bedroom. I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. At least it was probably a good fuck. That’s one thing I can’t fault him for. A single good quality.

I got out of bed, looking out the window and watching pods and people go by while I let the cobwebs clear themselves from my head. Never was a morning person. I probably needed coffee. Lots of coffee. Maybe Irish coffee. Hair of the dog. Eh, probably too early for anywhere to serve me that. And I sure wasn’t going to ask Emille for any of it.

I waved my wand to check the time.

“Fuck!”

I rushed to the bathroom and threw open the door. Emille had finished his shower and seemed to be finishing up his morning routine. Or at least the part of it that took place before all the makeup people pounced on him and he read the news. He was wrapped in a towel and I mentally scolded myself for enjoying the view once more. The kind of perfection only bioengineering could create.

“What the fuck, Emille? We have a meeting!” I demanded. Perhaps I would have looked a little more menacing if I was not naked, but eh, so it goes.

“Ah, Ms. Kasyanov, you’re awake. Lovely,” he said.

“Out of my way, I need to shower. I don’t have time to get back to the apartment to get a change of clothes either,” I grumbled, barely resisting the urge to shove him as I climbed into the shower and turned it on. He kept it really hot. I nearly jumped, and tried to readjust.

“But could you blame me for letting you sleep, my dear? Why, you looked so heavenly in bed next to me. One simply does not awaken perfection and ruin such a perfect scene.”

I rolled my eyes, soaping up fast. “You just didn’t want to talk to me.”

“That, Ms. Kasyanov, was another wonderful benefit. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I do have a meeting to attend this morning, and must get dressed and head out. Shall I let them know you will be a bit tardy? Ah, of course I shall.”

“Fuck you too!” I called after him as he closed the door to the bathroom. I punched the wall to the shower. God, I hated him.

But no time for that now. What was I going to do about this meeting? I thought about it in the shower for a bit before giving up and realizing I had to ask for help.

I activated my wand and called Zil.

“Good morning, Mary… you… seem to be naked and in the shower…” Zil said as she picked up, getting ready to go out the door of our apartment, it seemed.

“Yeah, well, nothing you haven’t seen before,” I said, working shampoo into my hair. “You’re still home?”

Zil nodded.
“As you can probably guess, I’m not going to have time to get to the apartment before the meeting or maybe even in time for the meeting… can you bring me fresh clothes?”

“Ah, sure, Mary… I’ll grab something.”

“Thank you. You’re wonderful.”

Zil did that thing she does where she closes all but her smallest eye because she’s too nervous to look at me and ask something. “Where were you last night?”

I sighed. This whole… thing we had. I swear sometimes it felt like all the downsides of having a significant other without the upsides. “I went out with work people while you were finishing up that graphics package. I told you.”

“Right… but you just didn’t come home. It’s…” Zil closed her eyes, then opened just her high light ones at me as she exited the apartment and summoned a pod. “It’s nothing.”

“What?”

“I was expecting you to ask me to pick you up afterwards and it never happened. I suppose that’s on me, though.”

“I could have gotten an automated pod. No big deal.”

“Yes, but you never do. You always call me.”

I ran that through my head, but nope, normally too drunk to remember that. “Yes, well.”

“Whose shower?”

I sighed. “Emille’s.”

“Oh Mary…”

“Shut up, I know.” I turned off the water, climbing out of the shower and realizing I had no idea where Emille’s towels were. I tried to remember through the distraction of my throbbing head. Took me three tries, and I probably got water everywhere, but eh, his problem, not mine.

“I know you’ve said this is just a Terran thing, but you keep doing it and you keep regretting it and I just don’t like seeing you so frustrated by it,” Zil said.

“I know, I know…” I was trying to throw on my clothes from last night, which were scattered everywhere. “Last time, I promise.”

“You can do what you want, Mary, and I know that’s a lie,” she said. “I just want you to not be miserable.”

“Yes, well, that’s why you moved in, right? Because you make me not miserable.”

She nodded, a bit of pleasure at that showing on her face.

“How much longer?” I asked as I rummaged through Emille’s medicine cabinet for something for my fucking head.

“Eleven months, three weeks, three days, six hours, based on my last physical exam.”

I took a deep breath. I was not made to handle Dougan reproductive cycles, I really was not. I threw two promising looking pills into my mouth, swallowed, and collected myself. “Okay. Okay. In any case, I’ll see you at TANF.”

“Yeah. See you there.”

I waved the conversation away with my wand and stood in front of the mirror. I looked exactly like I felt. Sighing, I brushed my hair and helped myself to Emille’s very expensive makeup until I felt I looked like someone who might be seen in public. It didn’t really work. Nothing he had was my shade. I gave up and got on summoning a pod.

By the time the thing got me to TANF, though, and I had stood, frustrated, in the elevator and run to the meeting room, people were pouring out of it. Several of them, who’d been at the whole… thing the night before and likely saw where I went afterward, were giving me looks of jealousy along the lines of “How dare you get to have your way with him and not me?” to pity of the “How many times are you going to do this?” variety, as well as some amusement at the whole situation mixed in. Are most offices filled with people you’d like to punch in the face on a daily basis? Mine seemed to be.

