The Scarlet Badger – A Short Story by Randy Gonzalez The Scarlet Badger

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“Embrace the darkness,” her sensei said peacefully. “It is only a shadow of you. Like the potters clay. We shape a vessel. Inside is what we put into it.” “Emptiness. Don’t look back,” Scarlet Badger said to herself. “Can’t make changes, especially in cyberspace. Don’t leave a trail.” Quietly, introspection seeped through her consciousness. She’d always trained hard, fought smart and kept in the shadows. “No regrets, no dwelling on the past. As long as you’ve learned something from its history, and your mistakes, along the way. Most of the time, nobody does. Governments falter from the neglect of the people. Sometimes, extreme measures are needed.” “Shhh,” a faint yet commanding voice sighed and sifted through the darkened dojo. Her sensei whispered, “Infinity is the finite instant of moment to moment.” He paused with deliberate reason. “I can sense the chatter in your mind. You are troubled.” “Yes, Sensei Saiki,” Scarlet whispered back. “I am very much so.” “Then,” he reflected, “Give no thought to it. Let it calm itself.” So, she went back into her thoughts. Many are condemned to the madness of their folly; she contemplated while her meditation continued. To reflect on the need to redress grievances, she had to think and turn things over in her mind. In a social revolution, Scarlet reflected, that means, some of us have to be more vigilant than others. Take matters into our own hands. Like urban vigilance, for instance. You can’t look in reverse or the future either. Scarlet pondered this in a moment that flashed insightful images. No way, once you’re committed you have to go all the way. Not just words, but actions and deeds speak volumes. If you breach social conformity, she admitted. Then, you have to be prepared to accept the consequences. Freedom is not cheap. There are costs and some will make great sacrifices. In the liberation of an individual, as opposed to simple pretexts in motive, means and opportunity, and endless excuses, there’s always willful intention. Multitudes crave the lip service for pleas to be irresponsible, absent the necessity of accountability. Cowardice had no place where she had been. Scarlet admonished herself. It has to be done to the end, no matter what. No whining and complaining as most do. When caught, they make all kinds of justifications. But, not her, she proudly hailed the dawn’s early light. She was in all the way, even to death in the twilight’s last gleaming flare.

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But for now, inside her essence, within the core of her being, she felt the sensate intuition of the sixth sense. Above and beyond, a call to duty. Metaphysical nature defining her physical presence. Regardless, she understood someone’s was watching. Her instructor for so many years felt it also. A sinewy chewy gut feeling that gnawed the raw boned marrow of their existential being and bled with skillful anticipation. “Yes, I sense it too,” he told her. “You must take care of yourself.” “I will, Sensei.” She rested in her posture. Trust no one she reminded herself. Scarlet suspected she’d been right all along. Without looking, peeking or sneaking here and there, her senses detected the watcher teams outside. He’d taught her to reach into the void that held murky shrouds around the physical plane. Outside, danger came threes. Two foreign and one American. For her, to have picked up a tail meant her mission had gotten noticed whereby she became exposed. Maybe she’d been careless. Something in the candle light of a dim lit bar that she let slip. Too much wine, beer or sake. An intimate moment followed by betrayal of a close friend. We all let our guard down every now and then. For that, nothing is foolproof or failsafe. They had her under surveillance. And, most likely, her confederates were too. At present, Scarlet had cover in the dojo. Regardless, the resistance must go on. “You must go soon,” her sensei reminded. “Your rebellion draws notice.” “Yes, my teacher. I know.” Scarlet’s amative wits appreciated the exotic incense that permeated the ceremonial enclave where they knelt. This simple austere setting gave her solitude and sanctuary. All was quiet and they were alone in the temple surroundings. “We’re no doubt being watched. I have put you at risk.” “We are always at risk. Freedom is never free, neither is it an absolute,” he said with learned and cultivated expertise. “None the less, you will pay for this intention of yours. So, whatever you do. Do it wisely in honored tradition. Stand for what you believe.” “I must leave at this moment,” she warned and nodded. “Do what I can.” “Yes, you must,” he said in Japanese. “Go now, my young tiger.” As if an apparition, Scarlet put her movements into the shadowy edges between light and darkness. Lithe and limber as a fearless huntress with feline stealth and grace. Sly and cunning, she eased out of the dojo’s fortress-like design. Across the footbridge, past the koi carp pond and through the cherry blossom gardens, Scarlet vanished.

