This story is by Leah Baugh and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
So it had finally come to this, Skala thought as she sat facing her mother’s killer. Mentally, she ran through the weapons hidden on her body: four knives and two hair pin darts. An inconspicuous black band around one of Skala’s bound wrists vibrated silently, indicating twenty-five minutes to go.
She sat across from the Governor who was regarding her through small grey eyes that sparked with cruel intelligence. He was enjoying this, she thought bitterly. Had he enjoyed it this much when her mother was in this same room?
“I know you’ve come to try to kill me,” the Governor said. His low even voice conveyed an arrogant confidence. “No doubt you were offered a lot of money.” Skala couldn’t keep back a derisive snort.
The Governor raised an interested eyebrow and a smile played at one corner of his mouth. “Not money then. Political or, perhaps, personal reasons?” Skala lifted her head, eyes burning with barely controlled anger and hate. He leaned forward and peered at her face interestedly and then exclaimed, “Oh! I thought you looked familiar.” Sitting back with a satisfied chuckle he said, “Your mother was a very talented woman. She almost succeeded in killing me.”
Skala’s hands tightened into fists and her breath hissed in her throat. The Governor paused, regarding her with wicked interest before continuing, “I was so…disappointed… when your mother betrayed me. She thought killing me would bring peace to our nation. I suppose she thought working for me would give her an advantage, but in the end she failed like everyone else. How sadly misguided she was.”
A hot ball of anger swelled up hotter inside of her at the mention of her mother. Her mother’s last words to her flashed through her mind. “The desire for power and the desire for peace rarely exist together, Skala. Never trust a powerful person. Those who crave power will never sacrifice it for peace.” Skala had thought about those words more and more in the months leading up to this night.
At the thought of her mother, Skala suddenly felt a wave of weariness wash over her. The anger that had fueled her for the past twelve years felt suddenly depleted. The exhaustion was a weight in her bones and she desperately shoved her mother from her mind and willed her anger to come back.
Her wristband vibrated again, twenty minutes.
She stared straight at the Governor and asked, “Why haven’t you just killed me?” even though she already knew the answer.
The Governor’s tone was exaggeratedly sorrowful as he responded, “I don’t get to spar very often anymore. My bodyguards rarely let me have a good fight anymore.” I like a challenge.” With growing intensity he continued, “I crave the thrill of the fight. To feel truly alive one must occasionally risk it. Besides, I am curious if the daughter of the only woman to ever come close to killing me can do better. So I will give you another chance. A blind chance. A Russian Roulette if you will. In honor of your mother.” The Governor bowed to her slightly.
Skala forced herself to meet the Governor’s small self-satisfied smile. Her tiredness told her to just give up now but she expertly suppressed that feeling as she had practiced for years.
Her wristband vibrated again, fifteen minutes to go.
The Governor took out a key and unlocked her handcuffs. He then walked over to a cabinet in the far corner of the room and took out an old fashioned revolver and a single bullet. “My version of Russian roulette goes like this: this revolver holds five rounds. I put a bullet in here like this,” the Governor put the bullet in the cylinder and spun it so neither he nor Skala knew where the bullet was. “For every time the gun doesn’t fire you get a chance to kill me. I will, of course, defend myself.” With a small laugh he continued, “I can’t just let you kill me like a sitting duck. That would take all the fun out of it for us.”
Skala’s hands trembled, not from fear, but from rage. She hated this man who played with people’s lives like they were toys. She hated that he had played with her mother’s life in just such a way. She hated that her beloved nation had been in the grip of his power for far too long. Tonight, she would take her revenge.
He took aim at Skala. “You still have your weapons on you, except of course for your gun. Notice I didn’t ask the guards to take all of them away when you were caught.” He winked at her then pulled the trigger.
It clicked. One, Skala counted.
She leapt to her feet pulling out two knives and attacked. With skill born of long practice, she sliced first with her right, then with her left. To her shameful surprise, he dodged easily out of the way and she felt a blow on her back that sent her to the ground. Her teeth clamped shut and she tasted blood from biting her lip. Her knives had landed on the ground a few feet away. She had known he was a masterful fighter but had hoped his age would slow him down. Damn, all the stories were true after all.
Her wristband vibrated again, ten minutes.
She turned around as the Governor pulled the trigger again.
Instead of jumping up, Skala rolled to her side and swept her leg at the Governor’s ankles. He was already moving back, however, and her leg missed by an inch. She sprang up and threw both her hair darts in quick succession, aiming at his eyes and his throat. As if he knew what she had planned, the Governor ducked one dart so that it sailed harmlessly over his head while catching the other with his bare hand.
Skala breathed hard. The Governor raised the revolver again and pulled the trigger.
Skala forced herself to think carefully. She paced in front of him like a caged tiger, tense and glaring. “How many more opportunities will you have to try to kill me, Skala” the Governor asked tauntingly. Skala snarled and threw another knife she had palmed from inside her sleeve before attacking him in a whirlwind of blows and kicks.
This time her knife struck the Governor’s arm. She landed a blow to his other shoulder, causing the Governor to drop the revolver. She pulled another knife and lunged for his throat but his fist crashed into the side of her face. She she fell against the table before landing on the ground. Her shoulder throbbed and her head spun but she forced herself up.
Her wristband vibrated again, five minutes.
I have to keep trying, she coached herself. The Governor walked over to the revolver and picked it up. He seemed delighted as he looked at the knife in his arm. “My dear girl!” he cried. “Well done!” With that, he aimed and pulled the trigger.
The Governor put the revolver down, focusing on her entirely. Skala braced herself; she wouldn’t give up yet. Once more, she attacked. He was strong and fast but she was stubborn and fierce and for a minute it seemed she might overcome him. But it was not enough. Just as she saw an opening, she felt a hand on her neck as she was thrown to the ground. She choked and gasped for breath as his arm squeezed her neck. Just before she blacked out, the Governor released her and shoved her away from him.
She gasped for air, rolling onto her knees.
Breathing heavily, the Governor walked over to the revolver and picked it up. “You haven’t disappointed me Skala. You came even closer than your mother. But I’ve still come out the winner. You have lost our little game, my dear. It’s a shame as I could’ve used a woman with your skills.”
Skala laughed despite her burning throat.
He picked up the revolver and pointed it at her.
Skala sat on the floor looking down the barrel of the revolver and continued to smile. All the anger, the desperate hope, her mother’s sacrifice, this cutthroat and merciless man drunk on power would all come to an end. Despite her own power seeming so slight, so weak, Skala felt, for the first time, peace. A sense of contentedness and stillness settled in her bones, replacing her anxious exhaustion. She thought of her mother, kind and courageous, smiling at Skala. “You’ve won” Skala said to him. “But you’ve also lost.”
The Governor frowned in confusion as Skala’s wristband vibrated for the final time. With a deafening roar and burst of light, the room exploded into flames. The bomb Skala had planted earlier that evening was the final round in her own version of Russian roulette.
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