I stepped into the meeting room just as Julian was packing up. He looked up and smiled. “Ah, Mary, you did make it.”

“Sorry, Julian, there was…” I started.

“People gossip, so I think I know the situation,” he said, sitting back down. “And since we’ve had this conversation before, you know that, according to Terran Action News Feed Corporate Policy Mandate blah blah blah, I’m supposed to write you up for it. You and Emille both. And that you’d, unfortunately, come out on the bad end of that deal.”

I sat down across from him as he shuffled quickly through documents with his wand, looking for something. “Yes, what else is new…” I said.

“Just reminding you, again, how lucky you are that I’m lazy and how you really should declare all this stuff officially so nobody’s ass is in the fire.”

“I declared Zil. What more do you want?”

“Yes, a full two and a half months after she declared you, if I recall,” Julian said, and then made a motion that made my wand buzz.

“I kept forgetting,” I said.

“You’re uncomfortable with the idea of settling down,” he responded. “But I am not your therapist. Who is that again?”

“Nobody.”

“Right. If only someone had been suggesting you’d go for, oh, most of the time you’ve worked for me, maybe you’d have someone to work these issues out with besides a bottle.”

I sighed and went to open what he’d sent me. “Julian, come on. Can we do this later? What’s this?”

“That’s your press credentials for the speech Governor Amporatette is giving about their plans going forward from their recent re-election.”

I frowned. Normally, anything Amporatette did would be news. They were as hated as they were popular. Mostly despised by their fellow Hirv, they somehow managed to get elected again and again, due to very, very generous donations from out-of-system corps, and some pandering to an immigrant base. But this speech was going to be safe, and by the books. Softball questions only, if any. It was a token performance. The real stuff would be happening in the Hirvon senate weeks from now. This was a boring assignment any intern could do. Just point a lens at the speech and maybe say a few words of fluff afterwards. “Why in the world would I need those?”

“Because you’re covering it,” Julian said, leaning back in his chair. “It’s tomorrow. You shouldn’t have a problem getting there and getting set up in time.”

“But why would I cover it, Julian?” I said. “I graduated from this sort of stuff a long time ago.”

“Don’t you want to be associated with this this term once the mud starts being flung at Amporatette?” Julian said. “You’ll be the person to go to at that point.”

“I’m not a talking head. I’m in front,” I said. Not that I wouldn’t take what I could get, but dammit, I should be past this already.

Julian shrugged. “Well, everyone else called not it, and they were here, so…”

I sighed. “You’ll have me covering Terran interest garbage next.”

He made a vague gesture in the air. “Something something about the early bird needing to not be hung over and unconscious if she wants to get the worm, Mary.”

I shook my head. “Fine. Fine! Fine. I can take Zil as my camera?”

“If she’s not doing anything else. She showed up to work on time, so maybe she has something more high profile she got assigned, hm?” I gave him a look. “Yes, she’s already preparing, I would bet.”

“Fine. Alright. I’ll get on it.”

“Good. And let’s not have another incident like this for a while, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, standing up.

“I mean it, Mary!”

“Yes, thank you, Julian!” I called as I left the meeting room.

Well, this was going to be a boring couple of days.

I headed over to the video editing department to find Zil and hopefully my change of clothes. It was too early for anyone to really be editing much. Nothing had been shot yet. Most of the cameras were off doing other things. But I knew Zil, and sure enough, she was working on some sort of graphics package when I approached.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

Zil blinked her eyes as I pulled her attention away. “Ah, I have no idea, honestly.”

“Well, it’s a really professional opener for a non-existent report,” I said.

“It might be useful later…?” she said. I shook my head. She looked down a little. “We got in a new imaging tool and everyone else is afraid to play with it. They’re all going to ask me how to use it soon, so…”

I shrugged. “Fair enough, I suppose. Though that’s not really your job, you know.”

“Not officially, I guess…” I don’t even know why I reminded her of this. Zil was a real overachiever. I kind of envied that sometimes.

“Anyway, did you bring me clothes?”

“Oh, sure, in my bag over there,” Zil said, gesturing to the corner with a claw.

I rummaged around among all the tech until I found the stack of clothes, and headed to the bathroom to change. Afterwards, I looked in the mirror. I could still use some more fitting makeup and a nap, but eh. The dress wasn’t too wrinkled from being hauled over here, and Zil had actually managed to bring matching stockings this time. Good enough.

I headed back over to where Zil was back to working on her little learning project. “Thank you for that,” I said, shoving what I had been wearing back into her bag.

“Anytime, Mary,” Zil said, not looking up.

“So anyway, I got assigned to this Amporatette buttshit and…”

“Hm?” Zil turned.

I averted my eyes. “Well, I’m going to need a camera, obviously.”

“I think Rth’mx isn’t assigned to anything,” Zil said.

“Oh come on.”

“You could ask him?”

“Zil.”

“He’s been doing some excellent work lately. Really coming into his own.”

“Zil.”

“Yes, Mary?”

I sighed. “Zil, will you be my camera for this assignment?”

“Okay,” she said, looking proud of herself.

