I Kill for Money
A cyborg assassin love story
This is the first two chapters and a couple sample sections of an EVE Online novel I may write someday, but will probably never get around to it.
If you’re interested, here’s my blog post about this story for a little more information about my plans for this novel.
Note: this is technically not associated with my Against A Rock novel, though it is based in the same universe and has a similar style.
The automatic projectile pistol rested against Vena’s chemical intake valve in the small of her back as she crossed her feet on the railing between her and the exotic dancers a meter beyond.
Flipping through the menus of her mind she found the dreaded program buried deep in a nearly forgotten directory of her application repository. A simple intelligence suppression algorithm that would warn her when she was about to do or say something that betrayed her intelligence. The mission organizers needed her to play dumb this time.
She brought the application to the front of her mind, taking a deep breath as it began slowly connecting with her forward reasoning and emotional responses.
Vena gazed at the dancer as she swung around the pole, gripping with one hand as her silken cape flowed behind her then wisped around her legs and sailed over head to fly halfway across the stage before, in one fluid motion, she gripped the pole with the top of her feet, splayed backward, stretched out a hand and with a simple flick of her finger, commanded it to return.
Vena liked this club—the deep cushioned seats with no opening in the back to expose her weapon, the array of imported liquors, dark, friendly atmosphere, the classy and imaginative strippers and the array of open-network video feeds. A good place for the first day on assignment.
In one part of her mind, Vena watched the surveillance feeds, routed through the datapad in her pocket, jumping around the club to see every angle and every possible hostile situation. In another, she watched the stripper and the cape that seemed to be more of a partner than a prop. Her spatial analyzers poured through distance and velocity calculations in an attempt to figure out the trick.
“Can I buy you a lap dance?”
Vena’s mind shifted. Her spatial and motion analyzation routines abandoned their playful examination of the stripper’s movements and shifted toward the man sliding into the seat next to her. A tall businessman in a fancy suit; deceptively athletic build with strong upper arms. He seemed remarkably out of place and unsure of himself. She had not tracked him on his way over to her. A quick check of her logs found that she had seen him walk in five minutes earlier, but somehow he hadn’t caught her attention.
“I’m waiting for my husband,” Vena replied as she waited for the station’s database to return a result on his face.
“Does that make a difference?” he asked.
She gazed back toward the dancer, but allowed her implant to focus on the man next to her. She flipped off her intelligence suppression. “You have to go in the VIP room,” she answered. “They won’t do a lap-dance out here—station ordinance—I don’t want my hubby to miss me.”
The man nodded. “Rule follower’s eh?”
“So will your husband get mad if he walks in to see me talking to you?”
Vena chuckled. “No. He’s not the jealous type.”
Her database query returned a result on the man. Deinar Gleifin, a traveling Quafe representative, maintaining relationships with distributors in this section of Caldari space. No criminal record. Never married. Mostly harmless… theoretically.
“My name’s Deinar.” He smiled and held out his hand.
“Serana,” Vena replied, taking his hand.
“Thank you.” Her processor began drifting back toward the performance on stage and the surveillance feed of the bartender, previously identified as Daani, approaching from behind.
“So what brings you to this classy little strip-joint?” Deinar asked.
Vena ignored the question as the bartender arrived. “Excuse me, Miss? Could I get you to put your feet down?”
Vena waited a long moment before leaning her head back over the chair and looking up at the bartender. She paused before answering, “Tequila on the rocks, please.”
He nodded. “Yes, that’s fine, but can I get you to put your feet down?”
Vena glanced back to her feet resting on the railing, then back at Daani. “Jamyl Rose tequila.”
His eyebrow went up questioningly. They stared for another long moment, her feet remaining stationary on their perch. Finally the bartender sighed and turned back toward the bar.
Deinar’s head fell back and arm went out, as though to wrap around Vena, but instead extended toward the bartender. He snapped. “Hey buddy?”
“Whiskey and Quafe.”
The bartender nodded. “Any whiskey preference?”
“I’ll leave that up to your best judgment.” Deinar shrugged.
Vena watched Daani walk back to the bar, silently analyzing the possibility that her feet on the railing would actually cause a problem. She turned back toward the show.