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“Someone’s onto me,” she whispered to her inner self. Sucked in a slow calculated breath. In the bleak alley-way, tiny noises crept close. “Sluggish and sloppy. Their motions are labored. Too much strong drink and bad food. I can smell them.” From the forces of earth, water and fire, inside the void, Scarlet used her energies. “Now!” In the darkness of the evening hour, demonic forms moved quietly. A meaty set of hands, connected to a bulky overweight body, sought to grab her from behind. She spun low, exact and fast. Timing, tenacity and spatial alacrity were her allies. Along with potency, placement and penetration, she forcefully blocked, kicked and stunned the attack. Her fire power flipped her attacker to the ground. He sprawled, shocked and surprised. As he recovered, he produced a knife. Faint light reflect from the razor sharp blade. The mugger cursed something obscene about her womanhood and lumbered to assault her again in the heaviness of his ineptitude. Scarlet understood a few fragments of Russian, as the obscenities flowed mercilessly. “Bitch!” He screamed as he dove into her. That awful “C” word she hated was tossed jaggedly in there also. At the same moment his backup appeared from around a nearby corner. Beefy and trudging like the first one. “Get her!” He yelled again. Scarlet saw the gun the other thug held. A Russian made Makarov 9mm with silencer on the barrel. Blue steel, crude and menacing. Time seemed to hold its breath and wait for things to unfold. Dimensional constraints wavered while perception became a series of slow motion mindful images. She was trapped by the two of them. One with a knife to gut her open and let her bleed to death. The other would shoot her in non-vital areas. Then let her body bleed out in a tortuous slow death by multiple gunshots. All she had for herself rested in her high heeled boots. A slim double-edged dagger. Well understood by her, was the manner by which they’d kill her. Painful death and open display of her naked dead body as an example to others. While the three of them held to a brief standoff, Scarlet heard a distinct report. Telltale signs of another silenced weapon. The shot came from a distance. One exact shot to the back of the gunman’s head. No exit wound. Instead, his head exploded like a ripe melon, followed by a cascade of bloody pieces and dousing red fluid. Headless, the gunman’s body slumped and collapsed to the wet slippery brick sidewalk. For that instant, the other man hesitated. Again, with the surprise of clumsy miscalculation and deadly distraction.

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“He who hesitates,” Scarlet murmured. “And, fails to embrace the darkness.” In those split seconds, she didn’t concern herself with the saving grace of the phantom gunshot. After all, she hadn’t been the target. With her knife quickly retrieved, she counterattacked with the ferocity of a badger. “Now you’re my bitch.” “Ugh, what the f…,” he emitted in a guttural gasp, an aching groan and a startled look. When she blocked his knife hand and drove hers into his throat, her movements were fast and furious. The assailant’s shock resulted in the loss of his knife. “You!” That was all he said before dropping. As he slumped toward her, he muttered, “Spy bitch.” “I was trained by the best, and it wasn’t your side,” Scarlet quieted and held him by the throat, as the other hand had already worked precise surgery. Eyeball to eyeball she watched the life transform to death. Blackness took him. “Not fast enough.” Careful to watch multiple directions, Scarlet stooped and searched for I.D.’s on the dead that rested lifeless at her feet. Aside from the poorly lit surroundings, in which her exit depended, Scarlet figured the police would arrive soon. A quick search had to be as thorough as possible. She found nothing as she expected. But, noting the tattoos, they were from Moscow and former KGB. Probably contractors to the present regime. In the interim, two others, high up in an adjacent building, watched her through their night vision telephoto lenses. Not far from them, a third team moved quietly out of the area and vaporized. That faction had seen enough. In the building where the shot was fire, a duality in a male and female team observed from the shadows. Observation came with faultless detail in colorful illumination. American technology possessed limitless capabilities. The viewing brought them close to being down there with her. They gazed admiringly at the badger, while scavenged her fallen enemies. In the process, Scarlet assessed any equipment she could use. She didn’t care for Russian made tools. Regardless though, a good operative uses what’s at hand. So she can be ready for anything. Both of them understood the tenacity Scarlet could energize. “Good shot,” the spotter murmured to the shooter and gave him a compliment. She let out an easy sigh and reached for a fresh pack of cigarettes. “Placement, penetration, and performance, pal.” She patted his shoulders. With sharp pointed fingernails, she plucked out a cigarette offered him one. Let hers dangle between her lips. “No exit wound. Perfect hit. Internal detonation. Sci-tech did well on these rounds.”

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“Thank you.” He accepted the cigarette. “Yep. But, know this, my friend.” He looked her straight in the eyes in the darkness of the drab hotel room. Gloomy, dank and desolate, hanging onto the night’s chill. “We’re not about to let the goddamn Russians take her,” the shooter stated firmly. He sat back in his snipers perch. “No way, partner. She’s one of us. If anybody’s gonna do her, it’ll be one of her own.” “I agree. Not the Chinese either. She’d want it that way,” she answered with a hint of sadness. “Too bad though. I really like her. Admire her abilities. A tragic waste.” “Yes, it is. No argument there,” he told her. Likewise, his tone held onto a touch of remorse about what they were doing. “Maybe she’ll come back.” “That would be a nice turn of events,” she replied. “But, she scares people.” “Yeah, and who are they?” He asked playfully. “Politicians, right?” “Ever get tired of being a puppet?” His partner asked him. “You know. Being manipulated by those in power, who’re really out for themselves.” “Yes, I do and so did she,” he replied. “We fought a revolution once against the tyranny of a ruling class. Scarlet’s decided to replay history.” “Don’t need a Russian pistol,” Scarlet snarled at the death scene. By now she’d put on black leather snug fitting protective gloves. The coverings matched the rest of her attire. “Let’s see. Field strip this gun and break it up.” After which, she scattered the gun parts all over the alley. “Okay, Scarlet, time to disappear.” The subtle ringing in her ears reminded her of three things. One, someone kept surveillance over her movements. Doesn’t matter what you do, where you go or who you’re with. Others are taking note. Listening, seeing and sniffing your every trek and trail. Two, she had to focus on her mission. And three, danger was everywhere. No one could be trusted. Not even those close to her. Or, for that matter, anyone from her past associations. All could be compromised and used against her. On a distant street corner, beneath raised train tracks, Scarlet emerged and hailed a cab. As a lone raven clad image, she could’ve been mistaken for some avant-garde artist roaming the artists’ hangouts. Her fashionable pant suit cloaked the reality inside the tailored fittings. Once inside, the cabbie noticed another car pull out of a parking space and follow them. A second before that, Scarlet already had the scent of her pursuers. “Wanna play a game?” She asked the driver in fluent Japanese.