“Thank you,” I said, and then just hovered there for a moment, reaching for something to say. “Well, I guess we need to…”

“I’ve already filled out all the paperwork and gotten all the gear we needed, and I put in a call to the port to have them fuel Natasha since I assume, once again, you’ll refuse to charter a ship as is corp policy.”

“I didn’t figure out how to fill out all 3 million of those exception forms for nothing,” I said. “And anyway, you know Natasha is going to be more comfortable and faster than anything we could charter.”

“Of course, Mary.”

“So I guess you have it under control then.”

“We should leave in a few hours to pack and get going, but I assume you have some stuff to catch up on around here and some background to make sure you know first, yes?” Zil said, turning back to the screen in front of her.

“Yeah, probably right. I kind of rushed out of here yesterday…”

“And you probably still have a million messages about that Sinphan interview that they still haven’t aired because you haven’t answered those messages,” Zil said.

“Right…”

Zil gave me a little wave. I rolled my eyes and headed back to my desk.

The next few hours were a boring slog of making sure we had all the rights in place to put that interview, which wasn’t my best work but hey, it was something, onto the feeds that reached into some of the more strict sectors with laws about that kind of thing. It is not my favorite part of the job, but nobody is going to push me but me, so I needed to make sure I kept getting my image out there. Also I had put it off for too long. So.

I had just about waded through all of my messages when a new one popped up. There was no name or subject attached to it. We had a place for people to send anonymous tips, which was a vast wasteland of garbage to the point that I didn’t know if anyone but the occasional intern ever attempted to wade through it all. This message looked like something from there. I shouldn’t be getting stuff like that. My internal messaging address is not particularly common knowledge to the public.

But why would someone I had given my info to want to hide their name? I wasn’t tracking anything that would require a whistleblower at the moment.

I opened the message. It just read “Are you bored? I know something exciting.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” I sent back.

Almost immediately, I got a reply. “Covering by-the-book press conferences is not your style, but I know what is.”

Someone at TANF, then? Someone who knew about what I was going to be doing tomorrow, anyway. But, again, why would they have any reason to disguise who they were. I couldn’t think of anyone who’d want to waste my time or annoy me who wouldn’t do it to my face. Also, it would take considerable effort to remove those kind of identification markers if they were really sending it from inside TANF. Possible, I guess, but you’d get chewed out by the tech guys for it.

“You’re right, it’s not. Do you have something better for me?” I sent back.

I didn’t get an immediate response this time. I waited, finding myself more intrigued than I should be.

“Mary, you ready to go?” Zil said, walking over to my desk. “I got us launch clearance in two hours, so…”

“This isn’t you, is it?” I said, pointing at the anonymous messages.

Zil opened all her eyes to read it. “I don’t know why you’d think that was me… is someone bothering you about being late?”

I leaned back in my chair and stretched. “Yeah, probably.”

Zil was about to say something when another message showed up. We both looked at it, then at each other. “How about an assassination?”

Documents started to trickle in from the anonymous sender. They were video clips, and pictures of plans. I started sending out some feelers as we rode a pod home to try to get some confirmation on them.

“You really believe this?” Zil asked as I worked.

“I believe I can cover this speech in my sleep, and there is, like, a 1% chance this is real, and I have nothing better to do,” I said.

“I highly doubt you have nothing better to do, Mary…”

“Well, you’ve got me there,” I said. “But big risk, big reward, right?”

Zil’s tail twitched on the seat beside her, which she tried not to acknowledge. “I suppose so.”

“We’ve got a long trip for me to do all the shit for this speech, seriously,” I said. There was a silence where I could just feel Zil running through the list of tasks that she figured she would have to do for me. I sighed, and turned. “Look, okay, you know how I work. And it works. Right?”

“It has in the past,” Zil said, closing most of her eyes.

“You don’t have to babysit me. Really. Contrary to popular belief, I did have a career before you came into my life,” I said.

“Julian covers for you more than you’re likely aware,” Zil said, tail twitching more. “This assignment is a punishment and I worry about the reaction if you don’t treat it like one and do it by the book, as you’ve said. I do not think you would be happy with another line of work, and it would be very difficult to re-establish yourself on another feed after having invested so much of yourself into the TANF brand.”

She was doing that thing that melted and bothered me, where she was acting like we were a real couple, instead of… whatever we were. Something I was better at than a real relationship.

“I’m not going to lose my job, Zil. Don’t be silly.”

She looked to me, still with just the one eye.

“Okay, okay,” I said, waving my wand to close all the shit I had open. “I’ll worry about what we’re assigned first.”

“Thank you…”

I wrapped my arm around her and gave her a little tug closer. It wasn’t a very effective tug. I mean, she has almost 3 feet on me. But she got the message, and moved close. I squeezed her softly.

“Seriously, you don’t have to worry about me.”

“Yes, I do,” she said. “We’re…” Zil left the other word blank. Partners? Friends? Lovers? Co-workers who happened to share the same bed and spend all their time together and thus everyone assumes they’re a couple?

