Specter 001.001

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“Final call for bets. You’ve got five minutes. Get ’em in before it’s too late!”

Cecilia Takala ignored the announcement and its repetitions in several other languages, choosing instead to sweep her gaze over the excited patrons. She had invited a great many people from all over the globe. Many of them were enemies of each other, but so far there hadn’t been any incidents.

Something Cecilia was going to credit the brilliance of her assigned seating and the required masks. Few people were sitting near anyone who conducted business in the same general region of the world. Even if they strayed near someone they hated, it was unlikely that they would recognize anyone behind the extravagant masks everyone was required to wear.

With everyone gathered around tables of food and the company they had brought with them, the entire building looked like a masquerade out of the eighteenth century. The only thing that was missing was dancing in great ballrooms.

Somehow, Cecilia couldn’t see any of her invited guests getting up to dance anytime soon.

From her position in the elevated center of the room behind two inches of AlON glass, Cecilia had a perfect view of everyone. Patrons mostly stuck to their assigned areas. There they would laugh with their cohorts while sipping fine wine or fooling with the trainees assigned to entertain out on the floor. A few were gathered around the bar, watching their drinks be made rather than rely on the trainees to deliver.

A smart idea in general.

Cecilia found herself slightly annoyed at the lack of patrons around her gambling tables. Three had been playing poker not long ago, but aside from the trainees managing the tables, nobody was around at the moment.

Really, the cash brought in was a paltry sum compared to her usual business operations. It would be nice if the gambling dividends could pay for some of the food she was offering up for free, but she shouldn’t be too upset.

Unless it was the fault of one of the trainees, either due to incompetence, cheating, or deliberate sabotage.

She would be having a word with them later.

Of course, with the large digital countdown displaying just under ten minutes remaining, it should be expected that they would all be settling down to watch the show.

The home-theater-sized screens were currently relatively boring. One person slept in a bed on each of the seven screens. Each with a number painted on their shirt corresponding to the screen. Just as with all the patrons, each of the subjects on the monitors wore a mask over their faces. Animal themed, in their cases.

“Reaper,” Cyan said with a breathy husk in her voice, pulling Cecilia’s attention off the surroundings. “Who did you bet on?”

As she spoke, Cyan draped herself across Reaper’s lap, making yet another attempt to get a reaction out of the ever stoic man by pressing her chest right up against him.

Though his face was completely hidden behind a bleached white skull mask, Cecilia knew him well enough that she would be surprised if even a hint of color would touch his cheeks.

He didn’t shove Cyan off his lap. He didn’t move his head as her finger traced the mask’s jaw line. He simply held up three fingers.

“Three?” Cyan said, disappointment replacing her sultry tone. “But he’s so skinny! I bet his dick is smaller than my pinky.” She held up her finger, waving it around as if she were showing off a ring of solid gold.

Turning towards the third feed, Cecilia found Cyan’s observation to be accurate. About his general size, anyway. She couldn’t say anything about her assumption.

The boy had bones showing across most of his body. They were visible even through the thin fabric making up his shirt. He was the type of person who had never done a single push-up in his life, preferring to spend his time on computers.

A skill set that could be valuable. Provided he hadn’t squandered his time on such worthless pursuits as games.

Even if he was some master hacker, which he wasn’t, Cecilia couldn’t expect much of him in this event. He would be important to someone else’s success, but not succeed himself.

But perhaps Cecilia would find herself pleasantly surprised. Reaper was betting on him.

It could just be that Reaper was irritating Cyan in his own way, or that he was counting on a huge payout for a tiny investment on what had to be amazing odds.

Time would tell.

“And what about you, old man?” Cyan said, hopping off Reaper’s lap with practiced agility. So practiced that the flip of her short skirt revealing nothing but skin to anyone who had been looking could not be anything but intentional.

She slid an arm over November’s shoulders, drawing a finger across his chest. Her lips came mere hairs away from his ear and the surrounding white hair. “Who do you think will win?”

“Contestant number seven,” he said in a thick Slavic accent. “For sheer strength alone.”

Seven definitely had that in spades. He was a man almost designed to be an antithesis to three. Someone who looked like he lived in a gym and only left to purchase protein powder.

