The Beast Inside

Sister.
Orphan.
Assassin.
Muriel is all of these things. But when she forced into a situation by her monarchy - forced to kill someone unthinkable - Mue knows she can be only one. But will she go through with it? Will she kill to save those who she cares for most? Or will she risk it all?

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1. MUE

PART ONE - GIRL GENIUS 

***

MY SISTER SMILES CUNNINGLY AT ME AS WE EXIT THE BULDING AFTER JUST another day’s work. Me? I’m glad it’s over.

“Oh, come on Mue.” Patricia exclaims. “Not even a ‘well done’?” A sulky look darts across her attractive features. I shoot her a withering glare in return.

“What should I thank you for?” I ask sarcastically. “Deviating from the plan without warning or almost getting us both caught?” Patty pouts a little with her lush pink lips.

Almost.” She points out.

“Yeah, thanks to me.” I retort, crossing the pavement in order to end the conversation. Patty follows my tail like a lost puppy, grumbling under her breath that I ‘don’t respect her talents’.

I sigh. Today was a disaster, to say the least. I’d spent weeks planning everything down to the very last detail, so precisely it was planned minute by minute. Patty, of course, couldn’t have cared less.

We entered the compound at exactly 05:03am and were in the midst of prying open the air ducts when Patty panicked.

I should point out this was due to the gas pumped through the factory to dissuade thieves or any other intruders.

The gas, a mixture of the elements Sardium and Cotassium, produces hallucinations once entering the body. And I don’t need to guess what she was thinking of, because I could see it too, as vivid as the day it happened: the night our parents died.

So, Patty panicked, and a pair of nearby guards that I had previously informed her of heard. They came immediately to check out the situation. If not for my fast thinking and clear headedness, both Patty and I would be strung up outside the compound by now to ward off any other potential trespassers.

Patty had made a very simple day incredibly complex. The job had been easy: in, kill target, out. That was it. Thanks to my sister, it had been more like: in, knock out guards and tie them up, calm down sister and remind her of the Cotassium Sardide, go through air ducts, kill target, out before guards were found.

I push my fringe out of my face as I speed along the streets of London, and with every step I swear I might kill Patty if she doesn’t shut up.

Thanks to her, we have to get out of the vicinity as fast as humanly possible. I had calculated that once we exited the compound, Patty and I would have exactly 3 minutes until the next change of guards. Once this happened, there would be many people on our tail, looking for revenge.

But, if they couldn’t find us, that wouldn’t be possible.

Plus, Patty and I needed to be alive to collect our pay check.

“Hurry up.” I urge my sister as we turn into a back alley. “We don’t have much time.” My pocket watch beeps once, the little gem encrusted in the front lighting up red for a moment. I flick it open.

05:16am.

There will be a squadron of armed men searching for us now. We can’t afford to dawdle any longer.

We have approximately nine minutes to return to base. After that, our employers go on lock-down and we are required to return home, without pay, and potential tails following us to our home and to our little brother, Teddy.

We round the corner and appear on the streets again. It’s busy, busier than usual. The Annual Rosalinda Market has been set up and little farmer’s market stools will be on the streets for another week yet.

The Annual Rosalinda Market is in honour of the Princess Rosalinda, who was born five years ago. For a long time, the Queen was believed to be infertile until, by some miracle, she became pregnant with her daughter. The people of the Kingdom of England were so overjoyed that an entire week of harmony and prosperity was set up to honour the princess, along with the Market.

It’s a nice tradition, I guess. If you like all that monarchist bull.

I’m glad people can find solace in the thought of the Kingdom of England finally producing an heir, but I can’t. All that little Princess Rosalinda will do is grow up just like her parents: rich and oblivious to our country’s needs. Just what we need, yeah?

As we weave expertly through the crowd of shoppers, I feel a deep feeling of relief wash over me. Here, surrounded by masses of people with purposes of their own, I feel like a part of something bigger. But, at the same time, completely and utterly invisible.

In the midst of all this chaos, I am a ghost. And that’s just the way I like it.

Unfortunately, Patty, with her shock of fair blonde curls, sticks out like a sore thumb. I throw a black flat cap her way. After pointedly glaring at me, she loops her hair into a tight bun and gently pulls the cap over her head. A single curl strays loose but I decide not to mention it. Instead, I do the same and slide a cap over my own hair.

Another beep.

I check my pocket watch: 5 minutes left. Patty and I suddenly pick up the pace. We’re not far from base now. It’s another two minutes away, at most.

