CHAPTER 1: MY GREATEST SIN
Angry; that word was such an understatement of how I felt that morning. Even words such as heated, crossed, vexed and infuriated completely and utterly failed to define my mood at that time. Pissed was a good word, a very good word. But even that couldn’t begin to describe the level of rage I felt at that very moment, at that very time, on that very day, as I limped down the street toward my destination.
The click–clack, click–clack of my boot heels greeting granite resonated like a discordant symphony in my bruised and bleeding ears. Airships buzzed overhead in the orange-red sky and cars drove past me as I continued to hobble down the early morning streets of Glasgow.
The whistles and cat calls of the scantily clad women lining the alleyways, begged for my business. It didn’t matter that I was a woman like them. As far as they were concerned, the money I had on me worked just as well as any man’s. Gender equality at its best. While I was used to men hitting on me and treated it with boredom at least half the time, receiving offers from ladies of the evening made me just a bit curious. Then again, stars were beautiful too. That didn’t mean I wanted to touch one with my bare hands. When a particularly desperate hooker started to harass me, I reached into my pocket, pulled out my black, 9mm Beretta and held it high. High enough for her to get a very good look at it in the dim morning light. All she needed was one glimpse to convince her to turn around and trot away as fast as her ridiculous high heels could carry her. The others must have also seen the gun, because the whistles and cat calls abruptly ceased. Suddenly, it was just me and the cold, bulky weapon in my hand, the audience having disappeared like an apparition. Their sudden absence, no matter how inconsequential their presence had been just moments before, jarred my psyche. I took a deep breath and continued to shuffle towards my primary objective of the evening; the south building of the Glasgow Industry complex. The place where my Guild and their current target should be. Based on my own recent, shitty experience that morning, I thought it likely they had been ambushed and would need my help.
My arms ached, and the cut above my right eye, wound open and bleeding, didn’t help my situation much either. I did not care. As serious as they looked, my injuries were really only trivial matters; annoyances that I planned to take care of in due time.
At first, ignoring the pain was difficult, if not impossible. That suited me just fine. I didn’t want to ignore the pain; I wanted to embrace it. I needed it; I needed the anger. I needed the adrenaline. I needed it to serve as a reminder as to why I needed to do, what I needed to do. I needed to save them. I needed to know if they were still alive.
One of the building’s side doors was already unlocked. A difficult feat considering it was made of solid steel and fixed with three heavy locks that were well beyond my skill to pick. Robert’s work I suspected, or perhaps Burian or Rosalia. Either way, I slowly opened the door and entered before closing it behind me.
Just beyond the doorway were four, low-level security guards lying face up on the floor. Their eyes were closed, hands and feet bound, weapons missing and each face sported fresh bruises. I checked their pulses. They were unconscious but alive. From what I could tell they were going to be out for a while.
Further inside didn’t look much better, but from what I could tell, it didn’t look worse either. More unconscious guards littered the floor along with more than a few Glasgow Industry employees; men and women alike.
Beretta in hand, I tip-toed around them and cautiously made my way to the nearest stairwell.
Quick as a trapdoor spider, a young man emerged from the stairwell, aiming his pistol right at me before I had a chance to raise mine. My heart skipped a beat. I cursed my own stupidity. The bodies had distracted me a little too well. I should have known better.
If he had been an enemy, I surely would have been dead.
The young man, recognizing my face, holstered his weapon, ran to me and gave me a hug. I returned the embrace, ignoring the pain in my freshly bruised body.
“Wendy,” he said, giving me a half smile. “I thought I would never see you again.”
“I got ambushed,” I replied, feeling the pain in my throat. It hurt to speak. “I barely managed to get away. What happened, David?”
“I’m not sure. After subduing the guards, Robert and Rosalia went upstairs to engage the target while I stayed here to keep watch.”
“Just you? Where’s Burian and Susan? Weren’t they supposed to meet us here?”
“They never showed up. So far I haven’t—”
The sound of gunshots stopped David in midsentence. We looked at each other and immediately began rushing up the stairs. Halfway toward our destination, the sudden gunfire came to a halt and silence once again reigned over the building. I activated my hyper-hearing, but my ears could only pick up the sound of my footsteps and my own rapidly beating heart.