However, Cecilia had access to information none of her employees possessed. Namely a brief background on five of the seven contestants. Seven was… a pacifist. Not just in the sense that he avoided fighting or the fact he was a vegetarian despite his size. His profile said that everyone walked over him whenever they pleased.

He was a doormat to his mother, his sister, and his brother. All had him at their beck and call for anything they might need his muscles for. His wife brought men and women into their home with him being fully aware and he never said a word about it. She hadn’t bothered going behind his back in years. In the twenty years he had worked for a dockyard shipping company, he hadn’t received a single raise. To the best of Cecilia’s knowledge, he hadn’t asked for one either.

Essentally, he was a trap. All the patrons around the room would see just what was on the screen. A large number of bets would be placed on him and, assuming his profile was correct, a large number of bets would be lost on him.

Straight into her pockets.

Taking her eyes off the screen, Cecilia glanced back to the uncharacteristically silent Cyan.

Only to find a thick stream of drool running down her chin beneath her half-mask.

November poked her in the side, eliciting an inelegant squawk.

Cyan ran the back of her wrist over her jaw, glaring at November. “Hot,” she said, “but looks about as smart as a bag of bricks. Will he even figure out how to get out of the room?”

“There is more than one way to get out,” November said, cracking his knuckles. He bent his arms just enough to cause his suit to bulge from his muscles. “Those hinges are not reinforced. Neither is the wood they are attached to.”

“Don’t get all offended,” Cyan said, backing away slightly. “I mean, even if he isn’t the brightest bulb, I’d still drag him into a back room and–”

“Must you continue? We are professionals, not red-light whores.”

Cyan snaked around the room in an instant, moving from November’s seat at one end to Crystal’s seat at the other. Though her feet were to the side of the seat, Cyan’s body twisted until her shoulders were square with Crystal’s. Their masks touched at the tips of their noses.

“People who have only just been given a name should learn when to keep their mouths shut,” Cyan said, her voice monotone and lacking any of the husky breaths that she had used earlier. “Or they may find their tongues missing.”

Though she had no sleeves on her dress, a blade appeared in Cyan’s hand. A balisong. She wasted no movements in showy flips or tricks beyond what was required to get the actual blade out. A flick of her wrist had it between Crystal’s half-mask and her face.

Crystal flinched backwards, head hitting the back of her spacious armchair as her mask fell askew.

An action that had Cyan descending into a fit of cruel giggles.

Face flushing, Crystal quickly reset her mask in place. It wasn’t perfect. A tassel hanging from one side was now lying on the floor, severed by the sharp blade. She stood, pushing the still giggling Cyan out of the way as she stalked across the room.

“Who are the two extra?” she asked, coming to a stop in front of Cecilia. “Only five of these people were on the early docket. Why the sudden extras?”

“Didn’t you hear?” Cyan asked, slipping around Crystal once again. This time, however, her eyes were set on the seat adjacent to Cecilia.

“Omega let herself get caught by civilians. Two of them! She didn’t even kill them, dragging them back here instead.”

Crystal’s eyes went wide behind her mask. “Omega did?” Her shock slipped, replaced with a teeth-filled grin. She moved away from Cecilia to lean against the armrest of Omega’s chair. “Losing her touch is she? Ready to relinquish your spot to the newer generation yet?”

Cecilia glanced to her right hand woman. Any response she had been hoping to see was blocked by Omega’s mask. A featureless white mask that ran from just beneath her chin up to the start of her hairline. The lenses for her eyes meshed seamlessly with the rest of the plain mask, tinted white to the point where it was impossible to see inside.

For all she reacted, Omega might as well have been asleep. Her hands were crossed casually across her chest. She didn’t even twitch a finger.

Cyan popped her head up, somehow having slipped between Cecilia and Omega’s seats.

“New generation? How old do you think Omega is?” She thumbed over her shoulder. “November is the only one about to give up the ghost.” The mirth disappeared from her voice as she continued speaking, reverting to a cold monotone. “Even if Omega could retire, you would never make it into the top slot.”

Before Crystal could make a fool of herself with a retort, the bulletproof glass door opened.

A younger man dressed in a pinstripe suit and a plain grey mask symbolizing his trainee status stepped into the room. He carefully closed the door with one hand, managing to avoid spilling any of the six identical drinks he had balanced on a tray in his other hand.

