Megan The Target
I wake up from the scream grateful it stayed in the nightmare of nine years ago. No one else could hear.
But then something more.
Is someone in my bedroom suite?
“Stay calm, M,” Harmony says, “remember your training.”
“Your eyes are not the only way to see,” Elin, my nanny and bodyguard since I was a newborn, tells me. “Listen to your other senses. What do they tell you?” I control my breathing and listen, feel.
My eyes pop open and I see her crouched by a window near my bed.
“This isn’t a drill, M. That’s no paintball gun in her hand.”
I stay perfectly still, eyes locked on her every movement, searching for any expression that might give me an idea about what’s happening. I am in shadow, but she’ll know I’m watching.
Still scanning the grounds through a crack in the heavy drapes, she switches her pistol to her right hand puts the index finger of her left to her lips, motions downward, palm toward the floor then brings it back up toward her.
I slip out of bed without a sound and stay as low as I can as I creep across the floor.
Once I’m beside her, she pulls me close and holds her lips to my ear. “Sensors are dead. Our perimeter people have gone silent, but their vitals are okay, so they’re ready and waiting but something’s wrong. Whoever they are, they’ve given away too much too soon. I'm worried that, this time, your father isn't the primary target and what's happened so far is a diversion meant to pull the main protective force to your father’s wing. Get to The Sanctuary. Now.”
I hate this. I hate that my team won’t be with me and I hate the so-called Sanctuary, but it has been drilled into my DNA that to question anyone of my protective team is to endanger all. To fight effectively, they need to maneuver. If I remain out in the open, they will gather to my side to shield me.
In the bathroom, I cross the tile floor. lie on my back next to the toilet and punch a code into the number pad that hides in a recess in the back. Only I know the code. It will work only once. A small door slides open near the floor and at the end of a six-foot tunnel an LED light has come on. Torch, the disciplinarian of the team, has made me fear failure more than my claustrophobia and visions of her scowl carry me through the tunnel and into the safe room. At another number pad, I punch in a different code and the tunnel ceases to exist as a slab of reinforced concrete six feet thick slams into a pocket made for it in another six feet of concrete that is now my floor.
The Sanctuary. I call it The Tomb because if this last-ditch effort fails, here is where I’ll die. It’s self-contained with enough food and water for a week. The air supply provided will last longer than that if I stay calm, lie on the cot and control my breathing. But if, the security staff, my father and the senior commanders of the 2000 people of the four cohorts within 10 minutes of the estate are wiped out, no one will have access to the disaster plans that will tell them where I am, I will starve to death or die of dehydration. I’ve no intention of going out that way, so oxygen preservation protocols are not on my priority list.
Another code punched into the pad and the door of a box hanging beside it pops open. When I reach for the pistol inside I stop and stare. It’s amazing how violently my hand is shaking.
“It’s just a room, M.”
“Yeah, you say that every time. Need I remind you that the tunnel stayed open through every drill and I still barely kept it together. How is this better?”
“You’ve done your part. Now let them do theirs. Think of them. Think of the people who are risking their lives to protect, as Cynthia loves to put it, Dein magerer Hintern?”
I laugh. Maybe it’s just nerves. “Torch’s reference to my skinny butt notwithstanding, why do you always get her accent right. I never can.”
“Because you haven’t learned how to think as a KSK Kommando Spezialkräfte. Remember what she said when she gave you that pistol?”
“Pistole," I say aloud. "At least I can say that word with a proper accent.”
“She said,” I lower my voice to sound more authoritative, ‘now pay attention, Spargeltarzan, if ever an army is created with men crazy enough to attack us, for indeed, only men would ever be so crazy,’ and here she glared at Andy, who had been asking her out, ‘and if they were skilled enough to penetrate our active defenses to the point of entering that fortress you rich people call a home, impossible because they are only men, there will be throughout the mansion these little armories with weapons imprinted to you. You will learn to use each weapon with expert precision or we shall both die in the attempt, verstehst du?’
“Then I said ‘Ja, mein Schlagstock!’. I thought I said it well.”
“No kidding! Her face got that pained expression she gets whenever I try to speak German and she said. ‘Please stick to English, asparagus Tarzan. The way you butcher my native tongue pains me beyond what even a woman of my strength can endure.’”
“They loved you and you betrayed them.”
I cover my ears and try to shout her out of my head. “If you’re trying to distract me, Harm, pick a different topic. I was only fourteen then and hadn’t yet learned to appreciate them.”
“And, oh and here’s a good one, remember how your father reacted when you complained the training had become too hard? When he said he would take care of it, you thought ‘Go Dad, show them who’s boss!’ Remember?
Well, that’s not going to work. I take my hands away from my ears.
“Yeah, I remember. He spun his chair away from the desk and picked up the handset of the secure phone that sat on the credenza and punched in a number.
‘Elin?' he said, … 'Well, who’s this? … Oh, sorry, Swift. I didn’t know you were in the middle of a team meeting. Would you mind if I spoke with Shield for a sec. … Thanks. … Elin? She’s in my office right this second complaining that the training is too tough. I told you what I’d do if this happened. I’m going to transfer you and your team to a stronger candidate and put her in a private school somewhere in Europe. One of our contracted countries. Where exactly, I don’t care. Oh hang the Chinese. They're always blowing hot and cold on this deal anyway. I've got other ways of handling them. … No, I don’t want you chained to her. You’re too valuable and, believe me, the kid I have in mind is going places. It will be a much better career move for you. … No, Elin, my minds made up. ... Yes, yes. You’re right, you’ve earned that much. Go ahead. … No, too easy. ... Alright, but if she fails she’s gone, understood? ... Fine, but I’m only doing this for you.’
“He slammed the handset down, spun his chair back around and picked up the papers on his desk. ‘The run to Camp Rose. You break your old record by at least two minutes and you stay. Get going. Don’t forget to pick up the card from the guard at the gate. I don’t want you to cheat.’”
“They forgave you.”
“More than that, they saved me. They always have. They set up a relay and when I was half way back with the time stamped on that stupid card, Barney then Dragon and then Torch herself carried me. By the time I reached the edge of the woods for the last half mile, I had my wind back and was running as fast as I ever had.”
“And Angela. Don't forget Angela.”
“Right, Swift reset the stopwatch before I could look and told me I had made it with seven seconds to spare. She lied. They all lied. They hate lying, but they did it for me and now... Can they lose, Harmony?”
“No. They can’t lose. They don’t know how to lose. But they can die.”
My stomach churns at the thought of the danger they could be in and the pistol in my hand gets heavier, Torch’s words haunting me.
“If you see the need for such a weapon, keep it until one of us can get to you. Anyone else comes for you, control your breathing as you have been taught. If they are not someone you trust completely, wait for no explanation and squeeze one round into each. You will need no more. You will have something beyond expert skill. I prefer that you put each shot between the eyes, but you have armor-piercing rounds so take whatever opportunity presents itself. With the loads I have designed for you, they will not live to complain to their mothers of the little Spargletarzan that put them down. No need for laser sights. They can give you away. Your training is better than anyone else’s in the world apart from us who stand with you and you have instincts beyond what other people can comprehend. You will survive, understand?”
I understand now, all too well.
I kneel before the composting toilet and strain to force out the fear that grips my insides. Nothing. I get nothing.
I remember the shame I felt when I shed the tears of a nine-year-old the night I scraped my hands and knees across my father’s balcony; the only time I drank alcohol. There is no shame now as my tears bury themselves in the clear waters beneath me. I speak aloud the words that keep echoing through my mind.
“They can die, they can die, they can …”