We reach the end of the Market and slide into another backstreet alley that will lead us directly to base. I visibly relax, feeling as though I’m finally in the home stretch. This will be the easiest part of my day.

My nose scrunches up as I catch the scent of all the rubbish bins lining the alleyway. For one awful moment, I feel a sense of déjà vu. Alleys like these were where I spent the first few years of my life before my parents bought a small apartment.

Patty wouldn’t be old enough to remember those days; she can’t have been more than three. And Teddy hadn’t even been born at the time.

The base is just two blocks away now. Our goal, and pay check, is well in sight. Patty grins roguishly at me, quickening her pace just a little. I push myself to catch up with her.

 As we round a corner, I revel in the success of our mission. Good job and all, yeah? But the victory is celebrated too early.

Patty shrieks before I see them. Her eyes were always sharper than mine.

I realise we’re under attack, ducking and rolling instinctively. Something slices the air above me. I’m back on my feet in an instant, face to face with a group of five assailants. Patty stands beside me, sounding breathy.

Judging by the way she’s standing, one of these guys kicked her legs out from underneath her. She’s shifted her weight to the right, so I assume she fell heavier on the left.

Basically, we’re in trouble.

I mentally kick myself. How could I not have realised we were being trailed?

“Trespassers are not permitted on the compound.” One of them says. I take note of his shaven head and the tattoo on his neck in the shape of a Chinese dragon. It’s the symbol of a local street gang, known for being unnecessarily violent: the Triskelion.

Okay, I think. We’re in double trouble.

“You killed our leader.” Another growls. I notice he has the same dragon tattoo, but it’s on the inside of his wrist. “The death of Don Amman demands vengeance.” He leans his neck to the side and it makes a sickening cracking sound. Patty flinches beside me but I stay perfectly still.

The dragon tattooed group begins to advance on us but I remain stiff. Beside me, I can sense Patty edging backwards.

The first man, the one with the shaven head, launches himself at me. I know what he’s going to do before he does it. In one swift motion, I duck his punch, step to the side and push the heel my palm into the flat of his forehead so hard that he rocks for a moment before crumpling onto the ground in a dizzy mess.

At best, he’ll have a concussion.

As soon as he hits the ground, another man runs at me. He’s more wary than the last, realising that I can handle myself.

I move into a right stance, with my right foot forward and left foot back, and raise my fists to my face. He swings his leg around in a roundhouse kick and it almost hits me square in the face. Luckily, I jerk backwards just in time for it to catch my shoulder and send me stumble sideways.

Recovering quickly, I advance on him, deciding to cut the defensive bull. If these guys stop me from getting my pay check, I’ll be mad.

I hear a male yelp to my right and smile. Patty’s taken someone down.

Whilst he’s distracted by his fallen comrade, I extend my arm and catch his jaw. He stumbles hard, almost losing his balance entirely. I quickly snap my arm back in and push out my leg until my heel connects with his stomach.

The man topples onto his back clumsily. Immediately, I approach him and flick out my foot, pushing it into his head.

Two down, two to go. I see Patty dealing with another man... so that just leaves the man with the dragon tattoo on his wrist.

I look around, but I don’t see him.

A gunshot sounds. Sparks fly off of the wall in front of me. Instinctively, I push my back against the wall behind me, realising he must’ve slipped into a higher vantage point.

“Patty!” I yell. “Get back!” A shot fires, hitting the ground next to her foot. She jerks backwards whilst ducking a punch from her assailant.

I grab a metallic object from my belt, one of my own inventions. It’s a grenade that, instead of exploding, releases Cotassium Sardide, as well as displaying different colours of light to confuse and distract.

Judging from where the bullet hit the wall, I’d say he’s two storeys up in an open window.

Taking a deep breath, I push off from the side of the wall, pull the tag off of the little bronze ball and throw it high. It sails past his shoulder and hits the ground on the inside of the house.

He fires two shots before he begins to cough and staggers backwards, weeping hysterically.

I hear another groan and turn just in time to see the last man fall to the ground. My pocket watch beeps and I flick it open.

One minute.

“Run.” I tell her before I break into a sprint. There is no way I go through all of that without receiving money at the end. If I don’t get this pay check, I can’t send off Teddy’s education fund in time.

I’ve been saving for months to get him a space in Eaton. You have to pay and reserve two years in advance.

Patty pants behind me. I’ve always been faster than her, stronger than her. But she still insists on pushing herself to beat me. I would roll my eyes if I wasn’t so busy concentrating on keeping my speed up.

