On arrival back at the apartment, a long way from the park and even further from the point of the Vice President’s demise, I leaned against the bathroom’s doorframe casually, masking the fact that I was genuinely exhausted. My stomach begged for food, my dry lips for water.
“Harry, I need to take a shower,” I told the man who had pretended to be my father. A cool breeze caught my arms through the open window, sending a shudder through my body. “Is it going to be warm?”
With the hand that wasn’t holding the mug of coffee, he gestured lazily in the direction of the bathroom. “It’s a power shower now, K. You pull the cord near the light switch and it’ll take a matter of seconds to heat the water. Enjoy.”
Door locked, I took a moment to look at myself in the medicine cabinet mirror. The whole setup was surprisingly real, bought from a movie prop maker who had apparently assumed my ‘dad’ had some unusual pastimes. But no, it was a method to change me from Kanon, the descendent of a legendary member of the Emperor’s secret police, to Kayley, the daughter of a Britannian ‘Addition’ as they called them and a deceased Arlandrian citizen. The real daughter was dead too, most likely. She’d gone missing in mountains between Arlandria, Juneau – which took up the area around Osaka – and New Prussia, based right atop the ruins of Kobe. Since her death couldn’t be confirmed, we decided to jump on the identity as a fake. Convinced the authorities I was her. Same age, similar build. I even went to the college she attended for a while before dropping out.
“Kayley McArthur,” I said, at my own reflection, at the reflection of the girl I was supposed to be imitating. “You are certainly the very image of a typical Arlandrian.”
I stripped my clothing and dug my nails in where the silicone mask and upper torso form had been fused to my chest with liquid latex. The blend wasn’t perfect, but it was enough. Not like I really had time to change at my little checkpoint either. I pulled the whole assembly off in one movement and packed it away in the false ceiling.
A few clicks and the shower was running, the head pumping out water that was an ideal temperature in a matter of seconds. I felt a collection of sharp stings where the water coursed over cuts, the dull ache of all my bruises. As a child, in training, this is something I’d been told I’d get used to. Didn’t take me very long to work out they were lying. You never really get used to your body crying out in pain as such – it’s more like you just learn to ignore it, drown it out. Tell yourself it’s all for the greater good.
Sometimes it feels like the shower at the end of a mission is the only good you’re ever going to get, as you watch the pinkish water disappear down the drain and hope the cuts on your skin won’t need stitching. I sat down in the porcelain tub and let the water course over me. After a while, I washed and climbed out, grabbed a towel and the first aid kit. Disappeared to the convincingly decorated room.
“Are you honestly going to do that yourself after the bloody mess you made last time?” Harry said, leaning through the doorframe. I made no attempt to cover myself – he’d been my doctor for two years, I was used to him seeing my body. “You know I can help you with these things.”
“It’s just basic cleaning and sealing,” I said quietly, as I rubbed the antiseptic cream against a long surface cut on my thigh. “You don’t have to work your magic… it’s been a long night and I woke you up.”
Harry knelt by the side of my bed and put a single finger to the edge of the cut, and traced it along, the skin stitching itself back together with a faint sensation of static electricity. “See?” His expression was cheerful, fatherly. “Barely broke a sweat. Now, lay down and I’ll cover the rest. We both have work to do and this is quicker.”
I lay back on the white sheets, the pattern of black vertical and horizontal lines standing out in the plain, mock-rustic decor of the room. The rough fingertips coursed across my skin, picking out the minor lacerations and closing them up. After a while, the faint buzz under my flesh made me feel a little lightheaded, my body picking up the faint traces of mana and absorbing them back into my cells.
“You should be done now,” Harry said finally, standing up and vacating the room. “I’d recommend you wait until evening to head back. You did just take out a particularly big piece of trash. You must be tired.”
I smirked. The apartment walls were thin, and we had a tendency of talking in euphemisms just in case the wrong kind of person was listening. Referring to Siciliano as trash was a little improper maybe, but it wasn’t exactly incorrect. Her family had been part of an Italian-American mafia syndicate before they bought in heavily to the Arlandrian project and moved out to the collection of Pacific islands that once had been called Japan. She was racist, violent and highly charismatic. She was almost once sent to jail for a series of lynchings that happened following a speech she made, but the charges mysteriously disappeared.
“Trash is trash, dad,” I replied loudly enough to be heard over the television, broadcasting some early morning re-run. “I’ll be fine once I’ve had some breakfast, then I’d better be on my way.”
I dressed quickly in something casual; clothes I kept at the apartment and clothes that Harry kept stocked up. We paid him well for his services, and he delivered time and again. Back in England, before he had moved, he apparently had served time in the military, but wouldn’t ever say what branch. Judging from his age, he would have missed out on the initial conscription in the Second World War. But I could speculate all I wanted, I knew I wasn’t going to get any answers from the man with the glasses, even as I sat across from him at the breakfast table, ready to tuck into what he called a ‘Full English’. His smile alone as he set the cups of coffee down was when I knew that our time together was limited.
——– S C E N E E N D ——–