“You order like someone not spending her own money,” said Deinar. “Rich husband?”
Vena grinned. “He’s gonna bring you something expensive, just ’cause you’re sitting next to me.”
Deinar shrugged. “Fine with me.”
She smiled. He wasn’t spending his own money either, even if he didn’t realize it. Instead, he was using the cash exploited from the ignorant consumers of overpriced sugar water.
Vena motioned toward the dancer. “Isn’t she beautiful? Amazing routine, huh? How do you suppose she does all that?” But Vena already knew: artificial gravity and magnets.
“Clearly a gravity well around the stage,” Deinar answered. “As for the responsiveness of her robes–”
“Seems to take on a personality all it’s own,” Vena said. “I wish I could dance as elegantly as that. When I dance, I tend to crack heads and stomp feet.” She smiled, silently referring to the time she was attacked on a dance floor, responded with a head-butt and awoke moments later to find her implant on autopilot, her organic mind unable to function during the concussion, and a man with a broken neck lying at her feet.
Deinar chuckled. “Yeah, me too.” He crossed his feet on the railing next to hers. “So can I ask you a question about your husband, Serana?”
He leaned close and whispered, “What do you suppose he looks like after all these years?”
Vena cocked her head as her conversational analyst theorized about the origin of his question.
He was not a Quafe representative.
“Agent 4562?” she asked.
“Only if you’re agent 5623,” he replied.
“Baby!” she whispered as she closed the gap to plant a kiss on his lips. He put an arm to her shoulder and held her close for an extra moment as their lips played.
She pulled away as her background process watching the security feed recognized the bartender returning with their drinks. She gave her new husband a warm smile as he rested a hand on her leg.
“Okay, one Jamyl Rose tequila, rocks and one whiskey-cola,” Daani the bartender said from behind. “Is this going on the same tab?”
Vena removed her datapad and entered the payment, along with a healthy tip. “Yeah, both on Serana Adoven’s account.”
The bartender checked his own datapad and nodded. “Flag me down if you need anything else.” He glanced at their feet and glared momentarily before turning back toward the bar.
Vena and Deinar sat silently as they waited for him to walk out of earshot. “You wanna direct connect?” Deinar asked.
“I suppose that would be safer,” she replied as she opened a remote port. She felt his presence a moment later and allowed him access to her communications program.
Ever played a relationship before, 4562? She thought as she took a sip of tequila. You should know that I’m a method actor.
I know your techniques, he replied with a hint of both condescension and excitement.
How would you know?
Do you still not remember me? He asked.
She cocked her head and gazed at him, re-running her facial and voice recognition algorithms against everyone she’d met in her career. She smiled as a possible match came up. “Gilliam?” she said aloud.
You caught me. That used to be me. He replied.
She ran a finger slowly over his cheek. Who does your cosmetic surgery?
Trade secret, Babe.
She nodded. “Oh, I see how it is,” she said with a grin. You don’t trust me like you used to.
He shrugged. Can you blame me?
They sat silently for another moment. “Magnets,” Deinar said.
“Her gown,” he replied, motioning toward the dancer. “Thousands of little electro-magnets built into the material.”
Deinar took a long drink of his cola. “You wanna get out of here and hit the hotel room?” he asked. And review the mission?
“I thought you were gonna buy me a lap-dance,” she replied.
Can we expense that?
I’ve found you can expense whatever you want if your mission is successful. “We should have another drink, then maybe head down the hall and go dancing.” I should get to know my husband a little before we figure out who we need to kill.
“Fair enough,” he replied. What do you know about the mission right now?
You and I are in an open marriage. Our personalities are designed to attract a CONCORD chief and his wife.
I’ve got to share you with a cop? He asked.
It looks that way. I assume we get to kill him when we’re done, though I can’t be sure.
Sounds like fun.
You’re gonna be okay, right, 4562? I remember last time you took things a bit too seriously and the old jealousy took over.
You’re exaggerating, he said.
He paused. So what else can you tell me?
Our target’s wife is intimidated by intelligent female lovers, so I need to act the dim-wit this time if we’re gonna get with them.
