Underside, p.1Luann Jung
"Take a look on the inside of the mind of a former assassin. You'd expect to find three things on their mind -- a lust for killing, no traces of doubt, and a lack of emotion. This is true for the main character Aelise . . .at least it was. Once you step inside her mind, you become aware of inklings of her self-doubt, humility and her want for revenge. Readers come to know that people are capable of change, whether it's a life or death experience; and that the 'underside' of being an assassin is reality."
- Review from: Anika Dunbar
A Novel by Luann Jung
by Luann Jung
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2012 by Luann Jung
No part of the publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher. For information regarding permission, email [email protected]
PART 1 - Violent Assassins
Leave the victims to their fate
Be a storm, do not abate
Hold your weapons, fast and steady
When a chance strikes you must be ready
Be a flame that licks at the wood
Be the deer running fast as it could
Cut to the neck and plunge to the heart
They don't belong here from the start
Whoever they are, kill them
That's your job, assassin
Chapter 1 - Blackouts
I looked dead, but she backed away just in case. Which was a good choice on her part, because I wasn’t. Curled up my inside my sleeve like a quiet animal lay a dagger, waiting for a target.
“Shutdown.” the monotone voice announces just like it does every other day.
Almost immediately all of the power goes out; a miniature blackout, one dark building contrasted against a never-ending landscape of bright, shining lights.
The familiar sound of the machines turning off in the adjacent room hums through the walls, into my concrete, nuclear-bomb protected bedspace. Notice I said bedspace, not bedroom. And concrete with nuclear-bomb protection . . . after all, they have to protect their best Wolf assassin. Their only Wolf assassin.
The small computer chip embedded in my arm shuts off too, leaving my body limp and my sight dimmed. I can’t move or see, it’s almost like I’m a computer that the Kandu Law Enforcement shuts down each night and starts up again every morning. For protection, they say. And even though I seem dead, I’m not even asleep, not at all.
Like I was saying, I’m senseless and immobile, but my mind is roiling with thoughts. Recalling the accomplishments of today I think of the blood spilled haplessly on the ground and the dust that fogged the air as knives flashed and lives fled. On the surface of my mind they are accomplishments, although if I think harder I start to feel disgust towards what I’ve done. Sometimes I wonder if the mindset I have as the best assassin for the Kandu Law Enforcement is forced . . . artificial . . . implanted. To them I’m a fragile prison inmate. I get the best of everything and the highest honors . . . but that’s among other assassins in the government, not real humans. So how can I know how I’m being treated and how I want to be treated if I can’t even see what’s real?
Is there even a real?
What would be the definition of real, if everything a person saw, existing or not, was real to them? Is real universal? Or is it different for every single person?
Well, what do I know? I really should shut down instead of thinking about these things. I was born an assassin and will die an assassin . . . although they trained me so well it would take an extreme effort to die of anything other than sickness or old age. Why do I let them control me? What about me, is worth controlling?
My thoughts always lead to a dead end, that being the inevitable need to wake. The more I think, the faster I reach the dead end. Annoyance and helplessness fill my mind, like the feeling of wanting to scale the wall at the end of the road but falling down each time; like having a never ending stuffy nose to defeat.
Speaking of which, I am not breathing right now. How I manage to survive the night, both mentally and physically, I have no idea. But somehow the Kandan doctors can turn everything but my mind off. Therefore my mind is my greatest weapon. A wonderful asset in battle. But the battle hasn’t started yet.
I will try to escape. My life isn’t theirs to use, I’m going to leave. Before that though, I need all of my secrets back . . . the ones that are real.
Sweet dreams, says the assassin silently in her mind. Eyes closed, long lashes shadowing her cheeks, dark midnight hair pooling around her shoulders, facing up to the concrete sky. She seems almost dead, but don’t be fooled.
Chapter 2 - Secrets
A downside to being an assassin looking for secrets from the Kandu Law Enforcement is the fact that if they were written in a document and locked away in a vault or safe I would be able to get them without blinking an eye. But they know that, so I haven’t got a clue as to where to start.
After being woken up mechanically through the chip, I spring up and run to the Assignment Office, happy to be free from the coma-like trance I had slept in. Every night.
In this cold skyscraper of a building lies the political heart of the Kandan megalopolis. Concrete everything except for the plush living suite of the Officials. So this building, appropriately nicknamed ‘The Concrete Chambers’ by citizens of the city, is divided in two. One half for the relatively innocent politicians vying for a spot of fame and attention for two years, the other half for the darker Enforcers and assassins like me.
There are five levels of assassins in the Concrete Chambers . . . and five major assassins, along with their apprentices. I am the Wolf, the highest and most dangerous one in the Kandan lands. Having inherited the habit of the Wolf before me I don’t wish to have an apprentice. Next in levels are the Dragon and the Phoenix; Kivren Zahr and Fever Trist. The Tiger and the Shark I’m not sure of, but they are both young and inexperienced.
I am young too, though. I am seventeen years old, and for as long as I can remember I have been working and killing for the Kandans. I wonder how they’ll deal with their precious killer getting away. The crowds will go wild at the thought of a top-notch assassin on the loose in the city. Reporters will flock to the Concrete Chambers, the smart would hide.