The trainee—Martin—came up to Cecilia first. “Sorry for the delay,” he said with a slight tremble in his voice.

Cecilia dismissed his concern with a wave of her hand. She had been watching him out of the corner of her eye. One of the other patrons had accosted him. Likely under the impression that he was offering drinks to anyone who hailed him.

Taking one of the offered glasses, Cecilia found herself narrowing her eyes.

The glass was tall and clear, filled with ice and clear, bubbling liquid. A lemon peel draped over the ice, half sticking out the top of the glass. Nothing to be alarmed about given Cecilia’s preference for a vodka and club soda mix.

But something was off.

The color wasn’t as clear as it should be, having the faint hint of rose. Almost imperceptible, but not quite. Another point of concern were the small particles that had fallen to the bottom of the glass. Little black specs.

Martin moved around the room, offering a glass to each of the others. Reaper and November both declined. Omega failed to react in the slightest.

Cyan had her eyes glued to Martin’s waist. She entirely failed to notice him waving the glasses around in her face.

The only person other than Cecilia to take a glass was Crystal. She had taken her glass almost before Cecilia had taken her own. He hadn’t even offered it, she had simply reached over his shoulder and taken a glass from the tray.

Rudeness that wouldn’t stand. Not to mention very nearly causing him to drop the rest of the drinks.

Cecilia watched as Crystal brought the drink to her lips without a care in the world and downed a good quarter of the glass at once.

Crystal might not work out in the end, Cecilia thought with a mental sigh.

Holding the glass by its base, she brought it up to eye level and stared at Martin through the nearly clear liquid.

The boy had bullets of sweat dripping down the side of his face, just at the edge of his mask. He stood somewhat awkwardly at the front of the glass room, right near the door. His eyes never left the glass in Cecilia’s hand.

All but confirming Cecilia’s suspicions.

“Trainee,” Cecilia said.

Glass rattled as his hands started shaking.

“Next time you add something colored to someone’s drink, consider using colored glasses.”

“I–Yes, madam,” he said, ducking his head.

Crystal’s hands snapped to her throat. Her glass fell to the ground and shattered, setting of another titter of laughter from Cyan.

“What did you put in it?” she shouted as she stormed forwards with one hand still on her throat, knocking the tray of drinks to the floor as she gripped the lapel of his suit.

His hands snapped to her hand, pinching between her thumb and hand.

She let go with a slight yelp.

Martin, still holding her hand, twisted her arm. He stepped forward and locked one of his legs just behind her knee. From there, a minor throw had her down on the floor. His knee immediately came down on her throat, pressing down.

Cecilia was tempted to find out how far either of them would go. Unfortunately, fully trained employees were tedious to replace. Not hard, just time-consuming.

“Trainee,” she said, “release her.”

He complied, hands moving away from her hand. As he stood up, he started smoothing out his suit.

Crystal started coughing. Probably more from the knee to her throat than any effects from the poison. If it was what Cecilia thought it was—oleander, fairly common around the facility—it shouldn’t act nearly this fast.

“I suggest you begin vomiting as soon as possible,” Cecilia said, looking straight at Crystal.

The idiotic girl immediately tried sticking her fingers into her mouth.

“Vomit here, or where any guest can see you, and I’ll slit your throat myself.”

Crystal looked up at Cecilia with horror in her eyes, managing to tear her finger from her throat and swallow down anything that might have started coming up. She only held the gaze for an instant before scrambling to her feet. In her haste to escape, she shoved Martin to the side.

His hands twitched, but he managed to restrain himself.

Together, they all watched Crystal as she power-walked through the floor towards the restrooms. All while listening to the raucous laughter of Cyan echoing off the glass walls.

“Trainee,” Cecilia said for the third time. She waved a hand at the broken glass and spilled drinks. “Find something to clean this mess up. Then return with drinkable drinks. This is your one chance. Try to poison me again and you better hope I don’t survive or you won’t have a chance to regret it.”

He nodded slowly and started for the door. Before he could open it, Cecilia spoke again.

“Excellent throw on Crystal, if I might add. Very professional.”