Sounds like fun.
Maybe for you. Intelligence suppression leaves me feeling out of place, so you’re gonna need to remember to take care of me, Babe. Sometimes it gets a bit too real for me. She flipped through the menus and found the system. I’m gonna trust you, Babe, so I’m gonna switch it back on and practice being stupid. You’ve got my back, right, Husband?
He nodded. “Absolutely.”
They sat for a long moment, sipping their drinks and watching the dancer. Can I ask you a question? Deinar said.
Since we’ve worked together before, and now we’re married, will you tell me your real name?
She felt her eyebrows go up as she cocked her head to meet his eyes. Slowly she leaned in to rest her head against his, and whispered into his ear, “My name is Serana Adoven, your wife of eleven years. That’s all you need to know, Baby.”
______ ______ ______
The screams echoed through Deihlmin’s mind from a decade earlier as he lay on the hotel bed gazing at the empty ceiling. The vision of the naked man begging for his life and the officer kneeling on top of him, pounding his face into the pavement still haunted him through the years, but he shook the thought away like he had countless times before.
Tonight was different. 5623 was in the shower. Serana. Another beautiful name, though the name would not matter, she would be the same old 5623, with a new character to wear over top of the woman he had quietly chased since their last mission. He would be getting to know her all over again.
The shower stopped. Her footsteps were not hard to isolate through the thin hotel walls.
The last time he had seen her she was racing toward him through the Gurista station corridor with the emergency sirens and missile explosions blaring in the background. As she raised her weapon, his tactical program calculated the bullet’s path to his forehead, but all his biological mind cared about was the shape of her body and her red hair flowing behind her like a cape. The imaginary guide moved before she pulled the trigger, sending a projectile over his shoulder into the skull of the Concord agent behind him.
That was three years ago. She would be a different person now, for sure, but underneath, she’d still have that fierce beauty and brutal precision he remembered from that moment as she fired the bullet past his ear.
The door opened and Agent 5623, Serana, stepped out, wearing nothing but an automatic projectile pistol in her right hand. He gazed and she caught his eye and grinned.
“That’s why I was excited to work with you; you just dive right in.”
“We’re married, Baby.” She turned toward the mirror, disappearing behind a short divider. “This is who we are now.”
“You wanna go over the mission tonight, Babe, or you wanna wait till tomorrow?”
“Let’s do it right now; just give me a minute.”
“Did you bring your visual relay suit?” he asked.
“As if I’m gonna tell you where I hid it,” she called back.
“Would be a crime to make that body invisible,” Deihlmin murmured, just loud enough that her auditory enhancements should have been able to make out the words.
She poked her head out from behind the divider and smiled as she dragged the comb through her long dark hair.
“I must warn you,” she said as she returned to the mirror. “I’m not the smartest person anymore. Our mark has a history of being attracted to women who aren’t so bright, so I’m practicing with this verbal filter to make me look stupid.”
“You mentioned that earlier.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess it’s working.”
A minute later she emerged with her weapon clutched, as always, in her right hand. Deihlmin gazed as she crossed the room, the algorithms normally used to asses an enemy now traced her every curve, returning strength, reflex, and muscle mass estimates for every part of her body.
She rested her weapon on the nightstand, climbed under the covers to snuggle against him.
As he draped an arm across her hip, Deihlmin wondered what it must be like to be Agent 5623, to suddenly be in love with whoever the agency tells her. The best actors don’t act, they become.
“You have the datapad, Honey?” she asked.
Deihlmin rolled back to the other nightstand to grab his datapad. He turned the screen on with a light tap and scrolled through menus to the mission briefing. “You wanna do the honors?” he asked, handing it to her.
A moment later she was holding the pad between them and reading aloud in a jolting tone, as though thinking about each word.
“’…you must infiltrate the life of Mr. Garo Diiman, chief of Concord operations in the Uitra system.’” She read silently for a moment as Deihlmin followed along. “We’ve got to seduce both him and his wife. They have an open marriage too, but they’re not public about it like we are, for the sake of his career… oh wait, we’re not really public about ours either…” She paused another long moment as they scanned the text, Deihlmin automatically copying everything into his personal memory, his mission analysis programs already pulling up instances of similar operations for comparison.