I know what will happen for them after I escape, but I don’t know what I’ll do myself once I’m free.
“Aelise, your next assignment is to travel to Artignon and dispose of their High Council. You will be accompanied on your mission by Kivren Zahr of Dragon and two personal bodyguards.” the prim nose of the Assignor sniffs dismissively as he slides a crisp, freshly-printed sheet listing my tasks for the next few days.
Turning up my face arrogantly, as they want me to, I answer, “The Wolf’s vengeful howl will not cease until the High Council of Artignon is dead.”
That is what I am expected to say and anything else will be looked down upon. It is also what I have been programmed through the chip to say every time I am assigned something, but somehow I have managed to evade that.
“Very good, Aelise. Now get going, Kivren Zahr has arranged the supplies, although I am sure they will not be necessary. Meet him and your bodyguards down at the flight dock in full uniform.”
Pshh. Bodyguard, huh? More like ‘military trained personnel we’re sending along to supervise you and make sure you don’t go crazy’.
“Yes, sir, Assignor.” I say stiffly.
“You are excused. L
Turning quickly and striding out of the oak doors and into the Grand Hallway I head for the Dropping Box.
The Dropping Box is an elevator that only goes down. Extremely inconvenient because it’s harder to climb up stairs then walk down them.
I step into the metal contraption and close the grate. Before pressing the ‘D’ for dock I steel myself for the stomach-lurching drop ahead.
And . . . here it comes. The moment my finger makes contact with the meticulously shined glass button I am dropped seven-hundred-and-thirty-two feet to my imagined doom.
Actually, due to the chemical reinforcements in my body I wouldn’t die even if I jumped off of a two-thousand foot high building (the exact height of the Concrete Chambers) with no special protection. Meanwhile, I would drop like a two-thousand pound weight if I had any contact with the counteractive poison that is used to disable the chemical reinforcements in all assassins’ bodies. Unfortunate for us, that is the most commonly used substance for coating weapons and dumping in unsuspected drinks.
A jolt shakes through the Dropping Box, rattling my bones and almost knocking me over. I’ve arrived at Floor 10B, the flight dock.
Chapter 3 - Come To Die
“Minijet 34 taking off for Sterling, Artignon in five minutes.” announces the computerized flight tracker.
Running through the thick throng of people crowding the concrete take-off dock and locating Minijet 34 gets me efficiently settled in the plastic seats of the high-speed jet, the two ‘bodyguards’ seated behind me.
Yes, I said plastic. It’s not like we get first-class cushioned seats. Cushioned . . . god forbid I ever sit in one of those. Ever.
“TAKING OFF.” Inside the jet the computer’s voice is much louder, and almost blasts my eardrums off.
“Automatic flight captain, please turn vocalizing volume down by fifty decibels.” I shout over the whirring of the rotor blades above.
“REQUEST TO LOWER VOCALizing volume by fifty decibels interpreted correctly?” the computer asks while it’s volume drains away.
“Yes, thank you.”
As we slowly start to rise, I reserve myself to staring out of the miniscule window at the massive crowd below. Most of them are shouting and pointing to a figure running full speed towards the jet. Oops, Kivren.
He looks up at the steadily rising aircraft, assessing it’s place, then stops and springs up to an inhuman height and latches onto the door. A simple exhibition of assassin strength and agility.
Getting up from my seat I open it inwards and let Kivren in, the many faces of surprise gawk up at us from the receding dock, and I smile at them and wave. How dramatic.
The Minijet flies up faster and faster and soon we’re surrounded by a dispersing cloud cover.
“So what do you think of this assignment?” I ask Kivren. I don’t really care how he answers, I just want to say something. After all, jet computer voices don’t make very good companions . . . neither do ‘bodyguards’. Most likely the two muscle bound guys sitting behind would misinterpret my talking to them not as a sign of plain boredom, but as something that needed to be reported to the Enforcers.
“God, it’s the stupidest thing ever!” he exclaims, brushing away some of the dark hair that fell into his crystalline eyes. I’d never thought of Kivren as attractive, but I’m sure the other female citizens of Kandu do. “We all know what Artignon is like, don’t we?” he continues, “Typical utopia, butterflies and girls with flowers in their golden hair . . . sun shining and trees everywhere. Ain’t that the place where we all want to live?”
His response rattles me a bit, but I respond cooly. “I’ve heard that they’ve changed. You know, not everything stays perfect forever. And despite the fact that they’ve stayed that way for a long time, it won’t be like that anymore.”
“Maybe,” he says. Then he slumps into his seat and mutters, “They didn’t send me with you to help on the mission. I asked to come with you.”
“You what?” I whip my head around, directing a penetrating glare at him.
“I said, I asked to come. I also asked to be set free. ‘Course they didn’t pass that one.” Kivren looks at me stubbornly, defiance and teasing playing out on his face.
My eyes whisper a question to him, but I say not what’s on my mind. “Why would you want to follow me on yet another one of my clandestine missions?”
