Chapter 7- Windows & Night Walks

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Even dead and leafless, the tree stood tall, barely stirring in the Veesp colonies heavy winds. Allison stared out at the witch-finger branches, yearning evident on her face. She ached to throw open her bedroom window and leap to the branches, see if she could reach. She'd had a similar tree outside her parent's mansion growing up, and she'd dreamed of climbing it, of having the strength in her limbs to swing from branch to branch like a monkey.

The Agency had given her strength, but the dream disappeared, and now they wanted her dead. Something clawed in her chest, demanding she leap from the fourth story window and trust to the fates.

She threw the window wide, letting the wind whip into her face. Her fingers stretched out but her fingertips brushed only brittle twigs. The distance to the stronger branches was too far to leap and she doubted shimmying up the trunk would fit the image she needed to build.

No, no one could travel from her window to the tree. And the only beings who seemed capable of bridging the gap from the tree to her room were a plethora of spiders. Even a hover car could not have accessed the window-they could not hover that high in the air. The room was ideally situated for her purposes, even allowing her to leave her window open and not fear intrusion.

The spiders were a drawback. She'd considered calling maintenance but in a dive like this she didn't want to deal with obtaining adequate help. And she'd take the spiders in exchange for a fresh breeze and birdsong- both luxuries even the wealth of the Agency couldn't buy.

With another deep inhale of air, Allison retreated into the dim apartment. Everything was set in place. Objects seemingly carelessly thrown were placed with meticulous care. Should anyone enter in her absence, she'd know it. As she exited, she angled the door until it was at the precise degree she desired.

She strode to the kitchen counter and swiped up a set of secondhand net-glasses. The type she imagined a girl like 'Lilly' would own. She absently wiped at her right temple. No physical sign showed of her net-implant but putting on the glasses she missed the instant access.

Her net-implant was turned off as it had to be on all missions. She could only store bits for upload. She added a note regarding the location of Halis' home and the best prospective hiding places.

Then she picked up a small notebook and pen. Here she jotted by hand, her handwriting easy and fluid. These words were not for the Agency and she needed to get them down before she forgot. She'd already written up her Agency report on the incident. She'd written it the night that happened and set it in the queue for upload.

Followed Halis from the nightclub. Took me a while to get free but in the end he was easy to locate. Where, after all, would someone go in the slums to engage their prey? I still hoped at that point that perhaps the girl survived...

Alison remembered as she wrote and goosebumps lifted on her arm.

Outside the club was mostly empty industrial district but in the distance she saw a line of trees. Pulling her black cloak around her whiteness she darted into the darkness. In an out of pools cast by the streetlamps, she treaded carefully, keeping to the shadows as much as she could.

It was not until the deep shadows of the woods embraced her that she relaxed. She threaded through the trees slowly. Then the scream shattered the night air around her and she flattened against the nearest trunk.

Already? She hadn't anticipated he'd go directly for a kill. The trunk she clung to was ambivalent to her and to the screams. Allison calmed her breathing and waited. The agonized sounds tapered off. She stared at the sky and counted stars waiting until her instinct told her it was safe to approach.

When she did, each step was placed as to not stir so much as a leaf. When she came to the place, following her recollection of the origin of the sound, the girl's body was ripped open, an arm thrown against a tree, separated by a good foot from the body. Eyes stared at Allison, glazed with death but still retaining terror and betrayal.

Allison touched her net-glasses and dialed the local law. It was a relief to let her voice tremble as was its natural inclination. The arm had not been cut free...something else. Something she didn't understand. Allison crept forward, all her weight on her toes so her stiletto heals didn't catch in the soft dirt.

At the woman's side, she knelt. Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the numerous stab wounds punctuating the corpse. This was not a clean kill. From the blood around the wounds most of these were done while the woman was alive. But how? What weapon made those marks?

"Sick bastard," she whispered.

After a deep breath of woodsy air, Allison reached out and lifted the sequined skirt. Underneath the lacy undergarments were relatively blood free and in place. He didn't rape her, Allison thought.

The pen dropped to the counter top. Allison turned it and pushed it back and inch before picking up the book and tucking it into her purse for safe-keeping. Her fingers trembled and she wiped them down the cheap fabric of her dress.

That is the fate the Agency wants for me. To date, the fact Halis didn't sexualy violate his victims was the only consolation she had. If she failed, the death that waited her was not pleasant and the weapon used in the murders still eluded her.

The glowing numbers on her kitchen clock startled her from her thoughts. Writing had taken longer than anticipated and she had to dash to catch the public transport hover bus.

It wasn't far to her stop, but she needed to show up by bus. She couldn't let the diner know she'd already put a contract down on an apartment. It was better they thought her desperate rather than that she expected them to hire her.

The interior stank of cheap grease and instantly Allison could feel it clogging her pores. Seeping into her hair. A chubby, older woman frowned at her from behind the counter, she gripped a stained counter cloth in her calloused hands. Allison smiled, lowering her eyes and looking up timidly from beneath her lashes.

"Yer Lilly, ain't ye? The girl from the city, called 'bout our help add?"

"Yes," Allison said. "Is the position still available?"

It didn't matter. She could convince this woman easily to create a position but she didn't want to do more than she had to. She had to play the part perfectly for Halis. City girl who fell in with the wrong crowd flees to country for a new start. If she played her part he'd play his. Wealthy handsome man sweeps in to the rescue. Of course, she knew he would only be playing a role.

"You ever waited tables before? Dun seem the type."

"My daddy owned a restaurant."

                                                            


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