In the Case of Dust [Full Preview]

Liana_Mar'Ia

Thoughts of Dust

I remember back when I was younger, how I used to love action movies and playing Cops and Robbers with the boys, instead of House with a tea set. It wasn’t so much that I was an action junky or something, I just liked to dole out justice.

I was always a cop. If I wasn’t, I’d cry until I was.

Maybe that’s why I chose the vocation I had oh so many years ago. The formation of a brand new country isn’t something that happens every day, let alone ever. Of course they were going to need protection, and with their enlistment age being as low as it was, I dropped out of school and signed up. My father didn’t care one bit, he was too busy caring about his next beer to worry over his sixteen-year-old girl running off to join some other country’s military. The training was rigorous, but our Master was both tough and nurturing. Unfortunately, the kingdom never really saw that much dissention, at least not the kind that would cause need for our services.

Not until that one day.

That one day changed everything. Suddenly, it was hard for me to think of myself as a hero of the people…or anything for that matter.

I was set up in some hospital bed in Apollo, recovering from a gunshot to the lower shoulder when I heard the news.

Then I wasn’t a hero. I was an idiot, or…a simpleton, or some other, much harsher words I’d rather forget.

Finding a new job wasn’t that easy either. Once an employer found out what I used to be, it was “We’ll be in touch.” Not very encouraging.

I came to the United Nations Earth Subsistence Coalition, since they were supposedly “cleaning up the mess” that my comrades and I had made. Maybe I could help out, make up for what I had done…or hadn’t done.

They handed me a uniform and a pea shooter and said, “Glad to have you aboard our team!” with a shit-eating grin on their faces. Since then, I’ve been sitting behind a desk, coasting through a bleak little routine in a boring little office, not firing a gun, or helping anybody protect anything.

My battlefield is an office.

My weapon is a computer.

My bullets are keys.

All I do is type. No protecting the people, no saving a country, no making the world a better place.

Just typing.

Well…maybe it’s for the better anyways, I’m probably a little rusty.

[For Honor?]

Liana leaned back in her chair. It was quite comfy for someone in a vocational position such as hers. A small transparent clock ticked away on the wall opposite her desk, consuming time as the day marched onward into the twilight of the evening. She glanced at it and then lazily relocated her gaze to the computer screen at the corner of her work space. Rows and rows of text filled the flat monitor. Liana cared so little, it might as well have been lorem ipsum.

These status reports aren’t going to finish themselves, she thought, reaching for her keyboard.

Suddenly, a knock on her doorframe broke what little concentration she had mustered. Liana looked out the corner of her eye, past the curtain of her pale red bangs. A young man in a dark blue suit peered into the door.

“Yes?” Liana asked quietly.

“Umm…a bunch of us were gonna go for dinner at that new bistro down on the corner,” The young man stuttered a bit.

“Don’t you all have work to do?” Liana asked. Despite her menial position, she still knew the goings-on of most of her sector, and at least wanted to make sure the others were doing their jobs as well.

“We actually just got done. The last of the profile reports were sent out this morning, so…we’re pretty much good…for the day, at least.” The young man shrugged.

“Hey, rookie!” another man called from somewhere in the hallway, drawing the young man’s attention away from Liana and her work.

“Don’t bother talkin’ to the Chief. She isn’t the most social person in the sector.” An older man with a goatee wrapped his arm around the young man’s shoulder, dragging him away from Liana’s office.

“Yeah, some of her disgrace might rub off on you,” a woman walking with them chimed in as well.

“Disgrace?” the rookie asked.

“Don’t you know? She’s an ex-Heart,” the man said as he curled his brow.

Her? I heard there was one in the UNESC, but I didn’t think they’d be in our sector.” The rookie looked ahead, thinking back at the rumors he had heard since he’d been reassigned from Interpol to work with the United Nations Earth Subsistence Coalition.

The Royal Hearts, secret service to Luna’s royal family, were disgraced and blamed for the tragic fall of the kingdom under their watchful eye, although some would say it was blind. Luckily, the UNESC stepped in to pick up the pieces and prevent the entire country’s infrastructure from toppling. Even though the kingdom was destroyed by a terrorist regime, somehow the finger was pointed at the Royal Hearts and their apparent lack of intelligence, both strategic and mental. Crucified by the country they had sworn to protect, as well as the rest of the world around them, the now ex-agents, or “ex-Hearts,” were forced to live out everyday lives branded as ignominious failures. Some, such as Liana, even took up positions within the UNESC in hopes to help rebuild their kingdom and country, or, maybe in some way redeem themselves.

