“We’re running out of time.” Danni looked at her wristwatch to confirm what she suspected. It was two minutes passed nine o’clock at night and their target—known for her excessive punctuality—was late.
“Relax,” Sloan said. “If Central said she’ll be in her office tonight, she’ll be there.”
Sloan peered into the telescopic sight of her sniper rifle. She laid prone on the rooftop of a fifty-floor building with the bipod of her weapon resting on a raised roof edge. Danni laid next to her, tapping the side of a bi-optics binocular. This was the only position which allowed them to shoot their target without hitting anyone driving avi-cars in the sky.
Through the rifle’s scope, she kept her eyes on a luxurious office located twenty-six hundred meters away on the top floor of Eklund & Pride. The cybernetics health company made a fortune when it introduced the country to Factor HC1, a medicinal drug that suppressed augmentation sickness.
Anyone who suffered from major injuries to kidney failure needed the latest cyber-tech implant to survive but not everyone was compatible with augmentation. What happened as a result was illness and the company liked to leave out the death toll which followed.
It was ironic to Sloan how Eklund & Pride made the medicine because it was the same company which created the faulty implants in the first place.
They pretty much made a vaccine to their own virus. She thought it was a little funny how people forgot that.
But it wasn’t funny when her girlfriend developed symptoms of augmentation sickness.
She remembered when Vivian showed signs of it. The way her hands shook, the odd rhythm of her breathing, the sweating even on cold nights. Then came the worst symptom: darkened blood veins protruding on the skin.
They were lucky it wasn’t too late when Vivian applied for Factor HC1. She remembered the constant, rising bills afterward but it didn’t matter so long as the medicine worked and Vivian got to live longer than the doctor estimated.
Then came the day they were late on payments.
Sloan’s grip on the sniper rifle tightened. All it took was one late payment and the company sent a denial letter rejecting further deliveries of Factor. Now Vivian laid the hospital and she was on a rooftop ready to murder the one responsible. Of course, it wasn’t all personal.
Central informed them the company’s CEO, Emora Eklund, would be in her office for a few minutes tonight to download data for a renewal policy. This policy will be voted on tomorrow and most likely, it would pass. When it does, the company can withhold Factor from anyone regardless of late payments or not. Sloan suspected it was so the company could keep Factor for their wealthier clients even if it meant over three hundred thousand patients will die from augmentation sickness. The few minutes Emora would be in her office is the only time to make sure the policy didn’t go through.
Sloan wasn’t going to fail.
“She’s here.” Danni turned a knob on her binoculars. “Front door.”
Sloan moved her reticle to the front of the office. Sure enough, there was Emora Eklund and like Central said, she went to her desk to download files.
Danni reported the distance to their target along with the current wind speed and its direction. Sloan adjusted her aim to make sure she didn’t waste a bullet.
One shot. That’s all she needed.
She moved her index finger to the trigger. She steadied her breathing. Reticle aimed at Emora’s head. Then she took in a breath.
But removed her finger from the trigger.
Her eyes caught something else moving into the office. Something which made Emora look up from her computer and smile.
“What’s wrong?” Danni asked.
“Her daughter is with her,” Sloan said.
The young six-year-old skipped to her mother’s side, dressed in a ballerina outfit and carried a small leather backpack in one hand as well as a piece of paper in the other. Sloan zoomed in on the paper in the girl’s hand. It was an invitation to a dance ceremony next week. Emora must have arrived from her daughter’s rehearsal.
Now, she understood why the CEO was late. Central didn’t say anything about this during the brief.
“Take the shot,” Danni said.
Sloan looked away from the sniper scope at Danni. “What did you just say?”
“Shoot her. We only have a few minutes before she leaves.”
“Her kid is with her.”
She wondered if she heard Danni wrong. She shook her head, mostly to herself than to the other woman. “I don’t have a clear shot.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Danni glared at her. “You have a straight line right to her head.”
Danni cocked her head to one side and let out a sharp laugh. “I’m sorry. Do you want me to call Central and ask them to reschedule?”
Sloan ignored her and stood up. She pressed a button on the side of her rifle, which caused the barrel to retract into the body and its stock folded inwards, turning the weapon into a metallic rectangle which Sloan placed on a magnet strapped to the back of her shoulder.
“I’ll call them myself.” She headed towards the radio which was set down with the rest of their equipment a short walk away.
Danni followed her and gripped her shoulder, forcing her to turn around. “You’re putting thousands of lives in jeopardy because you don’t want some kid to see her mother die?”
