Fifteen years ago…
There I sat, my face swollen, blood dripping from my mouth, and a beautiful young woman named Artemis Stone unconscious at my feet.
I was barely in my mid-twenties; Artemis three years younger than me. She had been my assignment for one year before this day: play the role of her lover, gain her trust, kill her father, and her mother, and her three brothers. The Order was testing me, I knew, as I sat slumped, bound by both ankles and one arm to that metal chair. But in what way was I being tested? I was already a full operative; I had surpassed everyone in my group; I was beyond assignments like the one with Artemis—it was more my brother’s job, to play a role and work from the inside. I missed the rooftops, the feel of the sniper rifle in my hand, the scope pressed to my eye, the moment I stopped breathing before I took the shot and played the role of God. The utter silence that followed.
Why was I here? And why was this man’s face so familiar? I suppose the most pressing question I should have been asking myself was: How did I allow myself to get in this situation?
“You’re probably asking yourself,” the man who introduced himself as Osiris said, “how the fuck someone like you could get himself in a situation like this.” He laughed; his teeth were stark white against the backdrop of his mixed Haitian skin. I knew he was probably related to Artemis, and that was probably why he looked familiar. They shared many physical similarities: dark caramel-colored skin, black hair, dark brown eyes with a distinct slant in the corners, and high cheekbones that were severe and exquisite. Artemis was half Haitian half Venezuelan, one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. Osiris resembled her. Another brother, perhaps? It was my second guess, next to a scorned lover, which I aborted early on because he did not fit the profile. But there was something off about the brother theory too: brothers don’t usually want someone to kill their sisters. This ‘Osiris’—the name also similar to Artemis’s in its mythological origin—put the knife in my unbound hand; he had been beating me for ten minutes because I refused to slit Artemis’s throat. If he wanted her dead so badly—related or not—why would he not just do it himself?
I could have killed Osiris—two opportunities passed me by—but I was not ready to kill him yet. I needed answers first.
“The only way you’re getting out of here alive, Victor Faust,” Osiris said, grinning at me just five feet away, “is by killing her. Why are you stalling?”
“Haven’t we already been over this?” I said, taunting him. “You are not very good at this, are you?”
Nothing I ever said fazed him much; always grinning, his dark eyes backlit with the upper hand. I admitted it to myself as I sat there: he did have the upper hand—it was the only thing keeping him alive. As far as why I would not kill Artemis: I was not commissioned to kill her; no orders had been passed along to me from Vonnegut to take Artemis out.
And…there was another reason, too.
“If you want her dead,” I offered, my head dizzying from the blows I’d taken, “then do it yourself.” Artemis made a slight movement at my feet, but then she went still again; her long, silky black hair covered her face. Osiris had knocked her out cold when he stormed into the room and pulled her naked body off mine.
“And we’ve already been over that too,” Osiris said. “It’s not my job to kill her.” He leaned back in his chair, lifting the front legs from the ceramic tile floor. He smiled and cocked his head to one side, tapped the barrel of his gun against his leg. Osiris was young, but older than Artemis; still wet behind the ears, and cocky, which I had not decided yet worked to his disadvantage or not. Cocky was never a good trait to have in the professional killing business, but so far Osiris seemed to manage it well. And that bothered me. Whether he was a professional still had yet to be seen.
“It is not my job either,” I came back, and then spit blood onto the floor because my mouth was filling up with it.
“Not even to save your own life?” he asked, cocking his head to the other side.
“If that was what this was about,” I said, “then yes, Artemis would be dead already.” It was a lie.
“Artemis,” he echoed, as if satisfied hearing me call her by her name. His smile deepened; a sinister light danced in his eyes.
It was in this moment that I began to realize what was going on, but all of the pieces were not coming to me fast enough. I was too disoriented by the blows to my head to figure it all out as quickly as I normally would. But what I did figure out was that this man wanted me to kill Artemis because he—or someone—thought I had developed feelings for her. Yes, I was being tested by The Order. Yet, there were still holes in my theory. Who the hell was Osiris? As far as I knew he was not part of The Order.
“I cannot kill the girl,” I said.
“Why not?” Osiris came back; he looked at me with the gaze of a man who enjoyed being right. “Is it difficult for you to take a bitch out, Victor Faust? Or is it just difficult for you to take this particular bitch out?” He smirked.
“No,” I answered without hesitation, and I felt Artemis stir again at my feet. “I cannot and will not kill her, or anyone else, because you tell me to.”
“But it’s to save your life,” he tried to explain, and I saw his confidence begin to waver.
“No,” I continued, “you are not here to kill me, whether I kill Artemis or not. You have made it very clear that this is a test. You can’t kill me”—(I was pulling at strings; I was not sure if any of this was true, but I could not let Osiris know my doubts)—“or you would have done it already.”