The Scarlet Badger – A Short Story by Randy Gonzalez “How much?” He responded with interest. “This much.” Scarlet held up a roll of U.S. currency and he nodded.

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In his rear view mirror, he strained visually with the aid of the intermittent flashes of street lights. Rapid successions that lit the inside of his cab for a second or two. His eyes doing side glances while driving. Cautiously, he observed the tall lanky trim and fit woman. A famous artist he thought. Maybe the paparazzi are chasing her. He smiled at her angular features that claimed a wiry look around a fierce temperament. The cabbie could just barely make out the short cropped red hair under the slouchy fedora. As well as, the radiant emerald eyes that stared back at him. “Yeah,” she whispered to herself, “try to keep up with us my friends.” “Well, well, guess who’s behind us?” The American sniper said to his counterpart. “Chinese?” She queried while steered the white compact car. No sooner had she asked that, she knew the answer. “They’re not real good at this. Russians are out of action for the time being. Until they get another team in play. We’ll lose Beijing very soon.” “Yeah, they’re still in the gambit,” he replied. “Not for long.” Cat and mouse continued, as the strategy adapted to the attendant circumstances. Or, better yet, the badger and the eagle played a fast mobile give and take in a tug of war over narrow twisting roadways. The Siberian bear had not been seen since its earlier demise. For a while however, the imperial dragon lumbered to keep up with the ever changing tactical considerations. Soon, they got stuck in traffic. Up and down, and overhead, the density of the city’s terrain fashioned and formed to her advantage. Vertical hyper-commercialized glitz peered down at the in and out maneuvers led by the small yellow cab. Cars, truck and motor-bikes sped along side, both directions, in unintentional competition. Glass towers looked on, while they flashed smiling billboards announcing the latest techno-gadgets. Winding wet streets, probing pedestrian tunnels and bullet blitzing trains whirled around them. “Well done,” Scarlet congratulated the cab driver. Gave him an expensive tip. He tried to refuse, yet that would’ve been insulting. “Good to have seen you again. Tell your grandfather, my sensei. It has been an honor. I send my best.” “She nearly lost us back there,” the female agent said to the male agent. “You kept up with her though,” he answered approvingly.

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“Sure did.” She grinned. “Know why?” She asked him with jest. He simply nodded. “Like her, we’re trained by the best. Of course, that’s us.” For a fleeting moment, she wondered how she’d missed it. Subtly in discreet practically invisible human form. Something they’d anticipated but focused more on Scarlet. Seconds later, she caught on almost as if instinct had warned her. She asked him, “What?” “That’s a fact. We’re the best in this game. But, sometimes, we can get distracted. Or, just simply overlook other probabilities.” he murmured. In that same instant, a moment before he sensed something. Nearby, on purposeful illusion, a shadow moved behind scarlet. Let the watchers know there’s another watcher. One who watches them. A rogue of sorts, a ronin. “Someone we must be careful with.” At a distance, they saw Scarlet bow to the driver, part company and enter the vast airport. The spooky presence had vanished. Scarlet went into the main terminal of the Tokyo International Airport. She already had her flight registrations several times over. Phantom listings on varied manifests. Boarding passes prearranged. From Tokyo, she’d fly to the U.S. Virgin Islands and eventually set down in Atlanta. At that point, she’d disappear into the mountains of North Carolina. Her real work would begin. While inside, she sauntered leisurely to the book shop and checked out the magazine rack. Having accepted the feeling she’d intuitively perceived, her tactical mindset flashed red alert. Another pair of eyes gazed her up and down and checked her out with sensual appreciation. This set of eyeful glances had reached extraordinary skill levels. He admired her greatly, as he often did for such superbly talented women. Slowly, he sipped his espresso and watched from the coffee bar across from the book store. “Didn’t we teach you to surveil the quarry a bit longer?” he said to her without turning around to face her. She’d walked up behind him to challenge him. His accent faked that of an upper class Londoner. “Approach only when it’s to your advantage.” “It is to my advantage, Colonel,” she said with a smooth syrupy tone. Her voice rich with temptation. “Where’s that Amazonian sidekick of yours? Your Black Widow?” Nervously, Scarlet glanced around. “That venomous vixen. What the hell’s her name?” “Although some would say that’s a bit harsh,” he smirked as he spoke. Eyes carefully noted everything and everyone around them. Each hand movement, every step, gazes and glances, as well as the pieces of luggage they carried. “She’s earned that respect.”

