Missed the deadline on last week’s Terribleminds challenge, but I wanted to post it anyway. The challenge was posted on April 13th, which was exactly two years to the day after my mother died. I contemplated writing about that, but found it too hard and too personal to put into a story. Maybe I’ll write about it in a regular blog post some day. Anyway, Chuck’s challenge was “Death is on the table” and went like this:
What all this means is, today we’re talking about death.
The Big “D.”
Demise. Dirt-Nap. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
You have 1000 words to write a short story that prominently features death. What that means is up to you, of course. And genre is also in your court.
But a death — or the concept of death, or an exploration of death — must be front and center.
I went the science fiction route as per usual and for once went a little long. 1043 words according to Scrivener. Hope you like.
There were worse ways to die.
Lying paralysed by a laser shot in the back wasn’t bad at all. He felt nothing from below that point right somewhere around the upper thoracic region and he had a wonderful view of a clear starry sky overhead to keep him company as life slipped away. No, this wasn’t bad at all.
His eyes tracked the movement of a satellite across the sky, wondering briefly if it was looking down on him, recording these last moments of his life, but dismissed the idea since it obviously wasn’t geostationary. There were probably others up there, watching, he figured.
“Still alive, huh, Finnegan?”
Fuck! Couldn’t the bastards even let him die in peace?! Closing his eyes in frustration for a moment, he turned his head in the direction of the voice, then opened them again to look at the approaching silhouette of the woman. “Go away, Jules. You’re intruding,” Finn said, the words misting in the cold air as he spoke.
“You should be happy to see me,” she said, almost casually, as she set an aluminium case down beside him, then knelt in the snow, throwing back the fur trimmed hood of her down jacket. She flashed a smile at him, running a gloved hand through her dark curls. “I’m here to help.”
“Help finish me off before I freeze to death?” he asked and shook his head – the only part of him he could still move – then fixed his eyes back on the stars and the moving specks of satellites above. “Thanks, but no thanks. If you don’t mind, I’d rather take this the slow way.”
“I’m not here to kill you,” she said, sounding disappointed and hurt that he would think that. There was a light rustle in the night from her jacket as she shrugged and turned to open the clasps that held the lid of the case shut. “Then again, I’m not exactly here to save you either.”
“No…” he groaned, realising then what was going on and why Jules had arrived just as he was about to check out of this life. Bastards weren’t going to let him leave that easily.
* * *
“One more mission and you’re done, Finnegan. Your contract will be fulfilled,” Jackson said, sitting behind his desk with his characteristic Cheshire Cat grin, fingers laced together as he leaned back in his leather chair. “You sure you won’t sign an extension? You’ve done good work for us, you know.”
“Positive,” Finn said, a little too forcefully, but he wanted the Director to know without a doubt that he would never work for him or the Agency again. “I’m done with this kind of work.”
“Well… Too bad,” the Director said, shifting forward in his chair to put his hands on his desk, pale blue eyes studying Finn for a long quiet moment. Then, abruptly, he reached out for the data chip lying next to him on the desk and tossed it to the agent who caught it in a smooth motion. “Your next target. I suggest you pack your long johns. It’s gonna get cold where you’re headed.”
* * *
The mission had been fake, of course. He’d realised that too late, though, when the target had led him on a wild goose-chase out in the middle of bloody nowhere. He’d made a fatal mistake and knew that his mind hadn’t been properly on the job, and now he was paying for it.
“You’re here to…” Finn began, leaving the rest unsaid, not wanting to put words to it. Doing that would make it real and he didn’t want it to be real. This wasn’t something he’d agreed to, but then the Agency did whatever the Agency wanted. And that, he had known. He had been arrogant to think that he was exempt from that. Now he knew better and it filled him with a dread that was worse than the idea of dying.
“Yes,” Jules replied, doing him the favour of leaving the unsaid words unsaid. A slight hissing noise came next, as she lifted the metallic device from the foam inside the case, starlight glinting of it in the periphery of his vision as she moved it in front of her to inspect it. She pulled off her leather gloves – one after the other – using her teeth, dropping them in the snow beside her, then turned to look at him. “It’s time, Finn.”
She sounded almost sad, he thought, his eyes still watching the stars, while his mind had spiralled into a panic that his body refused to acknowledge and react appropriately to. The sniper who’d shot him sure as hell knew what he was doing and Finn had to admire that on some level. On another level, he cursed that sniper’s skill. A little to one side or the other, up or down and he’d be dead already, and his worst nightmare wouldn’t be coming true.
“Please. Don’t,” he pleaded, shocking himself – and Jules – with the fear and horror in his voice. “Just let me die. Please. I’m begging you, Jules. If ever —“
“I have to,” she cut him off, and he quietly thanked her for that even as she leaned over and pulled off the knit hat he wore, then slipped the metallic headband with its thin wires attached over his head.
He felt it contract and then thin needles stabbed into his scalp, though his skull and into his brain, the searing pain only lasting a second until there was…
* * *
“Finnegan,” the voice said, female and familiar. “Finn? Wake up. C’mon, open your eyes.”
“I’m awake,” he said. He felt numb, like a part of him was missing, something substantial and important, but he couldn’t put a finger on what it was. And he bloody well couldn’t figure out where he knew that voice from. Somewhere…
“It’s time, Finn.”
“Why’d you do this to me?” he asked, opening eyes that weren’t his, turning to focus them on her as he spoke with lips that had belonged to someone else before they had Transferred him into their body.
“Because we own you, Finn,” she said with a cold smile and jutted out her chin in an authoritative gesture. “Now get up. You have a mission.”