“Yeah…” I said. “Yeah, we are.” I took a moment to debate, but ended up nearly standing up in the pod to lean over and attempt to bite her shoulder. It was a Dougan thing. The whole scene back when she finally worked up the courage to ask me to do it was… odd. She was very embarrassed, probably because it’s something I probably should have done my homework and just known. Explaining it went really badly and she ended up just showing me footage of it while she tried not to die of embarrassment. I guess, originally, in ancient Dougan times, it was about marking someone as yours during the times when a woman was ready to go, so to speak. Draw blood, leave some teeth marks, and everyone knows that the woman in question had a mate for that cycle. I couldn’t draw blood with my shitty Terran teeth if I tried, of course, and apparently the whole practice had kind of devolved over time into a sign of affection that didn’t break the skin. Like a kiss, maybe? Maybe more serious than that. Who the fuck knows, I guess.

Anyway, my likely terrible attempts to do this always just made me feel bad because I always felt like I did something wrong, went at the wrong angle or something, but it made her happy and kind of embarrassed so I guess it’s the thought that counts.

If I’m being honest with myself, Zil’s constantly failed attempts at producing something like a kiss with that muzzle of hers does certainly count.

Zil closed her eyes and took a breath, squirming as I sat back down. “I just want you to succeed. But I know you have to do it your own way.”

I nodded. The pod was pulling up outside of our apartment. “Let’s just take it one step at a time. And the first step is getting packed for this horrendously boring trip.”

“Right…”

We headed inside and started packing. We didn’t need much, and I kept a lot of spare stuff in Natasha because I am great at forgetting things, but that didn’t mean I could bring nothing. I had just about thrown all the clothes I’d need into a bag when I got a message. I glanced over at Zil, who was packing her case, and then stepped out of the bedroom and pulled it up.

It was a forwarded message that had been sent to Amporatette’s official “government business” sort of account, by the labelling on it. It was sent by a contact I had who worked for Shining Nova, the mercenary group often used for guard duty in that sector for, say, government functions like a speech. I’d been right to guess that they were on this, and as I read the message, I couldn’t help but smile. It started with a list of supposed grievances that Amporatette had helped to bring about on Hivron, most of which I had heard of before. But it was the end that was the kicker. “For all these assaults on the lives of your fellow Hivr, and the many you have planned to enact during your next term, the Hivr Liberation Group hereby demands that you step down during your upcoming speech. If you do not, we will be forced to take drastic action.”

I saved that motherfucker, and walked back into the bedroom, grinning. Zil looked over to me, confused. “Okay, something happened.”

“Yeah, possibly. But we’re playing by the book for now, remember?” I said.

Zil shook her head and shut her case.

I went to the bedside table, and pulled out my Athenian 732c Handheld Disruptor, the best firearm money could buy that made you look like you were all for good ol’ Terra when being filmed. Basically, the murderous equivalent of the Terran flag. I dropped it atop my clothes and zipped up my bag.

“That kind of something?” Zil asked.

“Always be prepared,” I said, slinging the bag over my shoulder. “Call us a pod up to the dock, will you?”

“I already did,” Zil said. “It’s probably outside by now.”

“You spoil me,” I said, heading for the door.

“Yes, I do,” said Zil, tail swishing happily.

We took the pod up the elevator to the dock. Natasha is capable of ground landings, of course, but who wants to waste the money on fuel going on and off Terra over and over again? Also, knowing a handsome lady who wears this wonderful perfume that she refuses to give me the name for and who works for the dock makes it much more affordable than you might expect.

Seriously, that perfume drives me crazy. Almost positive it’s not made on Terra at this point. I have looked, believe me.

Natasha was looking good as always as we walked into her hangar. I had been replacing the heat shielding and repainting her over the last month or two during my spare time, and it was, for sure, paying off. Hadn’t got it all done underneath yet, but you couldn’t really tell sitting in a hangar.

Zil took her in. She hadn’t seen her since last time we went off-world. “The ship is looking a lot better,” she admitted.

“Damn right she is,” I said, waving my wand to lower the stairs and starting to walk in. “How have you been, baby? They do anything mean to you when they filled your tank?” I tossed my bag onto the table and connected my wand to the diagnostics system to take a look. “They best have treated you like a princess.”

Zil took a deep breath to hide her feelings on these things as she walked past and headed towards her sleeping cabin.

Most of Natasha’s vitals looked just fine. That thermic compressor was still miscalibrated. I kept putting it off because it is a huge pain in the ass and it isn’t off by that much. Easy to compensate for when flying. That’s the kind of thing you can do on these older ships. Natasha was missing bells and whistles, perhaps, but she was going to run forever and ever, at least if I had any say in the matter.

I headed into the cockpit, synced my wand, and started prepping for launch.

“Are we good to go, Mary?” Zil said, ducking her head on her way into the cockpit. Natasha was pretty roomy and she could stand up easily inside her, but the doors were definitely sized for Terrans.

“Yeah, get strapped in and I’ll get us on our way.” Zil moved to the other chair and buckled herself in, and, as soon as the dock’s computer system gave us clearance, we lifted up and headed out of the dock and into open space. I got us all set up for the jump as Zil stared out at the stars, as she always tended to. She always thought them pretty, and sometimes I wondered how, when we’d both seen first hand how much garbage is out there on the planets around those stars.

“And three two one go,” I said, and the ship shuddered, and we were jumping towards Hivron.