“Of course! Everyone wants to see the great Wolf Aelise Teronne in action!” he says as if it’s obvious.
Action? He’s been on missions with me before. In fact, most of the time he tries to show superiority by doing things better than me. “Right . . . whatever you say.” I dismiss the subject and leave him to stare moodily out of the window.
I walk to the back of the jet and enter the restroom. Packed in a neat vacuum sack is my skintight black jumpsuit. Yes, I know, don’t laugh . . . but it’s required dress for Kandan assassins.
“Automatic flight captain, remaining duration of flight, please.”
“Six minutes. Prepare for landing in three.”
That fast? Most trips to Artignon take thirty minutes at the least, it’s only been about ten so far. Is the computer wrong? Are we even heading for Artignon?
I quickly get up and shove Kivren aside. “I need to check for something.” I say.
Down below us lies a broad expanse of cracked dirt, scraggly trees, rubble, and an abundance of tents made from salvaged cloth. Just ahead of us is a battered sign naming this ravaged place as Sterling City, Artignon. Population: 9,653,012 11,000,000
As the jet soars over the barren land towards the line of taller buildings at the horizon I notice the huge clouds of pollution being blown from tall gas-and-smokestacks.
“What has happened here?” I murmur to myself. “They’re probably controlling the population by killing off newborns and the elderly. The flight took such a short time because they’ve expanded so . . . much. But the drought . . . the doom . . .”
“Landing initiated.” the computer announces.
A buzzing fills my ears as the jet hurtles to the ground and only stops when we land in a cloud of dust behind a large building.
The side door opens and we are told to ‘Dismount.’
Stepping out into the gloomy atmosphere feels like walking into a bad dream. The once glorious citizens of Sterling scurry by, some of them casting us furious glances, most not caring.
One particular child whose dejected looks and tired frame don’t match his young boyish features grins slyly at me. “Welcome to the place,” he rasps, “-where the gods themselves come to die.” Then he laughs sarcastically and runs off into the dust.
“Well then, you were right.” Kivren comments cooly. “Artignon is a dump. Killing off the High Council should be easy.”
“Sure, easy.” I pretend not to care about the despair that laces the air like poison. I pretend I look forward to finishing my task and heading back to the Concrete Chambers to sit around and eat assorted delicacies. Because that’s what all of the citizens think I do.
“Come on, let’s lose these ‘bodyguards’.” he whispers in my ear, then bounds off, climbing up the cracking trestles lining the walls of the castle.
The megapolitan regions of this world are like they’re straight out of the pages out of a stereotypical places book. Kandu consists of the concrete cities. Slightly dystopic and filled with dark skyscrapers. Artignon, the perfect place to live, with fantastic stone castles and pleasant people . . . though not anymore. Disdern is basically a frozen tundra. Tiveron, the hot, dry desert. On and on the list goes, and I’ve been to all of them on various missions.
I leap up after Kivren, easily passing him even though he had a headstart. Down below, the two frustrated ‘bodyguards’ stare helplessly up at us. Not being able to help it, I wave and smile cheerfully at them. They frown at me then run in synchr
True. We aren’t supposed to be resisting the orders from the communicators.
“That’s too bad,” remarks Kivren, “Now we’ll have the Enforcers after us. But here’s the perfect chance to escape, I’m not missing it.” With that he jumps down on graceful feet and sprints off through the city.
“What?” I ask his retreating form, then decide not to wait and dash after him.
As soon as I catch up I slow to an easy, loping pace, my long legs eating up the ground. “That was escape? But it was so . . . simple. You were planning this, right?”
“That’s the idea.” He’s panting a little, and I realize that we’ve covered about a mile and a half already and still going strongly at break-neck speed.
Oh, how I love the benefits of being an assassin. Sometimes.
Chapter 4 - Mastermind
“How come that was so easy?” I ask Kivren after we’ve stopped near a copse of concealing trees. “How come we can get away that smoothly and never tried it before?”
“They mess with our minds, through the little chip in our arms. They tell us that we can’t escape, and that we ain’t ever going to. But there was a physically harmless radioactive effect on the building last night, so while all of us were shut down and dreaming happy things the radiation crept in and destroyed the smaller computers, including our chips. They’re not totally gone, and we might still have some of the radiation around our bodies, but for now we’re free. Unless they find a way to get backup information or send a healing virus out to all of us.” Kivren looks at me seriously the whole time he’s speaking, and I watch his eyes boring into mine.
“How do you know this?”
“There’s something they don’t know about me. I can just tell things, and I never said anything about it, so now only you and I know.”
“Okay, that’s cool.” I say. After all, the guy just spilled his big secret to me, and I can’t tell him mine. Although I don’t think I have one. I don’t think.
I decide not to mention the radiation, or the fact that we are escaping. I just smile up at the drab sky and start walking. Where do I think I’m going? Maybe I’m walking to heaven, or hell. Maybe I’ll end up in the Great Perhaps of Francois Rabelais, of death.
Underside by Luann Jung / Science Fiction have rating 4.4 out of 5 / Based on40 votes