I slowly drove down the drive to the mansion I shared with my parents and two brothers, the most dangerous assassins the world had ever known. Or so I was told. The massive estate was assigned to the family in the early days of the war, after we proved our sycophantic loyalty to the New World Order.
I arrived later than usual, but before the mandated curfew, and took a slow, calming breath before sauntering into the house. My brothers, Antonio and Roberto, wrestled their way past my father’s study, but he called out to me when he heard my footsteps. I steeled myself against the upcoming line of questions and slipped into the study.
“You cut the curfew a little close tonight. Did you get more intel on the target?”
He stared at me for a long moment, and I steadily returned his gaze. “Very good; you’re excused.”
“Thank you, sir.”
I hurried to my room and closed and locked the door. I tossed aside my riot gear in favor of sweats and a tank top and prepared for bed. I shifted my nightstand and pulled up the floorboard beneath. It wasn’t safe to have such a hiding place in a house full of hunters, but I decided it was worth the risk for the two things I held most dear.
I pulled out the picture of Thomas, the man I had loved more than anything else, whose life was so abruptly taken from me. I stared at his handsome face and into his sincere, loving eyes. I then retrieved the heart shaped locket he had given me and ran my fingers over the etched silver. I allowed my sorrow to fill me, but I no longer spilled any tears. Taking a deep, ragged breath, I held both items close to my heart. These few minutes every night were the only times I allowed myself to be anything other than a predator. The only time I allowed myself to be human.
The door burst open, and I reacted quickly, sliding the nightstand back over my hurriedly discarded items, but it was too late.
My parents walked around the bed, and my mother relieved me of my weapon.
My brothers remained by the door as my father slid the nightstand over to reveal my hiding spot. He picked up the picture of Thomas and nearly disintegrated it in his fist, crushing a part of my soul.
“Don’t touch me,” I threatened my brothers when they tried to grab me. “I know the way.”
The walk to the discipline chamber was an agonizingly slow form of torture, a small taste of what was to come. I descended the thirty steps into the subterranean hell-hole and held my head high when I sat in the prisoner’s chair, refusing to give in to fear.
“I thought you were over him,” my father said. “Perhaps eliminating these cruel reminders will allow you to move forward.” He tossed the picture and the locket into the fireplace.
I silently stared at the wall, but I felt as if the flaming tendrils were reaching out and wrapping around my chest. I could feel my precious memories burning away, and there was nothing I could do about it, not if I wanted to live.
My brothers strapped me to the chair and swung my bound arm away from my body. I closed my eyes, preparing for broken fingers, but what followed was much worse. I felt the blade cut through my skin and smelled my burning flesh. My eyes snapped open to reveal my father carving into my arm with the fiery red tip of his penknife, and I bit my lip to keep from screaming. The pain shot through my body, and beads of sweat formed on my brow.
I finally screamed, and the sound of my own blood-curdling cry startled me. My father pressed harder, and I screamed again, the pain so intense I nearly passed out. My mother slapped me, and my eyes flew open to see my father still tattooing my bloody arm.
My father finally finished and set aside the knife. “Now,” he said calmly, “the motto you chose so long ago will serve as a reminder of who you really are.”
I read the still bloody, swollen words carved on my inner arm. Veni, Vidi, Vici. They lined up perfectly with the infinity symbol, the mark of the New World Order, now carved on the palm of my hand. It was the perfect punishment. I could never outrun my past with it tattooed on the deadliest part of my body.
Back in my room, my brothers covered my wounds with salve before carefully wrapping my arm with a bandage. They gave me a strong sedative, and the snap of my door lock was the last thing I heard before finally giving in to the pain and exhaustion.
I woke up over twenty-four hours later, my whole arm tingling and itching from the cuts, and I re-dressed the wound to keep it up from getting infected. I wrote a quick note to my parents, stuffed a backpack with a few necessary items, and made my escape the second the daily security alarm turned green.
Two hours later, I crouched behind a banged-up dumpster in an abandoned alley, watching the back door of the building. Detecting no movement, I made my way to the door and pulled my sidearm. There was still no sound, so I grabbed the rusty handle and swung open the door.
The grip on my gun tightened when a strong low voice broke the silence. "Come in, Miss Vinici. You've reached the safe house."
Whispering a short prayer, I stepped inside the dimly lit room and quickly assessed the situation. Armed men stationed themselves strategically in each corner. Their leader, an unarmed man who called himself The Disciple, sat at a table in the middle of the room. My nose detected the faint scent of gunpowder and fuel, and my ears caught the thumps and whirs of heavy machinery from a connecting room. The resistance propaganda on the walls reminded me of my reason for being here. I closed the door behind me, without taking my eyes off his men.