Unfortunately, with such a negative view of them, many of the ex-Hearts were turned away, or, in Liana’s case, given somewhat dead-end jobs within the UNESC to appease them. However, Liana was able to trudge up from the basement into a position where she felt she was finally starting to do some good, even if everyone else thought little of her. Sadly, when others refer to her as “Chief,” it’s less about being respectful of rank than one would think. It was more of a dig, if anything.

Her current position now? Chief of Security. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Chief of Security at an international agency? Not exactly, because it’s not that she’s the chief of international security; it’s that she’s the chief of security at an international agency. She wasn’t anyone too important, just a glorified rent-a-cop who spent her time behind a desk pushing papers and rapping at a keyboard, instead of out protecting people from terrorists. Liana hears more key strokes than gunshots and to her, that’s just not right. Aside from essentially being a highly decorated security guard, she had also taken up other positions that involved filing, typing up reports, and other tasks that no one else wanted to do. It was as if she became the doormat in a loveless relationship, doing whatever she could to appease her thoughtless partner.

“Hm…” The rookie slowly shook his head.

“I heard she still carries her gun in that briefcase of hers, under all her paperwork,” the young woman chuckled.

“Man, some people just can’t let go, huh?” the rookie added.

“If I were her, I’d want to get as far away from that past as possible.”

After that, the laughter evaporated down the halls, and Liana could no longer make out their harsh words. Liana sighed and glanced at the silver briefcase that sat on a chair near her door, before she turned her eyes back to the monitor, squinting at the monotony of it all.

“Sometimes…it’s just not that easy,” Liana muttered to herself, leaning forward and resting her hands on home row.

The tones from her keyboard echoed out from her office and into the empty bullpen, bouncing all the way back into her office, jumbled together with the ticking of clocks on the desks of all her colleagues. Everyone was gone, out doing something fun. All that was left was Liana, and the clocks. Maybe they were trying to tell her something, like she was wasting her life driving a desk instead of doing what she had really wanted to all this time.

The phone at the left corner of her desk rang. One of the many lights on the phone’s base blinked, indicating it was an outside line.

“Agent Dust, security, treasury,” she answered the phone listlessly, pinching the headset between her head and right shoulder.

“Oh, still agent Dust, is it?” a female voice chuckled lowly on the other end of the phone.

“Who may I ask is speaking?” Liana inquired, continuing to type at her keyboard.

“Awww, are you telling me you don’t remember an old friend?”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to be a little more specific.” Liana’s brow furrowed.

Probably someone playing a dumb-ass joke, she thought, it’s happened before.

“Let me give you a hint.” The woman’s voice trailed off on the other end of the phone, and then a distinctive metal clank reverberated into Liana’s ear, like a sword being pulled from its scabbard and then slammed back in.

To anyone else, this sound would be foreign — the slide of a pistol being pulled back and then snapped into place with a fresh bullet in the chamber. However, to Liana, the sound was something she knew all too well. Immediately upon hearing the noise, she stopped typing; her eyes darted to the silver briefcase sitting on the chair.

“Who the hell is this?” Liana’s posture suddenly changed.

She became rigid in her seat, holding the phone with her right hand, but her eyes stayed locked on her briefcase.

“It’s your dear old friend, Ms. Lightskirt,” the woman said quietly.

“Mar’Ia…I thought you…were dead?”

“Haha…not anymore, no,”

“What are you doing planet-side?”

“I’m here on…business…” Liana could hear the hammer being pulled back on Mar’Ia’s end of the line.

“Exactly what would that entail?”

“Something just a little too delicate for just anyone to do,”

“What are you talking about?” Liana inquired.

“Someone has been a busy little bee, volunteering to help rebuild a kingdom that’s better left as dust and rubble.”

Liana paused, registering the sentence in her head.

“You’re working for the insurgency,” Liana said, more as a statement than as a question.

“Aw, now you’ve gone and spoiled the surprise.”

Liana erupted from her chair, which quickly rolled into the wall behind her.