“How long do we have?” Zil asked as she unbuckled herself.

“10 hours? Something like that. Some of that is going to be negotiating landing and blah blah blah,” I said.

“Plenty of time to sleep, then,” Zil said, nodding.

“For sure. Go for it.”

“You should too,” Zil said.

“I will, don’t worry. I’ll set an alarm to let me know when we’re getting close.”

Zil looked at me for a moment, trying to determine how much I was lying. Since none of the three sleeping cabins on Natasha had a bed big enough for more than one person, she knew she would likely not be able to verify if I had gone to bed or not. It’s still creepy having someone know me this well. “At least a nap. You have to be looking good for the speech. Can’t do that exhausted.”

“At least a nap. Promise.”

“Thank you. Goodnight, Mary,” Zil said, heading to the door.

“Goodnight.”

I followed Zil into the main room, then flopped down on the couch and got to work finishing those inquiries I had been making in the pod, plus a few more to see what I could see about the supposed threat on Amporatette’s life. And then once that was done, I didn’t have anything else to do until people got back to me.

Well, I suppose I had promised Zil a nap.

I went into my sleeping cabin, set an alarm for a few hours later, and did the best impression of sleep I could. I found it easier than I expected. I had had a pretty full night the night before, so I guess I was a little low on sleep.

Anyway, then I made a lot of coffee. And then I got back to work.

We were about 15 minutes from ending the jump when Zil finally got up, poking her head out of her cabin as I worked on the couch, blinking all her eyes in succession as she tried to get conscious again. “Please tell me you slept…” she said drowsily.

“I promised I would,” I said.

“But did you?”

“About five hours. There’s coffee. I think. Maybe I drank it all, actually.”

Zil gave a little nod and moved out of the cabin, pouring the end of the pot into a mug.

“The one promise I didn’t keep was to prep for the speech first. Sorry. But check this out,” I said, grinning. “I got one of those ‘No comment because you’re obviously right and I don’t like you much’ messages from Amporatette’s people on the letter, and I also have a conveniently leaked message stating that Shining Nova execs had suggested to about double the guard because of this threat, which had been declined because it looked bad. Wanted Amporatette to look welcome giving the speech.”

“Okay?” Zil said, sitting down next to me and trying the coffee.

“So this is legit,” I said.

“Mary, all that proves is that Shining Nova wanted more money and that you read a lot into ‘We do not comment on rumors and speculation.’”

“You’re no fun,” I said.

“Sorry… but we have a job to do…” Zil said, squirming a little.

“Well, I kept digging anyway.” I activated my wand to pull up a simple blueprint of the theater Amporatette was going to be using. “This is where the speech is going to be held, more or less. And if I know Shining Nova SOP, they’d be putting guards something like that…” Dots popped up where I had placed them earlier. “And the press, including, in theory, us, is going to be here, along with some supporters.” The rest of the dots filled in the diagram. “So I looked at this, and I asked myself, how would I kill Amporatette?”

“Mary…”

“What?”

“You don’t see anything wrong with building a plan to kill a political figure?”

“It’s research. Journalists do research,” I said. “Now look. Explosives seem unlikely. Guards are going to be near Amporatette at all times, and the Novas are going to likely scan the stage after they sweep it and deem it safe so that anything that’s changed will be picked up super fast on a handheld scan. So unless you are taking literally the whole building down, there’s nowhere close enough to put an explosive to target just them.”

“Are you sure they wouldn’t just take the whole building down?”

“Killing a bunch of press would be pretty bad PR for a ‘liberation’ group, but I suppose they could. That would be hard, but doable, if you have access to the explosives necessary. The guts of this building, according to the blueprints, are made of Flexstel. Most homemade devices would surely do a bunch of damage, but wouldn’t bring down the structure in a way that would hurt Amporatette if they weren’t close to the blast.”

Zil thought about that. “Okay, that’s fair. Even if the blast got lucky and, say, hit a structural weakness not in the plans, you’d have to really crush Amporatette with rubble to get their core. Their limbs could be easily replaced.”

I nodded. “So I did a search of thefts of the type of military-grade explosive one would need and… there’s been nothing recently, and Hivron has a pretty good track record of finding contraband like that besides. There’s a chance something got out undetected, but, you know, have to work with what I can get. So! I tried to come up with another plan. If I wasn’t going to make a huge boom, how was I going to destroy Amporatette’s core and have at least a chance of escape?”

“Okay, fine. How would you do it, Mary?”

“Shoot it.”

Zil closed most of her eyes. “Of course.”

I zoomed out my blueprint. “If I set up in one of these two buildings, I could potentially hit Amporatette with a Precision Disruptor right in the core.”

“You certainly think highly of your aim…” Zil said, looking at the buildings.

“Of course I do,” I said, “But come on, this is theoretical. Theoretical Me would have trained for a while on this. And Theoretical Me would know that the Novas couldn’t legally post anyone in these two buildings without prior approval of their owners. Hell, maybe that’s what the call for extra guards was that was turned down. So I pick one, and take the shot.”

“But you don’t have view of Amporatette. There’s no windows into the theater,” Zil said, looking closer at the diagram and pointing at where the firing lines I’d overlayed impacted the building.