When David and I reached the top floor, we slowly emerged from the stairwell, guns drawn and entered the office area, making certain to keep our backs to the wall. What I saw there was definitely worse than what I had seen on the first floor.
I activated my hyper-smell and my eyes immediately began to water.
The stench of fresh blood and dry gun powder hung thick in the air, contaminating everything in the room; the cracked walls and ceiling, the broken furniture and machines, the living and especially the dead, turning the once quiet office building into an even quieter abattoir. The only difference was abattoirs were much cleaner.
The only two people in the room who weren’t dead were my friends, although one of them was doing a great impression. He was barely breathing at all.
“Robert? Rosalia? What happened?” I said, not recognizing my own voice.
Rosalia’s hand moved so fast that I barely noticed her gun until she had it pointed straight at my head.
I gasped. Not because of the pistol; not entirely. By then I was already used to having the business end of God-knows how many weapons pointed at me. What I was really reacting to was far more frightening. Rosalia’s free hand lay atop Robert’s chest, caked with his blood and fighting to keep as much of it from leaking out of the bullet holes as possible. He wasn’t moving.
Rosalia looked at me. Her ocean blue eyes held the ghost of tears. Yet she refused to shed a single one. When she saw that only David and I stood before her, she lowered her weapon, but kept it well within reach.
I turned off my hyper-smell and activated my hyper-hearing. Robert’s breaths sounded low and labored, but he still lived.
“Our cover’s blown,” said Rosalia. “We need to get Robert someplace safe to treat his injuries.”
“What about Burian and Susan?” I asked.
“If they’re not here by now chances are they never will be. If they’re still alive, they’ll meet us at the rendezvous. First we need to get ourselves to safety.”
“I’ll carry Robert,” said David.
David picked up Robert, turned to the stairs and hyper-dashed from the room, leaving only a blur in his wake.
Rosalia and I followed.
Waiting for us on the first floor stood a small army of very armed, very conscious Glasgow guards (two dozen by my count), standing amongst the still unconscious guards and employees my Guild had subdued earlier.
The moment they spotted us, they aimed their pistols and began shouting orders in thick Scottish accents.
“Get down on the ground now!”
“Drop your weapons!”
“Show me your hands!”
Even if they were Regs (normal humans) they were still armed and they still outnumbered us by a very wide margin.
I slowly got to my knees but kept my hands to my sides. I then closed my eyes, took a deep breath and went into full hyper-sense.
I opened my eyes. The world came into crystal clear focus, appearing infinitely more vivid than it had moments before. The stench of sweat coupled with at least seven different brands of cheap cologne filled my nostrils. I heard the guards’ collected breaths and heartbeats along with their orders for me to raise my hands above my head; orders which I still ignored. I felt the weight of my hair as well as the clothes on my skin from both my over and undergarments. I could literally taste the gunpowder in the air.
In hyper-sense, the guards moved and shifted as if trudging through quicksand; an illusion of perception. The world had not gotten slower; I had gotten faster.
Before the guards could even think of blinking, I drew my Beretta and began dispatching them one after another, as fast as my hyper-activated arm could move. I managed to hit eight of them, leaving the ones I missed diving for cover.
Rosalia went into hyper-sense and drew her pistols. The guards I missed, she hit. In less than two minutes, all of them lay dead. Out of two dozen only four or five had managed to return fire.
Then it happened.
The most defining moments of my life were always determined by the smallest of things beyond my control coupled by a poor choice in judgment.
Two little girls entered the room. If only I could have stopped myself.
I assumed anyone outside the room would’ve heard the multiple gunshots and kept their distance, but the doors were made of thick metal and the walls were reinforced for security purposes reducing sound to a bare minimum. Dire facts I didn’t learn until after that day. And above all, I forgot to lock the door when I entered.
I reacted off instinct more than anything. The moment I saw the door open, I turned. I aimed. I pulled the trigger; twice.
To my everlasting shame, I didn’t miss. Both bullets found their targets. I had taken many lives before that day, but that one mistake still stands as my greatest sin. A sin that would haunt and define the rest of my life.
My name is Wendy Magdalena Braca. I was born into a world of wealth and privilege, only to end up in a world of violence and secrets.