LD50

A horizon of weeping, orange sky stretched across Vini’s band of vision. She could only see the left side. Her sight was clouded by her migraine, her head hammered by the pain. The waves did not crash, but rather smoothed their tired heads on the shore at her feet, like puppies nudging her to stroke them. She stepped back, her wet toes sinking into the darkened sand.

“All of me,” she coarsely whispered to the ocean, the romance of the moment lost completely as she started to break down in tears, barely managing to keep upright with the force of her sobbing.

“Don’t cry, Catherine.” A voice called, coming from behind her. Vini turned to see Trab wandering listlessly from the cabin across the sand towards her, dirty hair swinging limply as she moved. “The job’s done now, the bastard’s dead. We can go home.”

“I know…I know.” Vini turned to Trab and kissed her on the cheek, tears transferring. The two began to walk to the truck, parked to the left of the cabin. From there, they drove along the coast of Belize, a light, creamy darkness coming over them. Coming to the hotel where they had been staying, Trab suggested they get some drinks, but Vini’s head hurt too much, and so she went up to the room alone.

“Take all of me,” now she was speaking to the glass of the mirror in the room, or more precisely, the light reflecting back.

“You’re not ready,” the reflection stated, clear and dismissive. Vini visibly deflated, her chest filling with disappointment like a balloon full of toxic waste.

“Please…I’m tired. I’ve done what you said, I -”

But then Trab walked in and they went to bed.

The next day, they were flying back to Russia. First class. Trab was getting drunk, on expensive rum and fairly-priced cola. She would wander up and down the plane and glare at passengers who stared back. Then she would move on, but they would feel colder. Vini had a headache, brought on by the pressure of the cabin, that ripped through her softer brain tissue and into her ear canals, as though she had pulled hard when itching her ear. It hurt to swallow. She went to the toilet. The strange metal coffins each plane carries with it. The loud flushing toilet. Her eyes were bloodshot, and when she appealed to the reflection to please take all of me the negative reply took on a sinister air, the veined eyes glinting. Then, while her reflection was still separate, Trab barged into the accidentally unlocked door with a slurred ‘Cathereen’ and caught a glimpse of the independently moving Vini in the scarmy glass.

“What are you doing?” Trab quickly closed the door behind them. Vini moved back into the toilet bowl and it bent her knees, panicking about Trab’s response to the answer.

“I was…” She paused. The headache was getting worse. “I was trying to get home, Trab.”

“Don’t fucking call me that! What’s wrong with you? You wanna get us killed? We fucked that mission, Vini – Catherine – fuck, you’ve got me doing it now. They’ll take us back when they decide it’s right. Now sit the fuck back down and shut up.”

Vini looked defiant but ashamed as she could find nothing else to say, except,

“My head, Trab, is killing me.” Trab was already opening the door to leave the cramped tin can. “I can’t live here anymore. I think the atmosphere on this planet has damaged my inner tissue.” Trab slammed the door back behind her and threw her hand at Vini’s throat, squeezing intensely. Her mind seemed to have sobered up, but her temper had not.

“Shut the FUCK up, Vini. I’m starting to think you actually want us drawn and quartered. What’s the idea here?”

“I want to go home, Trab.” Vini started to flinch whenever her sight caught the LED fixed to the ceiling. She was missing some sight and most of her hearing. The blood pumped around her agonised head and found that it could not do anything to alleviate the pain. Trab gritted her teeth and pulled Vini closer.

“Tough shit.”

Back in Russia, the women were taken to their headquarters, and left to rest. In a room on her own, Vini spent most of the night attempting to contact home, but the reflection now spoke an automated message in reply to her pleadings. She sat on the edge of her bed, head in hands, and tried to turn off the thoughts in her now consistently aching head. They had royally buggered the mission. Both, really. The Belize guy was dead, two weeks later than he should have been, and now the humans weren’t on their side so much as they had been. Vini did not know what happened from here. Which bosses would execute them. She would find out at the inquiry in the morning. Her stomach flipped at the thought of it, the first time that had happened. It was like sneezing. Almost a pleasant, weird, biological feeling, until its aftermath came and, this time, settled in your bones. The fear of death and its accompanying anxiety, like a bad cocktail. How many headache pills had she taken now? Would they help this stomach pain too? She did not know. She took two more and poured herself a drink. She cried when she thought of home, so forced herself not to. Her window looked out onto more tall, grey buildings. Sipping the whiskey, she wondered if they would beam her body back up, or leave it here. The planet was so over-populated, they would just send another two agents when she and Trab were gone. No problem. Ruin another family’s lives for the sake of survival. She compared her high leaders to her human bosses, too playing with the natural order for the sake of survival. Whether it was personal survival or not, it didn’t matter. The economy’s stability was a kind of survival. The keeping of things as they are, a kind of survival. The maintenance of a job through faultlessly following rules and order, a kind of survival. Far from the hunter-gatherer model she had been taught before coming to Earth. Through the pain of her near-haemorrhaging brain, she remembered the cave-paintings she had been shown, and compared them to the assassins she had worked alongside. Similar, but the boar and wolves were well-dressed and portly, and their sharp canines were keyboards and screens.

Vini sat on the balcony and drank her fourth glass of whisky. She was not cold anymore. The pain and alcohol saw to that. The light was raising its head through the streetway gaps, illuminating grey, unhealthy snow and empty streets. She had stopped trying the mirror. There was nothing she could do. She was a castaway now, and the headache was not letting up. She was sure that the next two pills she took made it worse.

When they found her body, the next day, when the inquiry had meant to have begun, there were screams and cries from the men that broke into her room. Some ran out, needing to vomit. Some cried and appealed to god for a kind of explanation, or wiping of their mind’s eye and memory. Reports were scarce, so shaken were the eye-witnesses, but those who did speak said they had seen something without Euclidean form, impossible for them to describe, a shifting, gaping essence that brought with it a foul smell of rot and an overriding feeling, in each onlooker, of lost hope.

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