“Why is the Requiem trying so hard to stop the kingdom from being rebuilt?”

“You think a kingdom so corrupt it only makes the rich richer deserves to exist? You think a country that damns the people who protect it should get a second chance like that?”

“I’m pretty sure you don’t have the right to make that sort of call, Mar’Ia.”

“And I’m pretty sure no one can stop us. It’s the way of the world.”

“Who’s your next target?” Liana spat back.

Why would Mar’Ia be calling up Liana out of the blue like this? Liana’s thoughts quickly set upon the idea of being viewed through a sniper’s scope.

“Take a wild guess,” Mar’Ia sustained her last words.

Liana heard the ding of the elevators reaching her floor.

“I’ll be seeing you quite soon, Dust.” Mar’Ia hung up after that.

Liana’s heart sank into her stomach.

“Shit…” Liana immediately jumped from her desk, grabbing her silver briefcase as she exited her office, not even taking the time to hang up the phone.

As Liana burst from her office, the young rookie jumped up from his desk within the bullpen, startling Liana.

“Oh…sorry, Chief. I forgot my wallet at my desk,” the rookie stammered.

Liana lowered her hand from within the breast of her jacket. The start almost pushed her to pull her pistol on him. Ignoring the rookie’s explanations, she took off in a large stride through the bullpen, toward the main hallway.

“Umm…Miss Dust?” the rookie questioned. “What’s up with her?”

Halfway down the hall, Liana paused, and then sharply turned on her heel. Strips of dusk light sneaked onto the floor from the Venetian blinds that covered every window. The floor was still rather quiet. Rustling papers and slammed drawers came from the rookie rummaging through his cubicle, and the clocks, silently judging those who waste time, ticking away. Nothing out of the ordinary so far…or…wait.

Then, Liana felt it.

The presence of another behind her, back near the elevators at the end of the corridor, she could almost feel their heartbeat, the blood coursing through their veins, sending adrenaline throughout their body. Liana heard the subtle clank of bullets in a chamber and a hammer snapping back, firing off synapses in her head and quickly throwing her into nigh-subconscious motion. She reached her left hand under the right armpit of her blazer and gripped the handle of a pistol in its shoulder holster, immediately loosing a shot. The bullet ripped through the back of her coat, colliding with the assailant’s bullet halfway down the hallway behind her with a resounding clang. Liana heard the shell bounce onto the floor, next to her feet, acknowledging that the breach of her pistol didn’t jam. You could hear the assailant let out a slight chuckle.

Liana whipped around, firing three rounds down the hallway as she slowly strafed to the wall at her left. As she did so, she got a clear look at the assailant, a woman with brown past-the-shoulder hair, wearing a black leather jacket and chaps. The assailant spun back behind the corner as Liana’s bullets chipped away at the plaster wall, sending dust and debris out across the hallway. The assailant’s hand curved around the corner and unleashed a barrage of shots down Liana’s end of the hallway. Liana quickly dropped onto her back and pressed her feet against the wall, sending her sliding across the hallway and into an empty office. As she slid through the threshold of the doorway, Liana swung up into a crouch and flattened against the doorframe. Unfortunately, the office she now occupied had low-standing walls topped with glass, allowing one to see every bit of the bullpen from the desk that sat in the center of the room.

This is not a good place to be, Liana thought.

The assailant rushed out from the corner and barreled down the hallway, running past the door as Liana blindly fired out from it. The assailant returned fire, wildly blasting out the windows over Liana’s head as she continued on into the bullpen. Liana motioned out from the doorway in a crouch, shooting four more rounds at the assailant.

“Chief! Are you okay?” the rookie called from the bullpen. “What’s going on!?”

The rookie!

“Get out of here!” Liana screamed, standing up and taking off to follow the assailant.

The rookie rounded a corner with his gun raised, only to meet the assailant head on. Without time to react, the assailant grabbed the barrel of the rookie’s pistol with her free hand and pushed it downward as she stepped next to him, pressing her left shoulder into his right.

“No!” Liana yelled, sharply stopping herself as she watched the assailant turn the rookie’s and her own pistol into the young man’s stomach and trigger both, the muzzle flashes lighting up his dark blue suit.