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“Flipping right she has.” Scarlet leveled to meet his piercing stare. “Like I asked before. She anywhere around here? There's gonna be a scene.” “She’s in the Kasbah waiting for me,” Colonel Paladin Payne answered. His business casual attire consisted of a very expense open collared white shirt and gold cufflinks. On top of that, his navy blue suit kept an immaculately tailored look. Not to mention of course, she knew his body was just as fit as the clothing. Cast over that ruggedly handsome face, a grey fedora rested and angled to one side. “She sends her regards.” “I’ll bet.” Scarlet grinned with a fain but well-contained grimace. “She tried to kill me once. Thanks, pal. My god, she went over the edge. Must’ve been the champagne. I let my guard down.” She broke out in an affectionate smile. Her tongue darted between beautiful white teeth, perfectly rowed in glamorous symmetry. “Was nice though.” “Sometimes,” Payne started, “the Widow can be a little jealous. She gets a tad on the possessive side. You came as a surprise to her. In this line of work, we all appreciate every moment of life. We grant each other ample latitude. So, we take advantage of opportunities. But, now she’s behind you all the way.” He cocked his head to one side in thoughtful appreciation. “As for me and her, we’ll always have a special bond.” “Jealous? Geez-us, Paladin, she’s a psycho-witch.” She ordered an espresso too. Yet, while she drank, she kept a wary eye on her surroundings. Cautiously, she took a slow deliberate taste. “That woman’s crazier than a rattle snake and a hundred times more lethal. So, why me? Why now did you break cover from your hallowed shadows? ” She didn’t hesitate to quiz him further. “This is public. Why here?” “Many questions, you have, as our old mentor would say. Master Tomoenagi is concerned about you. Me too,” Payne told her with his flare for his stylish gentlemanly mannerisms. Don’t let that fool you, she understood all too well. “When you came here. He alerted me way over there on the other side of the planet.” “Baloney, Payne,” she shot back with a fiery look. “Are you concerned about me? Damn, that partner of yours certainly had some issues.” “Yes, I am,” he said without hesitance. His steel grey eyes met her matching hazel gaze. For a moment, flashbacks thrust to the present. Images flushed lurid scenes of wild salacious abandon. Reckless moments in the fury of hungry sensuality. “Several countries are having migraines. You, my dear, have stirred a hornet’s nest.”

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“Well, if they’ve sent you,” her voice trembled ever so slightly and covered by a snarl. Scarlet cleared her throat and swallowed heavily and turned a little mean. She imagined their last heated embrace could now be exactly that. Paladin Payne was a world class professional. As a rogue mercenary these days, he could be one of the most dangerous men on the planet. “They’ll certainly get their money’s worth won’t they?” “Badger, I’m offended by that,” he snapped back with quick verbal gunfire. His eyes flashed a hurt glance. She’d cut him and she was amazed at his reaction. He really did care. “That’s not why I’ve come. And, by the way, I wouldn’t do it anyway. No matter what the price tag. On top of that, Scarlet. I’d kill the person who’d take the contract. You’re very important to…, well anyway. Believe that or not.” He sat up straight and glanced to his right and made eye contact with someone. Down the vast cavernous concourse, she couldn’t tell who he’d looked at. For a quick instant, she thought a tall dark raven haired woman had returned his glance. Caped in a black trench coat, exotic features, and gloved hands, the woman had vanished. Scarlet shook off the suspicion and felt a slight headache with a little blurry vision. “My god, Payne. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that in you.” She was taken back. His reaction to her accusation seemed genuine. “I’m sorry.” “Listen to me,” he interrupted and accepted her hand over his. “The former KGB thugs in the alley. That’s just the beginning. There are others and they’re coming.” “Who’s outside?” Scarlet surreptitiously looked around. Her fingers tightened around his. They held hands. Their eyes mingled. “A watcher team from Langley?” “Yeah. They’re Agency. Don’t worry about them,” he assured. “Like you, I trained them as well. The Agency’s not taking sides for now. They’re just keeping watch. As usual observing mutual interests. Waiting to see how it plays out. In here, you’re safe with me. The two outside? They’re being kept busy for the time being.” “Those cretins in the alley,” she began after another sip of coffee. “Coffee tastes funny.” Scarlet gave a sour look. “Ex-KGB, huh?” He nodded at her. “The watcher team take them out?” She started to feel dizzy. “You had’em do that, didn’t you?” “Yes, I did.” His face became serious and he tossed the British accent. “Now, please forgive me scarlet and trust me. I also drugged your coffee.” “You bastard.” She jerked back away from him. “What the hell for, Payne.”