“’Garo Diiman is suspected of being involved in certain discussions and may have information that could be detrimental to the Gurista faction. He has led numerous attacks–’ Hey look at that list of attacks he’s ordered. I wonder if I know anyone he’s killed… ‘He is also suspected of having plans for large scale, police led cleansing of all pirate factions in the constellation.’” She scanned more, pulling the datapad closer, the lamp glare suddenly obstructing Deihlmin’s view.
“Wait,” said Serana, cocking her head. “That’s all we need to do, is just collect information on him and what he knows about local Gurista operations, if he knows about our moles in the police force, and what he may be planning in terms of future raids on Gurista outposts… that’s it.” She chuckled. “It’s just a reconnaissance mission; no killing required.”
“Really?” Deihlmin replied. “We don’t need to take anyone out? What’s with the bonus payment’s then? Can I see the pad? I wanna read over that myself.”
“Oh, wait,” Serana said, pulling the pad closer. “Sorry, I think I missed a paragraph.” She paused a moment. “Yeah, I misread– We actually need to kill Mr. Diiman, his personal secretary, his wife and his two children.”
Deihlmin relaxed into the warmth of the bed and leaned against his new wife. “Yeah, that sounds more like it.”
Vena – female POV
Serana Adoven (5623) – Vena’s fake name
Deinar Adoven (4562) – Male POV’s fake name
Gilliam – Male POV’s fake name from their previous mission
Deihlmin – Male POV’s real name
Daani – bartender
Garo Diiman – concord chief in Uitra system
Erastos – Garo Diiman’s teenage son
______ ______ ______
Some clips that would be inserted later in the novel.
“I’ve had this vision of myself that I’ve never been able to get out of my head, of me marching through a field of wildflowers, over a rolling hill, down toward the edge of the forest, where I have a mission to fulfill. I’m wearing cargo pants with all those pockets, with baggy legs and a tight ass. I’ve got my trench-coat that’s flapping in the wind as I march, and it’s covered in pockets too. Underneath, a short, tight and very dirty t-shirt that shows off all my curves, which gives me as much of an advantage as anything else in my arsenal. I’ve got my pistols gripped in each hand. Projectile in the right, laser in the left. I could be carrying them in their holsters, of course, since I know I’m safe while I hike through the field, but no, I like how they feel in my tight little fingers.”
“Sounds like a beautiful vision… not too far from who you are now.” Deihlmin grinned. “You just need a field of wildflowers.”
“My pockets are full of supplies: adrenaline refills, steroids, painkillers, ammunition, explosives, detonators, restraints, hacking modules, nanite injectors, miniature infiltrator bots and a couple extra pistols around my ankles.” She paused and brushed her hair back. “That’s the woman I’ve always wanted to be, marching through that field, thinking of nothing more than my mission. I’ve spent so many years working to become her… and I don’t know why.” Her eyes drifted away and caught a gleam from the station lights far above. She fell silent.
“So what’s your mission?”
She paused a long moment before answering. “I don’t know… and I’ve never cared, at least not until recently. It makes no difference as long as I’m marching toward the bad guys, the evil monsters who don’t care about right and wrong and need me to put bullets through their brains. Why should I care as long as I’m one of the good guys, fighting for truth and justice?”
She looked back and met his eyes. He stopped himself before asking, But it’s not that simple, is it?, knowing that was already part of her subtext.
“Every time I go on a mission, there’s always a shred of doubt about who I’m killing; not like in my vision when I’m marching through that field knowing exactly what I’m doing, where I’m going, and who I am. On every mission, the doubt gets worse, and now I’ve started to wonder if those evil people even exist.”
“That would be nice.” Deihlmin smiled and cocked his head. “A galaxy without evil.”
She paused another long moment and glanced down. “That’s what scares me about myself, Deinar, the fact that I can’t agree with that. I’ve never wanted a world without evil. I need that evil so I can shoot my guns and be that noble soldier marching toward my mission of truth, justice and freedom. What terrifies me the most is that I think I love evil more than the bad guys.”