The rookie’s eyes widened and he let out a loud yelp as two bullets spiraled through his stomach. The assailant took hold of the rookie’s pistol and then spun on her heel, throwing a kick into his injured torso that sent him backwards, slamming into a cubicle wall, sliding down into a slump on the floor as the strength of life quickly left him. The assailant held the rookie’s pistol in her left hand and her own, a very distinctive, foot-and-a-quarter-long pistol with a snow white frame, in her right.

Liana tightened her grip on the pistol in her left hand as she shut her eyes in anger, clenching her teeth.

“Hm…self-defense, wouldn’t you say?” the assailant smirked, a puff of cold air escaping her lips.

“Damn you, Mar’Ia.” Liana raised her pistol and set the bead on the assailant.

“What’s in the briefcase?” Mar’Ia’s smirk grew.

Liana raised the silver briefcase in front of her as Mar’Ia suddenly began firing at her, slowly walking forward. Bullets ricocheted off the briefcase, sparks popping up from each deflected shot, leaving only small dents in their wake.

“C’mon, use it! You know you want to!” Mar’Ia yelled, continuing her precise assault on the briefcase itself.

Liana swiped her leg at Mar’Ia, who flipped backward, evading the kick. When Mar’Ia landed, she was forced to backstep into the bullpen as Liana fired her pistol haphazardly. Mar’Ia fired back, several of their bullets bouncing off of each other as they screamed through the air. Liana flicked her right wrist, the movement popping the briefcase open, throwing hundreds of loose sheets of paper about the area, shrouding the emergence of a crimson red pistol — the same model as Mar’Ia’s — as it rose up from beneath the business documents. Liana let go of the briefcase and swiped her hand at the cherry pistol, immediately raising both of her weapons and unleashing a spray of bullets towards Mar’Ia, who could do nothing but dive over a desk to shield herself from the hail of gunfire.

“There, I bet that gun has ached for your touch!” Mar’Ia called, raising her pistol over the top of the desk, the subsequent gunshots throwing papers and stencils up into the air, the muzzle flashes bouncing off the glass face of a clock who enjoyed the gunfight playing out before it.

Liana hunkered down and rushed into the bullpen, dropping onto her buttocks and sliding into the side of a cubicle wall.

“No more so than the bullets that wanna be buried in your chest,” Liana remarked, sliding a fresh magazine into the smaller pistol in her left hand.

“Clever,” Mar’Ia commented before she dove out from cover, firing two bullets where Liana had been moments earlier.

Just as Mar’Ia slid on her stomach, suddenly wondering where her target had gone, Liana popped out from beyond the corner of a cubicle and blasted away at her. Mar’Ia log-rolled on her side as Liana’s shots ripped up the floor next to her, and then sprang into the air in a spiral, tilting onto her feet and taking off through a corridor of cubicles. Liana quickly gave chase.

“If I were to bring you in, I’d finally get some respect around here,” Liana said, bullet holes popping up on cubicle walls behind Mar’Ia as her bullets missed their target.

“You really want the respect of these people? I would have written them off as soon as they shunned me for being an ex-Heart,” Mar’Ia said as she turned, deflecting an incoming bullet with one of her own as they rounded a corner, the chase continuing into a large hallway.

“That’s the problem with the way you think, Mar’Ia: you’d apparently rather get rid of what you don’t agree with.” Liana slid into the side of a vending machine as Mar’Ia unloaded the rest of the bullets in the rookie’s gun at her.

When Mar’Ia heard the disappointing click from an empty magazine, she tossed the sidearm away like a used napkin.

“And you’d rather be kicked around by the people who have dishonored you. You’re like a second-class citizen to these people, and you’re just happily pushing papers around for them!” Mar’Ia’s face twisted into anger…or was it disappointment?

Liana peeked out from the vending machine, and then ducked back when a bullet ripped through the glass. A second later, she dove out from behind the machine and fired a buffet to cover herself as she moved behind a discarded mail cart. Mar’Ia ducked to avoid her enemy’s shots, and then pelted the cart as it started to move. Letters and stamps flew out over the hallway as Liana rushed forward behind the cover of the cart. Mar’Ia aimed a shot at one of the front wheels of the mail cart and blew it right off the hinge, forcing the cart into a curve. Liana shoved it away and quickly tackled Mar’Ia, getting within her arm’s length and out of the range of her gun. The two spun around, struggling to keep each other’s barrels away from their bodies.