“So you’d need a super high quality, restricted military grade Precision Disruptor and a really good scanner,” I said. “The scanner you could buy anywhere, but not the rifle.” I grinned. “So I checked for reports of a missing rifle of that intensity and what do you know.” I flicked my wand, and a report of a small weapons locker at a Hivr armory being raided appeared before Zil. “This seemed fruitful, so I asked a friend of mine who knows a person who works for the Hivr army, and heard that the item of most note stolen from that armory was a Galthenyn G3B7 Precision Disruptor. That has more than enough firepower to do the job and pierce through the building, provided the shot could be lined up without hitting any of the support structure of it.”

“So…?” Zil said.

I frowned. “So there’s going to be an assassination attempt!”

“But Mary… Even if someone had the right weapon to do it, as you claim, it would still be a nearly impossible shot. Nobody would attempt it, except…” Zil blinked all her eyes. “Oh.”

I grinned. “Exactly. Except, say, an unhinged AI that’s a bit full of itself. Like, say, a Hivr. Maybe one in some sort of Liberation Group.”

Zil nodded. “Alright. Fine. It’s kind of likely, then. So what’s the plan?”

“That’s the fun part.”

I adjusted myself in front of the theater. I could hear the feed in my ear. I was about to be introduced. Zil was fiddling with the lens in front of me. I smiled at it, and she nodded as she started counting down with held-up claws.

“For more on that, we go to Mary Kasyanov, currently on Hivron. Mary?”

Zil silently lowered her last claw and I put on my best smile.

“Thanks, Emille. I’m standing in front of the Morgyte Theater for the Arts, where Governor Amporatette will be giving their speech in just a few minutes. Tensions are a bit high around here, as while Amporatette did win another term, it was not by a wide margin. Many Hivr and otherwise are waiting to see if they take a more compromising approach to their campaign promises.”

“What exactly is Amporatette expected to announce during their speech, Mary?”

“The biggest point expected to be hit is Amporatette’s budget plan for the next term. Now, last term, Amporatette reduced Hivron import tariffs to new lows, and it’s expected that they might cut them even lower this term, something that the many manufacturing corps here are none too happy with the idea of. There’s also rumors of attempting to rebuild diplomatic ties with Zarkeschta, which might be announced today as well.”

“I see. Well, we’ll check in with you after the speech.”

“Of course. And if anyone would like to watch the speech live, we are doing a live feed on TANF 4 for up to the minute coverage.”

“Thank you. That was Mary Kasyanov, on Hivron.”

“And we’re clear,” Zil said, retracting the lens.

“Of course he had to be on the fucking desk,” I said, grumbling as I waved my wand to turn off Emille’s voice in my ear.

“He didn’t do anything wrong?” Zil said.

“Yeah, yeah…” I said, walking over to the bag Zil had been carrying and pulling out my Athenian and it’s holster and putting it on. “Have you got a visual?”

“I’m working on it… I had to disconnect from TANF…” Zil said, claws squirming as she modified one of her lenses, making it longer so it would zoom effectively, and then pointed it at one of the buildings in question, scanning windows. A window would make the most sense. The Precision Disruptor was already going to have to pierce a lot of building. Adding another wall would make it even less accurate. I just hoped whoever was setting up for the assassination wasn’t paying much attention to the ground and the swarm of reporters and supporters below. Zil’s lens would probably be noticed if they were paying attention. Several crews from rival feeds were looking at her, very confused, as they headed into the theater.

“Anything?”

“I don’t think they’re in that one…” Zil said. “Let me look at the other one…”

“Come on come on…” I said under my breath. We didn’t have that long until the speech started, and as soon as Amporatette was in place behind the podium, that was the most likely time for the assassin to strike.

“There’s a Hivron in that window…” Zil said. “But I can’t see a Disruptor…”

“Let me see,” I said. Zil popped up the image she was seeing through the lens. “That’s probably it. The Disruptor is probably too low to see from this angle.”

“I don’t know…”

“I’m going,” I said. “Keep searching if you want. But like we planned, a lens following me, one for the live feed, okay?”

“A-alright…” Zil said. But I was already running towards where we’d spotted the potential assassin. It was a banking and finance complex, and thus the one I figured would be less likely to house the assassin because the security would be higher. Perhaps the assassin was working with a corp connected to it? Wouldn’t be the first time.

I heard a lens buzz up behind me as I looked at the lock on the door. “You should have waited for me to get ready…” Zil said in my ear.

“No time for that. Or time for this, really,” I said, pulling my Athenian and powering it up.

“M-mary, we don’t have confirmation of the…”

I set the Disruptor to wide and blasted a me-sized hole in the door. No alarm went off. Which means someone must have disabled it. Which meant that our random Hivron was probably not someone working late. I knew it. I do so love it when I’m right.

“Mary!”

“Just keep the lens on me, get into the theater and set up the other one for the feed.”

“A-alright… I’m going…”

I ducked through the doors and headed to the elevator. They’d been on the 20th floor. I headed in and sent the elevator to 19. No reason to let the ding warn them of anything. I ran out onto the 19th floor and headed up the stairs, slowing as I got near the 20th. My boots were not really made for stealth, but eh, might as well go through the motions.