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“Don’t move,” he warned. “You’ll make the effects worse. No fighting. Our most recent elixir is quite refined. However, you can hurt yourself if you strain.” “What’d you use, you son of a bitch?” She slurred, wobbled and learned forward. Both hands braced her face. Her face instantly wanted to hate him. “Scopolamine? You rat, Payne. Was it scopolamine for sure? Bastard, now I’m all yours.” “An evolved derivative of that alkaloid,” he told her. “You know us, Scarlet. At Area51, we don’t mess around. We’re deadly serious. We’ve perfected it for advanced interrogations purposes, memory erasure and other purposes. Like seduction.” “My god, I’ll be unconscious and under your complete control. I don’t like that,” she demanded in a whisper and felt paralyzed. “Well, works for you, huh? You can certainly take advantage of me. I couldn’t resist. You’ll have your way with me.” “If I did, you wouldn’t remember,” he countered. “Where’s the joy in that?” “Weasel, bastard, I hate you,” she slurred as she felt the paralysis. “You won’t hate me for long, my dear Scarlet,” he assured her. “Maybe,” her voice garbled a final utterance. A tiny smirk appeared. “My god you’re amazing. Tough to the end.” He admired her. “One of my best students,” Payne acknowledged. “Don’t forget,” he joked. “Weasels are part of the badger family. So, my friend, we’re sorta related in a strange sense.” “So, what’re ya hoping for?” A husky female voice said from behind him. “A little incest with your family member here?” The vocal resonance of this exotic woman loomed ominously over him. “Hmm, weasels, polecats and skunks, oh my.” “Now, Panda. That’s a little crude.” He smiled without turning. “Your timing’s always impeccable, my love. Nice of you to join us. We’re ready then.” “Geez-us, Pal. You give her enough?” The Black Widow leered. “Sufficient amount,” Paladin assured. “Hello, Scarlet. My favorite little tart.” Panda, the assassin, tall, dark and dangerous said enticingly. Her long black hair was lashed together like a whip and matched her trench coat. Not to forget of course, the weaponry of her coffee colored stiletto heels. “Sleepy time, my precious. You’re in good hands, my dear.” “When Sleeping Beauty awakens,” he reminded the Black Widow. “Her mind-set will have been altered. No after-effects either. This is good stuff.”

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In the next second, Scarlet tried to make eye contact with the lurking Amazon. No use, resistance would’ve been a futile and wasteful effort. Instead though, her world went very dim and murky. Her eyes were still open, her mouth formed a detached goofy smile, and she appeared normal, except for a zombie-like personification. Scarlet teetered forward and he caught her. For all outward purposes, she’d look slightly inebriated to others and would remain in a catatonic state for hours. “I’m warning you, Pal,” Panda thundered at him. “She pukes on my heels; I’ll shoot her right here in the airport. No ifs ands or buts about it.” “Thank you for your undying support.” He turned to Panda then back to Scarlet, he said, “Let’s go, my dear,” Payne rose from the table and gathered her gently. Panda aided the extraction with seemingly superhuman strength. “There we go. Easy does it, my dear.” He ensured a certain amount of courteous flare, as Panda rolled her eyes. “Snow White, I believe your poisoned apple has taken full effect.” Expertly, he scanned the area around them. No one paid them any attention, as the hustle of the airport rushed along. “Your royal ball is just beginning and transport waits at the end of this corridor.” “We’re good to go, my dearest,” Panda advised him and took up protective surveillance around them. Inside her trench coat, which swirled like a cape, her long dagger-like fingers brushed comfortably over the butt of her machine-pistol. “Our cover’s in place.” Her voice was strong, determined and extremely confident. “Plane’s standing by. Our friends from Japanese intelligence are waiting.” “Excellent, my darling. They’ve always been very efficient in their assistance.” His sardonic glint met her reserved smile. “Good friends and allies as well.” Together, very slowly, the three strolled arm in arm to the customs area. Scarlet remained compliant in her sedation. She would’ve done anything he’d told her to do. That bizarre concoction made her senses naked, exposed and receptive to any suggestion. With inhibition laid bare, the prurient foundation for anything imaginable hungered for satiation. Even the most amative debauchery. However, for the moment, that was not on Payne’s priority list. Aside from the fact, his thoughts considered the range of potent possibilities. Security of the targeted objective was more important. Naturally, where Paladin Payne was concerned, all preparations had been organized with flawless anticipation for every contingency. There’s a purpose to everything.

