Jor sat up.
No. He wasn't Jor, he was the sniper. That part of his life was over. Callion had won and he had lost. He had lost.
He rolled out of his bed and stood up, stretching. He looked over. Lian was still there.
He rubbed a hand through his hair and walked over to the washroom. He needed to clean himself up so as to make a good impression on the team.
Lian woke up. Her muscles ached from sleeping strapped to the chair. But it was not the worst. She could have been dead.
The nightmares had come again last night. They always did. Always. But usually they weren’t that bad. Usually they weren’t the beginning. Usually they weren’t about the very very start.
Maybe Jor, Sho, all this was bringing things back. Maybe it was making her relive it. Maybe.
She stretched as much as she could and looked around. Jor was not in his bed. She listened and could hear the telltale whistle of an operating steamer. Yes, he was cleaning himself before the team arrived.
She didn’t have long now to plan. Soon the team would get here, and look for her. And Jor would either have to kill her, or kill them if they didn’t have a plan.
She had a plan, but how could she convince him to let her go? He didn’t trust her, that was clear. But how could she get him to trust her?
The artist stood up and stretched. Her leg was feeling better already, as was her arm. But she was ravenously hungry. As she pulled on the dead woman’s clothes she thought about her dream. That man had been one of the last times that she had done things correctly. After that she had killed more for fun, for the thrill, for the look in their eyes than for art.
That was when she had stopped being selective, when she had started killing anyone who got in her way.
That was when she had begun to lose herself. She had lost herself in truth. When the Arc had caught her a week ago there had been nothing left. There had been only an empty shell that lived for the kill, for the look in the eyes of the victim. She had had to kill more and more often at the end there, to the point where she was killing every single day.
That was how they had caught her. She strapped her knives to her arms and holstered her pistols.
That was how they had found her, trapped her, almost killed her. But in doing so they had freed her. Freed her from the cycle, from the lust to kill.
The artist smiled. She was free now. Free to go back to the art or do as she pleased. She stretched again and began to search the room for anything. Finally she found a couple of premades stashed underneath a ledger. She was pleased. She could save the rations that Lian had packed for when she really needed them. She put two into the bag and tore the last open.
It was slightly stale tasting, but it would fill her. These things never expired.
As she chewed the bars she opened the door and stood out on the railing. The water rushed by below with the sound of a thousand thunders. This was a peaceful place. Maybe she could stay here. Just for a while. Just while she healed.
She nodded. She had made her decision. There was food and water here, as well as some other supplies. She could stay a while. Enjoy the water, the peace of this place.
He stood in the steamer and thought. He did some of his best thinking in the steamer, the mist settling on his body, washing the dirt away. It was symbolic in a way.
It freed him from the past, absolved him of his crimes, washed the sins away. He was not religious, did not buy in to any one of the thousands of religions that were to be had in the Solar System, but if he was he would be because of the idea of absolution. Here he could repent and be freed from the weight of his sins. Here he could be born anew.
And as he was born anew he had a decision to make. Callion’s team was coming. And he could no longer do things his way, could no longer avoid the weight of what he had done.
The water one his body was joined by tears. He had killed, again and again, dozens and dozens of people. He had killed them all, for often no reason. Some he had killed for his misguided ‘art’. Others he had killed because they got in his way. But most of them he had killed because Callion told him to. Because Callion had decided that they no longer deserved to live, and the sniper had been his instrument of that punishment.
But he would not punish himself for what he had done. he had made a choice long ago, to serve rather to let another suffer. To serve and hopefully do some good, have a set of morals, keep some light in Callion’s organization. Somehow. But he had been lost, weighed down by the years by the ages going by.
He had been lost in his own hatred and pain.
But here he found himself again. And as he would be shackled by Callion’s team, maybe he could be free of another set of shackles. He had to do what was right not what was just or what was ordered or what was convenient but what was really truly right. He had no other choice. This was what he had to do.
The sniper finished in the washroom, and stepped out. Lian sat there in her chair. She looked ready for whatever he decided.
“You can go now Lian”
She looked at him in surprise.
“Yes. You can go. You do not deserve to die despite holding back information about the Butcher. You are trying to redeem her, to make her a better person, to save her from herself. I know what it is to try and save someone, to try and change who you are. You are doing a good thing”
He stepped forwards and unlocked her restraints, then helped her to her feet.
“You should get going. The team will be coming soon”
“Because as I said I was there once. I tried to change who I was, to redeem myself. Callion would not let me. But if you can save the Butcher from that fate then I commend you. Go. Bring her back from the edge, from murder, from darkness. I will buy the two of you as much time as I can”
Lian looked at this man. This odd wonderful, honourable man. But there was one problem with his plan.
“I don’t know how to find her”
“I don’t think that that is as big of a problem as you think. You know who she is better than anyone alive. You have been her companion for years. You grew up with her if I am to believe you. You can find her Lian. But first, will you do something for me?”
Lian looked at Jor, again surprised by his words. Not by his words, but more by his tone. Something had changed in him.