“Tell me, why did you come to us?”
I stared through The Disciple, unflinching. “I have my reasons.”
The Disciple stared back, trying to figure me out. It was not uncommon for older citizens, drawing on their experience and wisdom, to attempt to defect from The Order. It was quite rare, however, for someone of my relative youth.
“I can tell you where to find the taken,” I told him, breaking the silence.
“Why?” he asked. “I know who you are and what you do.”
There it was, the horrible truth. I could never deny my DNA, but I could do something to right the wrongs of my family. I walked to the middle of the room and laid my gun on the table. The Disciple gestured to the chair across from him, and I sat down.
“I can’t change the past, but I can change the future.”
The Disciple studied me carefully. “You know what will happen if they discover you have betrayed them.”
“Yes, better than you.”
My arm twitched, and he looked at the bandage. “May I?” I nodded, and he stood to remove it. He stared at the glaring words and whispered quietly, "I came, I saw, I conquered. Is our mission in danger?"
"Yes," I answered. "It must happen tonight."
He sat back down. “Tell me how it happened.”
“I fell in love with an Original. He had a way of talking about freedom that made people listen, and I realized I was fighting for the wrong side.”
“What happened to him?”
“My family killed him.”
“I am sorry,” The Disciple said, squeezing my hand. “We can make it right.”
He slid a stack of papers towards me and handed me a pen.
I accepted the smooth silver instrument, still warm from his touch. It fit perfectly in my hand, and it inspired my writing. I filled the pages in front of me with names, places, directions, and diagrams. I held nothing back. My presence here, alone, was enough to get me killed.
The Disciple sat patiently, carefully examining the pages as I finished them. He smiled at me when I handed back his pen. “Are you alright?”
I nodded, knowing I had done the right thing. If I died tomorrow, I would go in peace, knowing that my final act would save thousands of lives.
He reached across the table and shook my hand. “Welcome to the fold. You may call me John.”
The first part of the mission went off without a hitch. We arrived at the New World prison, and I entered first to disarm the guards. We then secured the surveillance room, and I led the team through the maze of halls to the holding cells. I stopped at the first cell, directing the others to release the rest of the prisoners.
I opened the cell door to face the man inside. He looked up at me, surprised, and then smiled and grabbed my hand. “Lydia…”
“I know,” I said, squeezing his hand, “I miss him too. Please, Mark, we don’t have a lot of time.”
“I understand,” he said, exiting the cell.
Back in the surveillance room, the tech team assured me that their work was done. After one more sweep of the building, we packed up and headed out. Two miles down the road, the rumbling explosion rocked the large truck, and I smiled, saying goodbye to the monstrous steel and concrete building that reeked of misery and death.
We arrived at the safe house to find the communications team hard at work taking control of every media outlet in the country. Everything was going as well as or better than planned, so why was I finding it so difficult to breathe?
I leaned against the wall and took a minute to observe the bustle of activity around me. This large group of patriots worked for years, risking everything, to get to this point. They had carefully planned and organized, faithfully stood up for their beliefs, and patiently waited for the perfect time to defeat the tyranny that plagued our ravaged world. It struck me how small and insignificant I, the skilled assassin, was in the grand design.
"You are more important than you realize," John said, appearing out of nowhere. “You belong here."
I heard footsteps and turned to see Mark walking towards us. He smiled and shook John's hand, and then pulled me into a warm embrace. "Thank you both for everything.”
John watched us for a moment, and then shook his head sadly. "The Thomas you fell in love with was Mark's son."
"Yes," I nodded, squeezing Mark’s hand. "Thomas changed my life."
“He did not die in vain,” John assured us. “Tomorrow, the whole world will know his name.”
“To quote the renowned author, Mark Twain, rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
I smiled up at Mark, Statesman O’Leary to the world that believed he was dead. I imagined thousands of countrymen fainting at seeing what they first thought was his ghost.
“My fellow countrymen and patriots,” he continued, “the world you live in is a sham, a true conspiracy by your government to rob you of your rights, your freedom, and your humanity. We are here to give you the truth.”
John nudged me, and I took my spot by Mark at the podium. He squeezed my hand, lending me his strength. I smiled into the camera and found my voice. I was no longer a hunter, but simply a girl who loved the world.
“My name is Lydia Vinici, and I am here today to talk about freedom; about humanity; about redemption.”
About the author
Ann C.K. Nickell is an Author and Life Story Transformation Coach who uses her stories to motivate, inspire, and help other women overcome their obstacles, follow their dreams, and rewrite their stories so they can live beautiful lives.