“The renewal policy won’t be voted on until tomorrow. I’ll figure something out by morning.”
“Central said this is our only chance. You can’t walk away now.”
She wasn’t wrong and Sloan knew it but she turned her back on Danni anyway. Before she picked up the pack with the radio, something clicked behind her. She faced the other woman who had a pistol pointed at her head.
“You’re going to shoot me?” Sloan asked.
“I will if you don’t get back into position.”
Sloan wanted to believe Danni was bluffing but the look in her eyes said otherwise. It wasn’t just loyalty to Central or a conviction to get the job done. There was something else there too: Desperation.
That’s when Sloan noticed it. The slight shake in Danni’s hand. The dark veins protruding on her skin, crawling out from underneath her sleeve to the back of her hand which held the gun.
“How long has it been since your last Factor shot?” Sloan asked.
“Too long. And I won’t get another unless you do what you signed up for.”
Despite Danni’s hand shaking, it would be hard for her to miss from this distance. Sloan would get hit in the shoulder or chest even if she moved fast enough.
“I’m the only one who can make that shot,” Sloan said. "If you kill me, how are you going to complete the mission?"
“Maybe I’ll drive to her house and place a bomb,” Danni shrugged. “Or maybe I’ll walk over and shoot her up close. Either way, you know this is the cleanest way to do it. We can have one person’s blood on our hands tonight or hundreds of thousands.”
A weak smile formed on Danni’s lips. “One of those lives is going to be me in a few weeks.” Her voice wavered. “I don’t want to die, Sloan.”
Sloan didn’t know how to respond. She only felt a weight fall over her.
I don’t want to die.
Those were the same words Vivian said to her the first night at the hospital. She promised then she would do everything in her power to save the woman she loved. If she didn’t do anything now, would she be a liar or a coward?
She was already a murderer. Years in her line of work made that impossible to avoid. What difference would it make to take one more life? She abandoned any thought of fighting Danni. She pulled her rifle from the magnet on her back and pressed a button to return it to its original shape. She positioned herself in the same spot as before and looked into the scope.
Emora was in the middle of packing files and a hard drive into a briefcase while her daughter waited for her by the door. The little girl was so young. There was no one else around. No one the child could call to for help if her mother suddenly collapsed into a pool of her own blood.
“Don’t think about it,” Danni said. “It’s not like she sits in that office thinking about all the lives she’s going to ruin. None of their names or faces are running through her mind when she sleeps at night.”
Whether that was true or not, did it matter? Sloan told herself she was going to do the right thing. Yet, her aim wasn’t steady like before.
“Don’t miss,” Danni reminded her.
Sloan ignored her. She swallowed hard. Took in a deep breath. Then she pulled the trigger.
She prayed Vivian would forgive her.
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Dadgum! Talk about a decision to be made. Perhaps losing your life or shattering the life of a child in front of the youngster's eyes. I do love me some emotional angst and this one fit the bill.
PRT 2 PLZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
Wow! This was an incredible story. My favorite part was that every character had someone they loved and that was their main motivation for what they did. I also really enjoyed that this theme was also used as the main conflict. My favorite detail was in your intro because I felt it explained enough about your world to the reader without getting bogged down in the details. Congratulations!
Thank you, Amanda! I was afraid of world-building in such a short story, so to hear you say that it had enough details without bogging the story down means so much to me.
Great story. Very emotional. Very well told. Loved the conflict within, and the willingness to adhere to one's own personal convictions. Well told.
Thank you so much!
Exceptional story - great pacing, very well done on amping up the tension and emotion.
Aaaah, I am so excited to see your story on the shortlist! Very much deserved!
Thank you, Amanda!
I love how you created this. You had the reader wanting to keep reading because ur story was addictive to read! With such flow into your scenes and characters :)
Thanks! I was using this prompt to practice character dynamics, so to hear you point out the characters is awesome.
This makes me think of the guy who bought the only drug to treat a kind of cancer then hiked up the price 1000% overnight. Policy changes for medical stuff that’s literally life or death for people shouldn’t be a for profit decision and shouldn’t be in the hands of the company. The problem with that showed during the pandemic as well when we were all waiting for vaccines but the companies that had working versions were trying to keep it to themselves. It should have been made public knowledge, given to any facility capable of manufacturing v...
So much wonderful tension and conflict to be seen here; I especially liked the tie-in with real world themes. Honestly can't say I've never felt murderous over the US healthcare system...