We round the corner twenty seconds later and I see someone standing outside of the base, waiting for us. They don’t seem to see Patty and I approaching and produce a set of keys from their pocket.

No! I think. They can’t go on lock down. We’re here!

“Wait!” I yell. The woman turns, hand going to the back on her jeans where she keeps her gun. When she’s sees who we are, she relaxes.

Patty and I slow to a stop a few metres in front of her.

“You’re late.” She spits disapprovingly.

“Maybe we would’ve been earlier,” I reply in annoyance. “If you’d told me we were dealing with a goddamn Don.” Ms Porter, the second-in-command, narrows her black eyes at me.

“Now, now, Miss Xiang.” She smiles coldly. “Remember your place. One might think you were blaming me for your failures.” I sense Patty’s anger, and see her firsts curl into balls. Putting a hand on my sister’s shoulder, I push down my feelings and produce a small smile.

“I would never blame you, Ms Porter.” I exclaim, trying my best to sound sincere. “I understand the blame rests solely on my shoulders. But don’t worry; I tied up all the loose ends.”

“I’m counting on it.” A sly smile weaves onto Ms Porter’s face. I have the unquenchable urge to slap it off. Luckily, before I can, she turns on her heel and trots away in her ridiculous strappy boots.

Patty watches her back like a hawk as we follow her inside the base, shrugging my hand off of her shoulder grouchily.

I remember the first time that Ms Porter and Patty met. My sister gave her a look so distasteful it could curdle milk. To say the least, Ms Porter was not impressed.

I’d spent hours pleading with Ms Porter to allow my sister to join my task force and Patty had almost thrown it all away in a few minutes. She’d been rude, disrespectful, relentless in her attitude.

Not that Ms Porter hadn’t deserved it. But, she was still my employer and it took a full two weeks of begging, pleading, even bribing, to convince her to reconsider.

Even to this day, Patty likes to hold grudges.

The three of us walk purposefully through the cold pristine white hallways until we reach a dead end. Or so it seems.

Ms Porter reaches out confidently and touches the far left of the wall. For a moment, nothing happens until, with a groan, the part of the wall that she pushed folds into itself, producing a small security camera.

Ms Porter stands in front of the lens unblinkingly as a beam of white light travels down her body. Once it reaches her shoes and the light clicks off.

“Welcome, Ms Angela Christine Porter, Agent 1200656.” The machine says slowly in a monotone female voice. Ms Porter then moves aside and I do the same.

I feel the heat from the beam of light as it travels down my body; this always makes me feel uncomfortable, despite the fact that I’ve done the same thing every day for two years.

The first time I experienced entry into the headquarters of the English Intelligence Bureau was definitely the worst though. I remember waves of nausea crashing down over me; I’m pretty sure I fainted.

“Welcome, Miss Muriel Amery Xiang, Assassin 0000001.” I breathe out and willingly let Patty take her turn.

“Welcome, Miss Patricia Mae Xiang, Assassin 0000137.” It greets her before it finally folds in on itself and disappears through a hole in the floor, approximately 5mm wide. It never ceases to amaze me.

An elevator made from stainless steel sits before us. The symbol of the English Intelligence Bureau is imprinted on the furthest wall: a griffin in mid flight. My eyes linger on it for a moment. I never did ask what that symbol meant.

There are three floors (so three buttons, duh): the training floor, the command centre and the archives.

Ms Porter punches the second button with so much force I think she might break it. Luckily, the defenceless machine stays intact. Something bad must’ve happened. Ms Porter is usually better composed.

The steel doors slide shut, confining us all into what is essentially a suspended steel box hanging in mid air. An uneasy feeling settles inside of me.

My stomach lurches as we begin to spiral downwards and I make a blind grab for the railing. Patty, who is watching me with a slight upturn of her lips, stands beside me, perfectly unaffected by our loss of gravity.

I might make a better assassin than Patty, but she is so much smoother than me.

After about ten agonising seconds of imbalance, the doors slide open and I jump out. Before me is a circular steel table, crowded around by various members of the company.

I pause, realising I don’t know half of them. That’s weird, I think. I know everyone who works at this company.

“Don’t be shy, Agent Xiang.” The company director, Dr Raymond says, beckoning me forward. “There are some people I want you to meet.” Meekly, I join the group at the table where there is an opening. I take a look over my shoulder and beckon Patty forward.

I frown, seeing my sister being lead down an opposite corridor by Ms Porter.

“This conversation is strictly for your ears.” Dr Raymond tells me, a stricken look flashing across his face. “Ladies, gentlemen, this is the young lady I was telling you about.” Shock pulses through me. He told these strange people about me? What did he say?