“Slice into the Arc system. Plant a trail that can be hidden but unearthed. One that says that the Butcher has left the Arc. make it look like she was picked up by Old Earth Loyalists. That will give us a reason to leave here, and also to fight in the war”
“A sound plan”
“It is. Hopefully it will get some of the other agents killed”
“Not Jor” Oh no. He was still clinging to his grim monicker. He was not death, but that was how he saw himself. As not a person but a force for destruction. She would be leaving him to sink, to fall lower, to become like Sho if she left to help Sho.
She opened her mouth to say as much but Jor continued.
“No, I would rather you call me Agent”
“But I thought you wanted to be called the sniper?”
“The sniper means only death. I am better than death. I can do so much more, be so much more than a force for death. I can, hopefully, be a force for peace, for redemption, for life as well. Agent suits me much better now”
“What made you change your mind?”
“Time. Circumstances. You and your dedication to healing the Butcher”
“Sho” she corrected absentmindedly.
“Yes, you are right. Sho. For she is a person, and deserves a name”
“So do you you know…”
“Not yet. I have a long way to go before I deserve to be called a person”
“Agent…” to hear him say that made her sad. He needed to have more confidence in himself.
“No time Lian. The team could arrive any minute now. Go. Find Sho. Save her, bring her back to the light. Do this now”
With that Jor threw a backpack full of her gear to her and opened the door of the railcar. He left it open as he opened the closet and armoury and began to dress himself.
“Goodbye Agent. Good luck in whatever you do”
“The same to you Lian”
Lian walked out the door amazed by the change in the Agent, in this man who had been so intent on killing her and Sho just a day before.
The agent prepared for the arrival of the team. He had work to do.
He buckled on his armour and strapped his weapons in place around himself. His armoury had been restocked last night when he returned. After putting his customary gear on he pulled out two submachine guns and an assault rifle. The sub machine guns he slung from his shoulders, and the assault rifle he clutched in his hands. If this came to the worst he wanted to be ready to take down the entire team.
He stepped outside of his railcar and waited. He did not have to wait long. They arrived on another railcar, this one larger, and longer. The barracks style model complete with a full kitchen and armoury, training room, and labs. They would likely expect him to move into their barracks. He would just hook his railcar up to theirs with a few failsafes instead. Safer for both groups.
The railcar arrived with a woosh, catching his long jacket and flapping it around him. He stood, immobile, unmoving. Let them come to him. Let them see him as a rock, a mountain, an unstoppable force and an unmovable object rolled into one. He was the best that the Arc had to offer. He was likely the best that the Solar System had to offer, asides from the artist, no, Sho, and maybe a few others like the two of them.
He was the best, and they would not defeat him. They would not bend him, would not break him. He was the Agent, and he did what was needed, what was right.
The wind died and his coat fell still as the doors hissed open before him. They walked out, so cocky. When they saw him some of that swagger died. Different heights different builds, different looks, they all walked with the same dangerous sway, the walk of one who knew violence, who had known violence, who was not afraid of what they might have to face. The agent knew that he was beyond that himself. He had heard himself described as a coiled spring, as a weapon, as flowing water, as all of these things and more. He knew that he surpassed these men and women, and that was not arrogance. It was simple fact.
“You are here for me I presume?”
They exchanged looks before the nominal leader stepped forwards. He was tall, taller than the agent, and had several weapons about his person. The agent could pick out three concealed knives at least, as well as four holsters, two for pistols and two for one shot grenade launchers. The man wore dart launchers on his wrists.
“That is correct Agent. The Director instructed us to pick up where you left off and follow the trail of the Butcher. We will succeed where you have failed. I am-”
“You are unimportant. All of you are. As is my failure. What is important is that we will succeed”
The man’s eyebrows lowered. He did not like being challenged. The Agent could smell the anger coming off of him in waves. For him to be able to smell the emotion the man must have been fuming.
“I am Agent Kral. You will report to me, as I am-”
“No. It is my mission, and I am in charge. I have the seniority, and I have discovered evidence of a conspiracy within the ranks of the Director’s agents. I am the only one that I can trust. Until the point where I am sure that you are not a member of the conspiracy or a point where I have rooted out the entire conspiracy I will not take orders from you or any other. You will either have to live with it, or I will exclude you from the planning and actions, and likely shoot you for being a traitor to the Arc”
Kral fumed silently, but he did not say anything. He gave a terse nod and turned away.
“Does anyone else have any questions? No? Good. I want you all back into your railcar. Start searching the system for any hint of suspicious activity, any hint of the Butcher. Her real name is Sho. I learned that much. I was given cause to believe that she will try and flee the Arc along with a group of Old Earth loyalists. If you check the logs I was called aside for a report of treason. Several minutes after I arrived there was a detonation at the location. I followed the perpetrators, a group of loyalists as it turned out, into the sewers, eventually capturing one. I executed her after extracting that information”
The group looked at him suspiciously, but there was nothing that they could say. They couldn’t deny the fact as they had no proof. And they couldn’t challenge him, not after what he had just said. So they turned and tramped back into the railcar, sullen and disappointed. Their leader had been shut down, dismissed like a child, and they now had to take orders from someone who they did not know, a freak.
But that was fine. They would learn to deal with it. And everyone was a freak in this system anyways.