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“Cargo’s secure, my darling,” Panda the Black Widow told him once they were airborne. She swaggered up from the aft storage hold. “We’re on our way and the Badger is resting. Hope you’re happy.” She slid in beside him. “This better be worth it.” “It will be” he murmured and met her steely gaze. “As planned.” “Do you love her?” Panda hit him directly and deliberately. “I like her a lot, Pandora,” he answered and held her searching stare. “She’s an excellent warrior. Like us. We’re the exception that ensures the rules. But, I love you.” “Good,” she said, etched an affectionate smile for him, as she leaned toward him and placed her forehead against his. “Then maybe I won’t have to kill her.” “Where the hell am I? Tokyo? The hotel?” Scarlet awakened with a jolt. Sucked a huge gulp of air. Scrubbed her face with both hands. Bleary eyed, she shot straight up in the middle of her bed and sat there blinking. “What’d ya do to me, Payne? Whew, I feel sluggish. Can’t remember a damn thing.” She hadn’t noticed she was naked except for the bed sheet. When she bolted upright, the covering had slipped away. In a second, the thought occurred to her and she jerked up the covers. “Stop looking at me like that.” “Easy, Scarlet. Everything is fine. You’re in one of our safe houses. We’re not far from home. You know, the farm. Virginia countryside. Where I trained you to be a lethal weapon. Sent you from here to our friend in Japan.” She nodded. Payne sat there, feet on the end of the bed, long sleeve white shirt, no jacket, blue trousers, and his black leather shoulder holster now visible. As usual, he looked suave and debonair. His pistol, with silencer, rested behind him on the dresser. Between two fingers he held an expensive imported cigar. She figured the cigar was Cuban. “You’re probably wondering about my partner. As to the Black Widow, she’s covering the exterior with some of our associates.” “My god, has she killed anything yet?” Scarlet asked sarcastically. “Yes, as a matter of fact, she has.” His handsome features framed a sinful smile. “We picked up surveillance once we landed at Dulles International. My partner terminated the lookout in the men’s restroom. Russian operative.” He paused to sip some black coffee. “Coffee? Tea? Some breakfast? It is mid-morning of the next day.” “Yeah, I’d like something, please,” she relented, relaxed and clutched the cover over her breasts. He pressed a remote control buzzer and she heard movement in another room. Dishes rattled and someone was cooking. “Did you do anything to me, Paladin?”

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“Yes, I stalked and sedated you. Kidnapped you, put you on my private plane and sealed you in a self-contained coffin.” He rolled his eyes and furrowed his brow. “You entered the U.S. as a dead person. In fact, Scarlet Badger was killed in Tokyo last evening. Or, so the legend we created goes. It seems some hired guns took her out.” He paused for the effect and watched her gorgeous hazel eyes flash red hot at him. “If you’re wondering if I had my way with you while you were under sedation. The answer is no. However…” he cleared his throat. “The idea did present itself.” “The thought did cross your mind,” she stabbed. “Bastard.” “Yes I am. No argument there, Scarlet,” he said casting a frown. A sly grin lit up his face when he said, “Could’ve been interesting.” “I’ll bet. And that jungle woman would’ve watched,” Scarlet snarled. “Maybe joined in,” he answered. “Black widows kill after sex, sometimes.” “Thanks. Hired guns, huh?” She growled at him, slid out of bed naked and took a defiant stance at him. With comfort and ease in her stride, she went to the dresser and found a new set of clothes. “Were they mercs with U.S. or British credentials?” “Oh, we’re talking sub-world class,” Payne answered with a jovial glint to his voice. “Not exactly that professional as we mercenaries go. But, the real important point is that they were hired by a specially selected broker for an oil company. This is in turn owned by a Russian mining conglomerate.” “That’s controlled by the Russian government,” Scarlet included. “Which is a front for the current regime’ in Moscow”, Paladin continued. “At least that’s what some intelligence services are reporting, including the Chinese. Who stand to lose millions from your actions?” He met her gaze and she held onto to his stare. “That’s our cover story. Just when you thought the cold war was over, it isn’t.” “Who killed me, Payne?” She queried with a mocking look and sparked a hint of sarcasm at the same time. “Anyone I know?” Quickly, still standing in front of him naked, Scarlet found a matching set of dark red bra and thong panties. Exactly her size. She pulled on pair of fashionable designer jeans, a light blue long sleeve shirt, with button down collar and located a pair comfortable brown ankle boots. “Was it someone who used to be my mentor, trainer and most of all, my friend?” “I am still you’re friend,” he said. “But, I will get credit for the hit.”

The Scarlet Badger – A Short Story by Randy Gonzalez “I should’ve anticipated this,” she cursed.