I edged the door open, listening, though nothing really struck me. I creeped towards the window, and grinned as I saw them.

I’m no expert on Hivr, of course. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on any xeno, though I’m certainly becoming somewhat of an expert on Dougan, slowly but surely. So I couldn’t really tell what model Hivr they were. Only that they seemed to have three arms, and a fourth that held, essentially, a head, covered with personal sensor equipment. It, of course, had like a million legs, too, around where I assumed its core was. It was messing with a very, very expensive scanner, trying to pull up a good image of the interior of the theater. On the ground, set up towards the theater, was a Precision Disruptor. A Galthenlyn. I grinned.

I walked around the corner. The Hivr pointed its visual sensors at me. I raised my Athenian. “Mary Kasyanov, TANF. May I ask what exactly you’re doing here? What exactly is your connection to the so-called Hivr Liberation Group?”

“A Terran,” they said. “Of course, a Terran. Of course a xeno would try to stop me from saving my planet from creatures like you.”

“Yeah, well, so it goes. Raise all your arms, and step away from the Disruptor.”

“Do you not understand that Amporatette wants to let xenos build Hivr parts? Build us? Do you not understand how wrong that is?”

“Not really my problem. Arms up. My Disruptor is hot, and I am not joking.”

“Amporatette just got on stage… the speech is starting…” Zil said softly into my ear.

They clicked towards me, slowly. “Do you even know where my core is, Terran?”

“Arms Up!” I shouted. But it was right. I didn’t. I was assuming. My aim wavered.

In a flurry of clicks, they rushed me, dashing across the tile floor. They slammed into me just as I pulled the trigger, and the shot went wide, busting a hole in the window. In my ear, I could hear Zil stifle a scared whimper, but she was doing as she was told, the lens buzzing to keep a good view of the action. I fell to the floor, but lashed out with a boot, connecting with several legs with a satisfying clang and snap of metal. Sometimes these bioengineered muscles come in handy.

I tried to roll out of the way as the Hivr let out a scream of surprise, but they grabbed my skirt with an arm and tugged me back. I tried to whip my Athenian back around into position to at least blast off an arm or something, but another one grabbed my wrist.

“You’ll pay for that…” they said, their remaining arm going towards my neck.

There was a whimper of fear in my ear, and the lighting on Zil’s lens suddenly flashed at what I would assume was above max power. It dazzled me a little. I wish she would have given me some sort of warning. But I could hear the Hivr’s head swivel around. I grabbed the arm gripping my wrist with my other hand and wrenched it open with a grunt, just enough to point the Disruptor down and fire. The arm suddenly hung free around my wrist, and the Hivr was screaming again. I gave them a powerful heave with both legs and sent them flying across the room, smashing into the Precision Disruptor and knocking it over.

“Are you okay…?” Zil’s voice trembled softly.

I didn’t answer, pushing myself to my feet as the Hivr scrambled back onto theirs. I raised the Athenian once more, and fired, taking out two more legs. “Next one goes in your fucking core,” I growled.

“I contacted the local police…” Zil said. “They should be there soon…”

“Now explain what you were saying earlier, about parts,” I demanded.

“Always been restrictions on that…” the Hivr said. “Keeps us… us… but Amporatette is announcing, right now, a push to remove import laws for Hivr and other AI parts… trying to radically change what Hivr are!”

“And so that’s why you were going to kill them.”

“Yes!”

“Well, so much for that, hm? And for the record, I think it’s ridiculous to think Amporatette would get that passed. They don’t have near the support for something that huge.”

“Your government let… you get made. I refuse to accept that for us. I refuse.”

“Not sure why my genes are being brought into this, but I’ll just remind you that most races based on genetic material allow engineering to a degree, so I’d be careful how wide a net of hate you were casting, hm?” I could hear skittering on the stairs. “It sounds like our time is almost up. Anything else you’d like to say to viewers of the feed before you’re off to jail?”

“This isn’t over.”

Several more Hivr burst into the room, skittering into position around the criminal with disruptors drawn. I stepped back and powered down my Athenian, turning to the lens still floating behind me.

“Well, there you have it. An assassination plot on Governor Amporatette foiled. Was there more to it than we just heard? Is the “Hivr Liberation Group” an actual group, or just the single criminal we witnessed today? And will this affect Amporatette’s plans in the coming term? Be sure to stay tuned to TANF for updates on this breaking story. This has been Mary Kasyanov, reporting live from Hivr.”

The lens turned to film the police capturing the injured Hivr, and I sighed and leaned against a wall.

“You’re hurt,” Zil said.

“I’m fine, Zil,” I said back.

“There’s a large bruise on your wrist, and I’m sure your back is more injured than you’re letting on.”

“I’m fine.”

“Okay…”

“I’m going to be in questioning for a while, obviously, so make sure all this gets to TANF with proper attribution and such, okay?”

“Alright…”

“Thank you.”

Zil didn’t listen to me, and was waiting the moment the police let me go. She was fidgeting in the lobby, unsure what to do.

“Zil. Come on. You didn’t have to do this,” I said, walking over to her. She had been right. My back hurt like a motherfucker now that everything had calmed down, but I was trying not to show it.