“Way more professional than Crystal,” Cyan added. As Martin left the room, she continued, “How did she ever get a name?”

November leaned forwards, lined face turning to a frown. “Her performance in field operations is much more… adequate.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it.” Cyan slipped into her seat to the side of Omega and leaned back. Her relaxation lasted mere moments before she bolted upright. “I didn’t get a chance to ask who she put her money on.”

“And who did you bet on, young lady?”

Cyan licked her lips. “One had decent muscles and nice tattoos. However, I couldn’t help but put a side bet on six.”

“Six?” November said, glancing back to the screens. “Six is little girl.”

“I was a little girl,” Cyan said, voice once again cold. “All it takes is a smile on your face and a blade behind your back.” She flipped her wrist, producing her balisong again from an empty hand in a show of her slight of hand. Unlike before, she had the blade flipping around her thumb and fingers and even tossing it through the air to catch it in her opposite hand.

She paused her rotation of the blade, staring at it with a smile. “Nothing could be easier.”

“Six won’t succeed.”

Omega spoke, pulling everyone’s attention to her. Even Reaper turned his head slightly, eying her out of the corner of his mask.

“And how do you know that?” Cyan asked. Unlike her tone with Crystal, there was an air of respect in her question.

“She has no will to fight,” Omega said, turning her head towards Cyan. “I cornered her. She cowered, ducking her head into her arms, pretending I couldn’t see her if she couldn’t see me.”

“Oh, she was one of the ones who saw you. Damn, is it too late to change my–”

An announcement over the intercom interrupted Cyan’s panicked words. “Betting closed.”

“No!” Cyan wailed. “My ten grand.”

“You put ten thousand on a little girl?” November said with a boisterous laugh.

“Shut up! She’s cute!”

“Perhaps it is for the best that she won’t win,” November said, scratching at his white beard. “At least she won’t have to know the horror of having you for a role model.”

Cyan glared, but didn’t say anything in return. Instead, she turned back to Omega. “So, which is the other one? I take it you put your money on them? Please say one.”

Omega tilted her mask ever so slightly. Not towards Cyan or any of the others in the room, but at the screen straight ahead of the glass chamber.

“Four?” Cyan said with a frown.

The dark-haired male slept in his bed, just as all the others did. The only thing that really set him apart were the trails of dried blood that ran down his hair and ear, coming out from under his mask.

Cecilia didn’t actually know much about either four or six. Both had come recently thanks to Omega’s misstep. The most they had to go on were their passports.

Tourists. Tourists and siblings. She had people digging up information on both of them, just in case one actually won. But there hadn’t been enough time to construct a real profile on either of them. Not beyond Omega’s report, anyway.

Them being siblings might actually ruin a good deal of the event. Cecilia couldn’t be sure how it would turn out. She didn’t know how much they cared for each other.

“He looks…”

“Average,” November said, finishing Cyan’s statement.

“Yeah,” she said, turning back to Omega. “You must have copped a feel, right? Is it big? You can never tell with guys like that.”

“Cyan,” Cecilia said. “That’s enough.”

She could only tolerate so much of Cyan in one day. It was a good thing that the girl had become relatively autonomous. The only real times that Cecilia had to see her were events like this.

The girl pouted, prompting Cecilia to point a subtle finger through the glass.

“Seven is almost back. We’ll be starting as soon as she arrives.”

“Fi-ne,” Cyan said, hopping over to her seat.

With her calmed down, the glass chamber fell into silence. A relaxing, peaceful sort of silence. Everyone sat in their own thoughts as they watched Seven walk across the floor.

Seven stopped just outside the door and moved a hand to adjust her glasses. She was the only one of Cecilia’s employees without a mask. But Seven was also the only one who didn’t do much field work. Not unless absolutely required to do so, by Cecilia’s decision. She had the devil’s own luck in field assignments but such an eye for numbers that Cecilia didn’t want to risk her.

She was not, however, without her faults. Almost everything she did was a ritual of sorts. Superstition put little things in her mind. If something went well after doing things one way, doing them that way again must be good luck.

Even her name was a holdover from winning her event as contestant number seven.

The fiddle with her glasses generally meant something bad. She was worried and was hoping that things would go over well.