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“Well, if you want the best, you hire American.” He chewed his cigar. “Sometimes , you hire Israeli. But, we’re still the best. Yeah, on purpose, doesn’t look that way sometimes. So, to answer your question. I did it,” he said flatly. “Pandora liked the idea and wanted to help. So, it was our team who took you out.” “I bet she wanted to help,” Scarlet snarled at the mention of the name. “My god, Payne. I can’t forget the night she caught us in bed. Spain. Whew…,” “Neither can I,” Pandora said upon entering the room. She looked deadly exotic, clad in a black form fitting skin suit, and holding a serving tray. “You have amazing talents. Here’s breakfast.” With a strong stride, she edged to Payne. “Darling, I thought you’d be in bed with her getting some exercise and stress relief.” “Well, the imagery was certainly there,” he teased back at her. “You made me breakfast? Oh my god, what’s it laced with?” Scarlet swallowed heavily and stood near a simple wooden bistro table and hard wood chair. She thought of using them as weapon if Pandora got aggressive. “Cyanide? Rat poison?” “No, not this time, deary,” Pandora replied with a devilish grin. “He wouldn’t let me. By the way, almost didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.” Pandora enjoyed a good fight. But, so did Scarlet. “We can wrestle about it later if you want.” “Panda, please. Not today, my dear,” he jousted a little more with her and met her stormy green eyes head on. Neither flinched when they taunted each other. Who was the lion and who was the lion tamer would’ve been a convenient question. Two strong willed warriors in constant battle. It went back and forth all the time. Love and lust, passion and prurience, tenderness and unbridled sex. And, they took turns warring with the obsession they roared for each other. Bondage in their madness. “We have other plans, my dear. As you well know. The great game is afoot. So, let’s focus here.” “Naturally. Perhaps we’ll duel later, my darling,” Pandora said to Payne. “Just the three of us. Might be fun.” Pandora arched her back and straightened her broad shoulders. She set the serving tray on the table in front of Scarlet. Eye to eye, she said, “I’m quite the chef, you know. Here we have an excellent Spanish omelet, with grits, Southern style. Hash browns and turkey sausage. Some fat free jam and crisp rye toast. Fresh organic black coffee. Perfectly safe for human consumption. You too of course.”

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“I very much appreciate this, Pandora.” Scarlet sat down and prepared to eat. Her attitude was half acceptance and half resistance. “Thank you.” “Don’t get too comfy, Ms. Scarlet.” Pandora went behind Payne and relieved him of his cigar. She tugged on her shoulder harness, adjusted her weapon and dug out a solid gold lighter. Her jet black hair, muscular fitness and perfect olive skin sharply contrasted Scarlet’s red curls, slim figure and creamy complexion. Where Scarlet was red, Pandora was seductive darkness caped in black mystery. They were opposites. Pandora’s flame ignited the cigar. Her comment to Scarlet was, “So, you hacked the commies’ oil pipeline.” Pandora drew in on the lit cigar. “Gutsy. Nice work, Scarlet.” “Uh, sure. Thank you, I mean. Well, you know what I mean.” Scarlet had long been wary of Pandora. Her affair with Payne nagged at her senses. As to Pandora, it was a tenuous peace treaty. Most normal people would be cautious around her. The woman was danger in capital letters. Regardless though, she was hungry and dug into her breakfast. “Coming from you. That’s quite a compliment.” “Of course it is,” Pandora answered with an expression that explained she could’ve cared less about Scarlet’s opinion. “Enjoy it for now, my friend.” Darkly, she sucked on the lit cigar and blew out grey billows in perfect circles. Like a panther, she marked her territory, protected her mate, and handed Payne his cigar. Ran her hands across his equally broad and muscled shoulders. Raked a gentle stroke through his close cut styled brown hair. “Here, my dearest. I lit you up.” “How nice, my dearest,” he answered casually. “Okay, all pugilism aside,” Scarlet spoke as she ate. “Sorry, I’m starved.” She swilled a gulp of hot coffee. “The oil pipeline, right? How’d you get me?” “You’re not the only one who understands cyber magic. Your stunt shut down a major facility and cost the Russians millions,” Payne laughed. At the same time, he calculated amusingly the disaster Scarlet had caused the Russians from the massive shutdown of their Trans-Siberian oil pipeline. “Panda’s right. People are pissed.” He yawned and stretched indifferently. He’d been up all night watching over her. So had Pandora. Seemed like they never slept. “You left your calling card, the Cyber Tiger. Your signature was detected. Russians and their Chinese allies want revenge.” “You’re now an international terrorist,” Pandora added.