Calm down, I tell myself. I want now, more than anything, to merge into a crowd or slip into the shadows. But here I am, exposed in the light of this awful room.

“Agent Xiang, this is-“

“Mr Faraway, Head of National Security. I know.” I interrupt, with a nod in Mr Faraway’s direction. “What I don’t know is why your here. I can’t imagine you’d want to hire me so... I assume you have a proposition for me?” Shocked, surprised faces stare back at me. Finally, Dr Raymond lets out a long, hearty laugh and starts to clap. My face immediately turns crimson. All I want is to disappear.

Mr Faraway mutters something in his comrade’s ear before turning to face me. Something about the look on his face scares me. I’m not sure I want to know what he’ll say next.

“Correct, Miss Xiang.” Miss Xiang, not Agent Xiang. That feels a bit degrading. “We do indeed have a proposition for you, one that I sincerely hope you will accept.” I notice with discontent that he doesn’t seem very sincere. In fact, neither do any of these people. I feel myself visibly prickle.

I never liked high ranking officials – and if they’ve come to me, they must be pretty goddamn desperate.

“You know, of course, that we are at war with the Scottish Democratic Republic?” Stupid question, I think. I’m an assassin, not an idiot. He takes me stony silence for a ‘yes’. “You might also know that their so called ‘republic’ does not re-elect its leader each year. President Kerr is an undeclared dictator waging war on our beloved nation.” As he continues to update me on a situation I am well aware of – I mean, come on, the propaganda is all they show on holovision (holographic television) these days – I wonder where this is going. Surely they can’t be thinking of hiring me...? That would be absurd, right?

“We’ve tried all the obvious methods of espionage.” Mr Faraway concludes. “We’ve decided to go for something... a little less conspicuous: you.” I think he intends for that to be a compliment, but I’m not seeing it. So, all I do is nod.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept, will be to infiltrate your way into their society and kill President Kerr, without being seen. It needs to look like an accident – like the Kingdom of England had no involvement.” He pauses, noticing my hesitation. “We can pay you handsomely for your help. Do you accept, Miss Xiang?”

Again with the ‘Miss’. I sigh. This isn’t a hard decision.

“No.” I reply flatly. I see Dr Raymond go bright red as he begins to apologise profusely, telling them that I need more time to reconsider.

Mr Faraway clearly doesn’t understand quite what I’d be leaving behind to risk my neck for. I can’t abandon Patty and Teddy – they need me. Who would cook for them? Provide for them? That’s my priority and it has been since my parents died. Leaving my siblings isn’t an option.

And I’m certainly not prepared to get myself killed for this goddamn country. It never gave me any reason to.

Mr Faraway is in the middle of urging me, no, demanding for me accept his offer, when I hold a hand up. He falls silent.

“I refuse your offer for one simple reason: I have a family, a life here. There isn’t possibly anything you could give me that would make me change my mind. So, the matter is settled.” I snap. “Find yourself another girl.”

Before another word can be uttered, I rush down the corridor to the room I watched Patty being ushered into. As I yank the door open, she pushes herself up from her seat in surprise, hands on her waist where her weapons are.

Patty realises it’s just me and relaxes. She frowns for a moment, her dark almond shaped eyes squinting.

“Mue, you look stressed.” She replies, as if the word is foreign to her. Well, it would be, I think. I do everything for her.

“Come on, Patty.” I roll my eyes. “We’re leaving.”

“What?” She asks in puzzlement. “I can’t leave. I haven’t finished my debriefing – neither have you.” I reach forwards and grab her by the wrist, ignoring her protests as I lead her past the shocked, outraged officials and into the elevator and stab at the first button.

For a moment, a brief blissful moment, Patty says nothing.

Until...

“Mue...” She says slowly. “What did you do?” I yank my cap off of my head, letting my golden ponytail fall into place. Patty does the same, though probably more attractively.

“Nothing big.” I reply, waving it away. “They made me an offer I just had to refuse.” Patty isn’t appeased; I can see that from the determined look on her face.

“What kind of offer?” She asks brazenly.

The realisation of Mr Faraway’s words finally sinks in and I feel my heart thumping against my ribcage. He seemed not to have even noticed the enormity of what he was asking me to do – what he was asking me to risk.

But I guess a man like him, a man who has everything he ever wanted, wouldn’t. But that’s classic high ranking officials for you.

I glance at Patty for a brief moment before whispering: “They asked me to kill President Kerr.” 

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