As soon as her fiddling with her glasses finished, she opened the glass door and stepped into the room.

November chuckled. “You know we can see you out there?”

Her dark eyes flicked to him before settling back on Cecilia.

“What’s the bad news?”

“Approximately seventy-five percent of bets have been placed on contestant one.”

“Reasons?” Cecilia asked with a frown.

“One of our patrons recognized his tattoos. It made rounds that he had worked as a cleaner for his organization some years ago.”

“That is unfortunate.”

Not only because she might lose a paltry sum on the bets. The main reason that was a problem was that others might recognize him. That essentially stripped him of his ability to perform any in-depth or undercover field work. Which wasn’t a complete loss, but did limit his versatility.

“Three has the least amount of bets,” Seven said, turning an eye towards Reaper, “having only one. Discounting contestant one’s overwhelming majority and three’s minority, the rest are relatively even with seven having the second most. A good number of people believe that six will fail to escape her room along with three.”

“I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see,” Cecilia said slowly. With a wave of her hand to the empty chair between Reaper and November, Seven nodded her head and took her seat.

Cecilia watched as the red numbers slowly approached zero. There was a certain energy both within and outside the glass box. Patrons were finding their seats and sending away distractions. Trainees were hopping around the room to ensure that everyone’s drinks were topped off before the event started.

She almost reached over to the side of her seat to hit the call button. Martin still had yet to return with her drinks. The only thing that stopped her was spotting him pop his head out from behind the bar at the far end of the room with another tray of drinks, a towel around one arm, a dustpan, and a small broom in his opposite hand.

The stupid boy was trying to follow all of her orders at once.

But, so long as he didn’t spill anything, she supposed that she could let it slide.

Instead, she hit another button.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming…”

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Author’s Note: I actually had the second chapter of Analyst about 75% written when this idea popped into my head. It was too distracting, so I decided to write it out. And actually, I really like this one. It is also the most planned out story of the three currently on this site, which might contribute to how much I like it.

Unlike everything else I’ve ever written—including the other things on this site and things from before I wrote Void Domain—there is no magic or magic disguised as technology. It is a modern day real-life story. Despite what I said in Analyst’s author’s notes about not liking Nikolai’s segment, this story is likely going to involve a good amount of gunplay and tactics and other things that I’m not so knowledgeable about. I’ve been researching a lot via youtube videos on my secondary monitor at work, but that’s still a work in progress. Should help with Analyst too though, so that’s neat.

Although I just said that there is no magic, the people in this story will likely still not be perfectly normal. This is still a fiction and fictional people can do all kinds of things real people can’t. They’ll just chalk it up to extensive training.

Next, I’ll probably get Analyst 002 finished and then who knows what after that.

Side note: The main character of this story is actually number four.

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7 replies on “Specter 001.001

  1. Typos:
    Something Cecilia was going to credit the brilliance of her assigned seating
    to credit +to the brilliance

    Even if they strayed nearby someone they hated,

    Unless it was one of the trainees’ faults,
    the fault of one of the trainees

    The home-theater sized screens

    pulling Cecilia’s attention off of the surroundings

    He didn’t shove Cyan off of his lap.

    hopping off of Reaper’s lap

    All the patrons around the room will see just what was on the screen.
    would see

    There are more than one way to get out,
    There is

    her shoulders were square with Crystals.

    For all she reacted, Omega might as well be asleep.
    have been asleep

    You put ten thousand on little girl?
    a/the little girl

  2. Cecilia is standing in an observation booth in the center, watching from behind Aion glass (whatever that is), then later it seems like she’s out with everyone.

    Nobody knows each other, it’s said, and it seems like a lot of people, but then it seems like only a few who all know each other. I don’t really understand the setting.

    1. Ah, I could probably have been more clear. It is sort of like a fancy nightclub. Lots of couch-like seating around tables, all angled facing the large screens at the front. The entire place is full of people wearing masks, patrons of Cecilia’s.

      Cecilia is behind bulletproof (Aluminium oxynitride, AlON) glass along with November, Cyan, Reaper, Crystal, Omega, and later joined by Seven and the trainee Martin, all of whom are employees of Cecilia’s, not patrons. They’re also wearing masks, but to keep their identities hidden from the patrons.

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