“It’s better than killing them. Where’s the honor in taking the lives of those who are trying to do something honorable!?” Liana gritted her teeth.

Mar’Ia’s rebuttal was a smash of her head into Liana’s, disorienting her just long enough for Mar’Ia to firmly plant her foot into the floor and throw all her weight at Liana, tossing her through a large set of double doors. The doors to a great conference room burst open as Liana fell to the floor and then rolled backwards onto her feet. Mar’Ia quickly followed into the room with her gun at the ready. Liana raised her own weapon and backed up, sliding backwards on her posterior the length of an elephantine table as she unleashed a trail of gunfire in her wake. Mar’Ia dove forward to evade Liana’s shots, loosing her own gunfire as she fell onto the table and slid like a penguin right behind the fair Miss Dust. Several clicks echoed out from the empty guns of both women.

Liana dropped off the edge of the table onto her lower back, pressing the barrel of her pistol into Mar’Ia’s chest as she dangled over the edge, propping herself up by thrusting her pistol into the side of Liana’s head.

“This isn’t about me, or you, or honor. It’s about Luna,” Mar’Ia spat another cold puff of air.

“You mean the people who dishonored us?” Liana said snidely as she smirked, trying to ignore the hot barrel being pressed into her temple.

“We want Luna in the hands of someone who’s fit to run things. Those that crucified us don’t deserve to decide the heading of Luna’s future,” Mar’Ia said.

“I wouldn’t want my country’s future paved with bloodshed!” Liana kicked the bottom edge of the table, tilting the end upwards sharply into the air.

Mar’Ia slid backwards down the incline of the table and then slammed into the floor. When Liana dropped the edge of the table, she moved into a crouch and reached into her holster, snatching two full magazines from it to reload her pistols. Mar’Ia slowly rose to her feet and jumped up onto the table, rushing down its length towards Liana. Liana finished sliding the magazine into her crimson pistol and quickly whipped the gun forward, just in time for Mar’Ia to leap from the table and tackle her, the momentum throwing the women crashing through a window to the outside.

Liana thrust the barrel of her smaller pistol into Mar’Ia’s cheek, attempting to throw her onto the bottom of their freefall. Unfortunately, Mar’Ia retaliated with another head butt, disorienting Liana until the concrete quickly came up. Mar’Ia pressed her knees onto Liana’s stomach and braced herself.

The shock of the impact rushed through Liana’s body and buffered Mar’Ia. A second that seemed like eternity passed, shards of glass raining down around them, crashing into the concrete and splitting into smaller pieces. Liana let out a loud gasp as she tried to pull air into her lungs, glaring into Mar’Ia’s emotionless, blackened eyes. She slowly and shakily tried to lift her scarlet pistol up to her opponent’s head. Mar’Ia uncurled her upper body slowly, and lightly grasped Liana’s wrist, guiding the red pistol to lie across the broken woman’s chest. She then leaned in, and slowly rested her forehead on Liana’s.

“I’m sorry, my friend, but it had to be done,” Mar’Ia whispered.

“This…this isn’t…going to end well…for you…Mar’Ia…someone…will stop you,” Liana coughed, blood spurting out of the corner of her mouth.

“I don’t care about me, Liana. I care about my country.”

Liana’s vision began to blur, and she could no longer keep her head up.

“Rest now, Agent Dust. Your fight is finally over.” Mar’Ia slid her hand across Liana’s eyes, closing them before she reached for Liana’s smaller pistol and struggled to her feet, slowly regaining her strength.

Bystanders looked on in shock as Mar’Ia holstered her pale pistol and slid Liana’s into the front of her belt, walking to the curb of the street, stopping in front of a small dull red motorcycle. She lifted up the helmet placed on the seat, pulled it down over her head, and then straddled the vehicle.

Mar’Ia lifted up the visor of her helmet as she turned and looked back at Liana’s body, whispering “Godspeed.”

Before anyone could make a positive identification of the assailant, Mar’Ia slapped down the visor and sped off down the road, leaving her old comrade lying dead and broken on the square in front of the building full of those who barely even treated her like a person.

————————–

From Fiction Junction – a novella collection – by JB Sargent

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