This story is by Jodi Elderton and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He gasped as the thin blade entered the base of his skull and his body convulsed before becoming motionless. Maddie smiled at her surgical precision. Had she failed, he could’ve crushed her with one blow. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and headed for the bathroom. She always took a hot shower afterwards, even if the job was bloodless. It made her feel cleaner, or at least it used to. One less potential despot on the planet. That’s job satisfaction you can’t put in a paycheck.
Once home, Maddie wiped her thin knife blade clean on a soft cloth, then tossed it into the incinerator.
Although more sophisticated laser tools were available, she enjoyed the feel of the needle-tipped steel. A no-name removed the body after she left. At 27, she had the experience of someone twice her age. Relaxing was impossible until she took care of her loose ends. Now, with the remaining evidence erased, she exhaled.
She glanced in the mirror and noticed a crimson smudge on her face. Oh shit! How did I miss that? Waving her hand under the faucet, she scrubbed her face several times till her cheek stung. Maddie scowled at the way her blonde hair stuck up like she’d been electrocuted and attempted to smooth it down. She wasn’t thrilled with her blue eyes either, but her handlers insisted she keep the look. It kept the prey thinking they had the upper hand. Each month her handlers transmitted a picture of a man or woman the computer identified as a potential threat to the planet. Put down the rabid dogs before they had a chance to bite. Her planet celebrated fifty years without an armed conflict.
“Maddie, you’re finally home? How was work?” Mom strolled into the room. She never made a casual entrance.
“I can’t talk about the job. We’ve been here before.”
“I know. I should be grateful I get to know anything and live to tell,” Mom teased as she touched Maddie’s shoulder.
She pulled away. “Not funny.” Mom knows better. Dad was a Peacekeeper.
Her mother’s brow furrowed and her eyes became moist. “I’m sorry. Your father would’ve been so proud. I just wish he hadn’t…”
A shrill beeping interrupted Mom’s emoting. “Sorry. I’ve got to take this.” Maddie pulled out her communicator as she dashed into her room. The door whooshed closed behind her. Punching in the code for the encrypted message, she waited for the data to appear.
From the hallway, she overheard part of her mother’s words in hushed tones, “Yes, I think she’s ready but…”
The photo of her next assignment revealed an older man. They often assigned her the younger males. It made it easy for her to work the love angle because their hormones overrode their training when she plied her charms. A 65-year-old instructor? How could he be a threat? It says he’s not into politics or the military.She wondered what made him so dangerous. An old training mantra echoed in her mind, ‘Preserve peace at all costs.’ They also instructed her to alter her appearance. This is a first. I’ve never been a brunette before.
Her first day of school, she felt out of place but looked the part with her unruly hair pulled back and glasses perched on her nose. It was tough to get enrolled in a live class since most education was distance learning. Only the top students in the Affiliation deserved face to face instruction while the general population received minimal training to perform their designated menial jobs.
The well-muscled guy lounging at the computer next to her fit the stereotype of her usual prey in contrast to the silver-haired man up front introducing himself. How am I going to get close enough to him? Won’t be taking the seduction route this time. This instructor hasn’t even glanced at me twice.
He surveyed the room of blank faces, as he paced along the rows of tables. “Who here knows what freedom is?”
Without delay, the students recited in unison, “Freedom is peace! Peace is freedom!”
“What does that mean to you?” as he pointed to a man in the front row who stammered an unintelligible answer.
“What does it mean to the masses who serve us?” He slammed both hands on the desk. “Why don’t we question this?”
A collective gasp arose then shocked silence.
How is this guy still alive? This kind of thinking is poison. It incites dissent. A wave of nausea washed over her. Maddie couldn’t tell if it was the anticipation of killing him or the dread of it.
Over the next several weeks, Maddie mastered the material but performed poorly on exams. It gave her a plausible reason to meet with him before the final. She still hadn’t set the date. For the first time in her career, she hesitated.
At home, she tried to engage the silent people who cooked and cleaned by asking about their lives. They responded with polite dismissals then frantic looks when she persisted. Her mother chided her, “Don’t dialogue with them. It simply isn’t done.”
Her handlers relayed a message, “Set the date or your employment will be terminated.” Maddie knew what it meant. They would dispatch a team to neutralize her.
She started scrutinizing the other students closer. Maybe they’ve already deployed them. I wonder which ones? In the middle of her ruminations, she sensed someone behind her. Maddie scolded herself for not being situationally aware; fatal rookie error. She suppressed the urge to respond with physical action.
“See me after class Maddie,” her instructor said. Mr. Hanson’s serious tone did not match his amused expression.
“I’ll be there. Your office?
“No. The conference room on the lower level. See you then.”
“So, are you in trouble?” asked the well-muscled guy next to her.
“None of your business, Bryce.” She bit the inside of her lip to keep from swearing.
“Oh, teacher’s pet then.” He punctuated the statement with a wink.
“Shut up. Class is starting.” Glad the meeting is downstairs. Less traffic. Fewer witnesses. Nausea again twisted her stomach. This is so not me.
Afterwards, she tried to make a hasty exit so she could be there before Mr. Hanson.
A female student blocked her way. “You always have the right answers in class. Do you think you could help me?”
“Running late. Gotta go.” Maddie passed her communicator over the girl’s device. “I’ll call you.” She sped out the door. There goes my time advantage.
On her way downstairs, Bryce slithered into the corridor with a smirk she wanted to slap off. “Do you like living? I’m here to help you finish your mission.”
At first instinct, she wanted to break his neck. “I work alone. Jerks like you are the reason why.”
His face contorted into a snarl, “You should thank me. Peacekeepers who go off script end up dead.”
Maddie affected a pleasant expression and shrugged her shoulders, “So, thanks?”
“You’re forgiven. I’ll distract him so you can do your damn job.”
At the conference room, Mr. Hanson sat at the table with his computer. He peered over his glasses and smiled, “Looks like I have a session for two. But Bryce, you’ve done well.”
“I’m here for moral support,” he replied.
“You can stay if it’s okay with Maddie.”
“Sure. Have a seat, Bryce.”
Bryce pulled up a chair next to the instructor and motioned for her to sit on the other side of Mr. Hanson. She shook her head, “No. I’m tired of sitting. I’ll stand.” She reached into her book bag and caressed her favorite tool.
“Maddie, your grades for discussion are excellent, but I don’t understand your performance on tests.”
“Lousy, huh? I guess I have horrible test anxiety.” She withdrew the tool from her bag and held it close to the side of her body. She felt Bryce’s icy stare.
Mr. Hanson’s eyes were glued to the computer. “Let me figure out what you need to make on the final to pass.”
Bryce gave her a nod and looked at the screen. “Could you tell me what my average is?”
“Yes. Just a minute.”
Maddie stood behind the two of them with weapon poised, aiming for the back of Mr. Hanson’s head. What does freedom mean to you? invaded her thoughts over and over. Nausea slammed her again. What does freedom mean to me? She doubled over, combating the queasiness. I know what I need to do. She spun in the opposite direction, targeting the base of Bryce’s skull. He crumpled on top of the table, a scarlet ribbon of blood trickling into the keyboard.
Expecting to see Mr. Hanson’s shocked face or having to defend herself against him, he grinned. His familiar blue eyes sparkled with pride.
“Well done Maddie, “he clapped.“You passed.”