______ ______ ______
Serana removed the projectile pistol from the holster on her right thigh, but did not immediately head for the night stand. Instead, she seemed to hesitate. Her hand moved, almost as though she intended to joke with Deihlmin by pointing it at him, but it continued on in a pointless arc, as though she was simply playing with it. She stood in the middle of the room for a long moment, her finger wrapped around the trigger. She brought the weapon to chest level and gazed at it for a long time.
“What’s up?” Deihlmin asked.
“Meh…” She shrugged. “Just thinking.”
“About what we just did?”
A long pause. “Yeah.”
“We know what we do for a living, Honey. We do what we gotta do.”
She didn’t reply, instead just stared silently, nearly motionless at her gun.
“You running calculations?”
Another pause. “My implant doesn’t get my emotions… mixing calculations with feelings creates some very strange results.”
Deihlmin chuckled. “I think everyone with an implant understands that.”
She looked up and lowered the gun, and again, for just a moment, appeared as though she was about to point it at him. Instead she held it at her side and finally stepped forward to sit on the bed next to him. He watched as her finger pulled away from the trigger and she cradled the weapon in her hand like a newborn kitten, and continued to stare. Her finger traced the curves and indentations, running down the barrel, the handle, the trigger guard and back again.
Deihlmin simply gazed at her.
Finally she sighed, placed the gun on the nightstand with a thunk, then turned to lie next to him. Rolling over she put an arm around him, and a moment later, moved in closer to bury her face in his chest.
Deihlmin sighed and ran his hand through her hair as that pleasant warmth bubbled through her flesh and up to his throat and head. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Silence. She didn’t seem to want to talk. That was okay, so he simply relaxed into the pillow and pulled her closer.
“Can I ask you a question,” she finally said.
“Do you ever think the agency would want us dead?”
“What? Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know… just thinking. Like what if we got information that compromises them…”
“They know perfectly well that we support the cause,” Deihlmin replied. “That’s why they send us on these missions, because they know they can trust us.”
She was silent another long moment.
“Are you thinking about what Erastos said, about how the Guristas are just as blood-thirsty as the police?”
“Sort of…” Serana replied. “He made a compelling argument… but what if the agency isn’t telling us everything that they’re involved in.”
“I know everything they were talking about sounds shady but I still believe we can trust them. Garo and Erastos were probably inventing total garbage. For all we know those documents were forged.”
Her hand ran several times up and down his back, but her face remained buried in his chest. “Can I ask you another question… maybe get you to promise me something?”
“Maybe,” he replied.
“If the agency ever orders you to kill me, will you come to me and tell me, then help me get away?”
“Why would they do that?”
“For any reason.”
He paused to think. Something else was clearly on her mind.
“Do you promise?” she asked.
“Yeah, Baby, I promise.” His fingers ran through her hair and he focused silently on the sensation, as though he could feel each individual strand.
“Thank you, Baby.”
Another long pause.
“Can I assume this promise goes both ways?” he asked.
Deihlmin felt a drop of moisture on his chest, just above her nose.
She sighed. “I’ve been ordered to terminate you,” she said with a terrified crackle in her voice.
Still Deihlmin ran his fingers through her hair and down her back. “Are you serious?”
“I’m not sure… they think you know too much about the program.”
“You know as much as I do…”
“I’m not as emotionally invested in exposing the police… or maybe they’re gonna kill me too and they’re just getting you out of the way first.”
“When did this happen?”
“I’ve had these orders for a couple weeks now.”
He pulled her tighter, securing his grip on her back, to close any remaining gaps between them. Somehow this didn’t matter. This was still the same 5623 who he adored from the previous mission. They could never be anything but allies.
Her voice broke to a whine, as though struggling to hold back tears. “Somehow… Husband… maybe I’m just forgetting who I am again… because I’ve been known for that… but you’re suddenly more than just a job to me.”
He looked down into her hair and past to her body clutching his own, and realized she was every bit as beautiful as she ever had been. They held each other for another long moment. “So you’re pretty much giving up your career right now…”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“When did you decide not to go through with it?” he asked.
“About a minute ago,” she replied.