“Mary… you’re okay?”

“I’m okay. Gave them copies of the evidence without any connection to my sources. They won’t be able to use it, but it’ll give them a place to start, I suppose. And they were obviously set up to shoot Amporatette, so the police probably won’t have any trouble.”

Zil stood, and hugged me. I winced from the pressure on my back, but it was nice to be surrounded by all her warmth nonetheless.

“I’ve… cleared most of it…” she finally said when she let me go. “But I still haven’t secured rights to the building itself… they’re being stubborn…”

“I’ll get it. Let’s hurry back to Natasha and I’ll get it.”

“TANF went with the news but they’ve been basically blowing hot air waiting for the footage…” Zil said, looking at the floor. We started walking out.

“I’ll get it,” I said again. “And let’s try to put together some sort of package about the evidence I collected in Natasha on the way home.”

“Right…”

I could feel Zil watching me as we walked outside. “You are definitely hurt,” she said. I was walking awkwardly, to try to keep my back from crying out in pain as much.

“It’s nothing. And I doubt it’d be easy to find a doctor familiar with Terrans here anyway.”

“Should be someone…”

“We don’t have time for it. I have to get those permissions and things, remember?”

“Alright then…” Zil’s arm was suddenly under my legs, and she picked me up.

I sighed. “Really?”

“It was hurting you to walk.”

“I’m fine, Zil.”

Zil looked away from me, and I could feel her calling a pod with her wand underneath my shoulder.

I shook my head. “Okay, okay. Thank you. But this is embarrassing in public.”

“Why?” she asked.

I opened my mouth to answer, but found none.

Five days later, they were still showing footage of me kicking the Hivr across the room, and I was grinning the whole time. I’d been on two of our morning shows, talking about my “incredible bravery,” and I’d been trickling out more and more information about the situation as time went on. Julian was annoyed I had tried to take on a terrorist without at least letting him know to free up air time, but overall was mostly placated.

Things were going perfectly, until I got another message from the same anonymous source, on a pod ride back home after another day of work.

“I almost forgot to congratulate you, Ms. Kasyanov, on a wonderful job foiling that assassin. They kept me on feed a full two hours to continue to supply updates. Well done.”

I just stared at the message for a moment before yelling, “What!”

Zil, startled, looked over to me as another message came in.

“Of course, you received most of the benefit of passing along information from my source. I do hope you enjoyed it. I cannot wait until you return the favor.”

“Mary, what’s wrong…?”

I sent an angry message back, ignoring Zil. “I don’t owe you shit, Emille.”

“Oh? Was it not my fault you ended up at the right place at the right time? My fault you were able to piece things together?”

“I did this. Me. This was my story.”

“Was it?”

“Yes, it was! This was all me!”

“Hmm. I see. Well, you have a lovely evening, Ms. Kasyanov.”

“Fuck you!” I yelled in the pod.

“Mary, what’s wrong?” Zil said.

“It was Emille. It was fucking Emille,” I growled.

“What about Emille?”

“He tipped me about this!”

“Seriously…?”

“He’s trying to take my success from me. He’s trying to make me owe him.” My fist pounded the seat next to me. “What a fucking asshole!”

“Mary, calm down…”

“Well, he’s not getting a single fucking thing from me, I’m telling you that right now.”

Zil put her claws on my shoulder. “Mary.”

I took a breath. “Sorry…”

“You’ve come out on top in this. You’ve gotten way more exposure than him,” Zil said. “Right?”

“Right… He probably thought it was an empty threat, and was just trying to get me to waste time…”

Zil smiled. “Exactly!”

But I knew, I knew this would bother me. The thought of owing him anything made my skin crawl. Whether on purpose or not, I now owed him. My hands were fists.

Zil was still watching me with one eye, worried. “Maybe… maybe we should go to Synapse instead of home. Relax a little.”

I turned to look at her. “Seriously?” Dougan can’t hold their alcohol at all. Like, they get drunk at the most pitiful amount. Zil goes with me when I want some company, but she never really asks to go herself.

Zil looked away. “Maybe find you some company so you can work off some of… what you’re feeling…” she said.

It took me a moment to figure out what she was suggesting. I chuckled and looked to her, wrapping a hand around her claws. “You’re way too good for me, Zil. You know that, right?”

Zil peeked back towards me. “Only a little too good…”

I pressed closer to her and waved my wand, feeling the pod changing destination. “How much longer?” I asked.

“Eleven months, two weeks, two days, twelve hours…”

I could wait. I probably wouldn’t, if I’m being honest. Almost certainly not, given our destination. But in that moment, sure. I felt like I could wait.

But more importantly, I knew I had something important that no asshole was going to take from me. Would they try to ruin everything else I’ve got? Sure, that’ll happen, especially in this line of work. But this… nobody but me could ruin this. And when you’ve lived a life of forcing your way through garbage, higher and higher… well, knowing that is a strange and beautiful luxury.

Thank you very much for reading my story! If you liked it, please share it with your friends and stuff. That would mean a lot to me. There’s plenty more stories and things coming, so I hope to entertain you again soon!

Published inShort Stories