No matter the hour, no matter the circumstance, Angel always looked perfect. Debonair in his tailored rust jerkin, with crispness to his lines and inborn poise so many spent years training to mimic, he seemed the very essence of a kinsman. His hair was a soft brown streaked with copper, his face was amiable and handsome, and his eyes were dark, just like hers. When he smiled from the display, it was as if the sun had risen. Fortunately, Meli had long ago become immune to his charm. After all, she had seen him in diapers.
"No more jobs," she told him. "I've retired." Two months had passed since Agostino Canopus died on the marble floor of his office. She liked her quiet and the sense of liberation retirement brought. No more jobs. No more death.
On the screen her brother leaned forward. "This is a personal request, Meli. From Father."
Meli closed her eyes. Angel had interrupted her morning exercise and since his call wasn't an emergency, she saw no reason not to continue. Around her the small house lay quiet, serene in the light of the early morning. A delicate lemony scent of brugmansia floated through the open screen door. She was aware of minute noises: water gurgling in the pipes, two bees buzzing in the small garden on her right, a faint whistling of the draft generated by the climate control system...
"Please, do him this favor."
"I'm done, Angel," she murmured. "We've spoken of this. The family has no right to ask me."
"Father knows that. Believe me, he wouldn't request this of you unless the need was dire."
She said nothing. Angel, while diplomatic, suffered from an eloquent man's malady--faced with silence, he felt compelled to fill it, even when it was in his best interests to keep his mouth shut.
Moments dripped by. Angel cleared his throat.
"Raban, Incorporated has dropped the price of the condenser units to below fifteen thousand standard dollars. It's a calculated move to edge out the competition. The condenser production is still the main source of our revenue. We can't underbid them. We can't even match them. The profit margin is too narrow for us to survive. They can take a loss, but we don't have the reserves to ride it out. We're a small family. We'll go bankrupt. And you know what happens to families that go bankrupt."
Without funds, a family couldn't pay its soldiers. The competition in New Delphi was too cut-throat for the family without soldiers to survive for long. The city housed twenty-one kinsman families of note, metropolis divided between them like slices of a pie, in both economic and geographic sense. The Galdes' slice was rather small, but their soldiers were renowned for their expertise and loyalty. Their martial prowess was what had kept the family afloat this long.
"Please, Meli. You're still a Galdes. Even if you did retire."
Why did she feel guilt? She owed them nothing. She'd spent twelve years murdering on their behalf. She just wanted to be free now. Free and alone. Her father knew this. She'd made it abundantly clear during their last communication.
She didn't bend her rules, as the family learned the first time they tried to force her to kill a target without a sufficient reason. This job had to be special. Something she could refuse.
The curiosity got the better of her. "Who is the target?"
"Does this mean it's a yes?"
Meli sighed softly. "The target, Angel."
She supposed it had something to do with Raban, Inc., but she had excised herself from Galdes family years ago. Their business dealings remained a mystery to her. She had no idea who owned Raban, Inc.
She heard the barely audible click as Angel tapped the keys on his end of the screen.
A faint tug on her senses from the left. She didn't hear it, didn't see it, but felt it with some innate sixth sense, or perhaps an imperceptible combination of all five.
Her eyes were still closed, but in her mind she clearly saw a ribbon of transparent green snapping from the bracelet on her hand. She felt the energy sear the target and smelled fried electronics.
"Good God," Angel said.
She opened her eyes in time to see the manta ray shaped disk of interceptor crash to the floor in a smoking ruin. Quiet and equipped with small caliber cannon, robotic interceptor units had long become a favorite in security. Their state of the art sensory systems ensured that they located intruders quickly and the absolute silence of their flight made their detection nearly impossible until their ammunition bit the back of the target's neck. She made it a point to kill at least one a month, to relieve tension and practice her strike on a moving target. It helped her stay sharp.
"It always rattles me when you do that," Angel said. "Here is the file."
A small icon ignited in the corner of the screen, indicating a downloaded file available for viewing. He hesitated. "I think you might enjoy this one. A bit of poetic justice, one might say. Give it a thought, Meli. Please. For me."
Angel touched his fingertips to his mouth, pressed them to his forehead, and bowed his head. The screen turned neutral grey, signaling the end of transmission.
Meli sighed. "Open file."
The icon grew to fill the screen with a facsimile of a manila folder. The folder opened. A picture of a man looked at her. Ice burst at the base of her neck and slid down her spine.