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“Certainly helped the Chechen resistance,” Pandora commented. “Unknown to you, your actions aided the cover of one of our covert missions there. For now, you’re helpful to our interests in the region. Later, who the flock knows?” “Look, Pandora.” Scarlet jabbed the air with a butter knife. “You wanna settle this right here and now? I’m ready.” She stabbed the table with the knife. The blade sunk in and stuck there. Wavered a few times back and forth. “Just bring it on, bitch.” “Ladies, please,” Payne said as he rubbed his forehead. “As much as I wouldn’t mind watching a cat fight. Let’s postpone the duel. Come on. We’re a team.” “Oh yeah. Listen up, pal. You started this, my dearest,” Pandora countered with a scowling tone. “Hold on a second,” she added with a momentary pause. “I got a better idea. Why don’t she and I team up and kick your butt?” “Alright, maybe later,” he said with a lurid smile. “Aside from that, you’re right. Yes, I did start all this. Okay?” He accepted Scarlet’s hard stare. As well as that from Pandora. “Later, we’ll have a three-way. For now, we need to formulate an action plan.” He glanced back and forth and got their attention. His eyes leveled with Pandora’s. “Our prime directive is in motion. Having the objective is not the same as wanting it. There’s an opportunity here. Table the feelings.” “Roger that,” Pandora said with a more compliant mood. “You’re right, darling. This is neither the time nor the place.” She retracted her fangs and pulled in her claws. “I’m good to go, Paladin. Standing down. How about the Badger? You too, Scarlet?” “Yeah,” Scarlet murmured and narrowed her eyes. Let out a huge huff. Amazed, she was puzzled and went back to her breakfast. “Sure, I’m good to go likewise.” “We have contract work for you, Scarlet,” Payne started to elaborate. “You’re good at hacking systems. We’re on the same side. You were trained by the best. Groom Lake, Nevada is secretly known for more than UFO’s. As you can agree I hope.” “Yes,” Scarlet breathed out a breathy sigh of relief. “My graduate work, as you know, was completed there.” She dove into the Spanish omelet under the watchful eyes of Pandora. “This is very good. My god. Takes me back. Reminds me of a time in Spain.” Immediately she caught herself. “Oh my god. I can’t believe I said that.” “You’re welcome,” Panda accepted the underlying compliment. “And, don’t remind me of that time in Spain,” Panda snipped in her unique way. “Don’t do it.”

The Scarlet Badger – A Short Story by Randy Gonzalez “Damn, I’m sorry, I just meant…” Scarlet stammered in an attempt to apologize.

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“Forget it,” Pandora blurted, rolled her outrageously gorgeous emerald eyes and tossed out a few choice expletives. “Just get your ass in gear.” “Briefing in the basement in twenty minutes,” Payne announced abruptly, sighed heavily and cut the two of them off from further incitement. “You two,” he ordered. “Stand down. We got things to do. Fight each other later. In the meantime, Pandora. Do a sweep of the perimeter. Check and update our surveillance team.” “Roger that, wise guy. I’m on it.” She quickly vanished. “Damn, Payne,” Scarlet said with a swallow of coffee. “That woman’s crazy.” “Yeah, tell me about it.” He nodded and furrowed his brow. “Something about you Scarlet. It’s nothing to do with the affair. We have an open relationship. Anyway, we’ll worry some other time. For now, we make time for this operation.” “Now what?” Scarlet finished off her breakfast. “Bastard.” “We plan your next move,” he said as he handed her a shoulder holster with a pistol. “Put this on. There’s a jacket for you over there on the dresser.” “Thanks,” she said in an appreciative tone. After strapping the harness on, she pulled out the pistol and added, “My goodness, it’s a Walther P99. Threaded for a silencer. Nice piece of workmanship. Expensive and fully customized.” “Of course. Not a bad sidearm.” He smirked. “Not my choice. But, Pandora likes’em. Come on, we’re the U.S.A. We train the best and we buy the best.” He tossed her another object. “Here’s the tube. Hang onto it until you need it. We need to get downstairs.” “Time to go huh?” She asked as she slid the silencer into her coat pocket. Down below, in the spacious basement of the cabin, a virtual electronic battlefield buzzed like a hornets’ nest. Images from mini-cams filled all four walls in a theater-like atmosphere. Several armed technicians, in black combat gear, remained glued to their computer screens. Every conceivable techno-gadget, intelligence gizmo and wide-screen monitor you could think of kept watch around the world. By its rectangular dimensions, the underground area had been reinforced and heavily fortified. Gray concrete walls kept them a Spartan environment dedicated to mobility in an emergency. Around the room machinery and personnel interacted with the hum and drone of focused interactivity. Everyone was attentive.

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“Well, Colonel,” Pandora sourly greeted him in the command center. “Nice of you two to join us.” She rolled her eyes and raked long fingernails through her thick curly black hair. “Safe house is at risk. We’re all concerned.” Her tone went bitter as she glanced at Scarlet. An acrid flavor of burnt almonds actuated her near cyanide-like attitude. “Because of her.” She was standing there in the middle of the room, hands clasped behind her back and kept watch over operations. “Perimeter sweep completed. Counter-surveillance team in place. But, we got a problem.” “Intruders,” he commented gravely and glanced at one of the wall screens. The wide screen animated brilliant colors schemes and depicted a dense lush landscape. “Good job, Pandora. Give me an assessment. How many and timeline?” “Six, no seven,” she answered after she viewed the same projection screen. “Very discreet. Well-concealed, heavily armed and moving at a slow pace. Heavy stealth-gear. Almost invisible except for our security counter-measures.” “How’d you detect them?” Scarlet asked innocently. “Discreet audio-wavelengths in their equipment,” she replied. But, her nature was no less hostile. “Non-U.S. made and no doubt prone to energy surges. One of them, I suspect,” she explained further. “Made a tactical error.” “Somebody made a phone call,” Payne concluded. “I’ll bet when they weren’t supposed to and that compromised their element of surprise.” “Certainly seems that way.” The Black Widow gave a faint smile. “On top of that. We figure they were hoping to intercept our signals as well.” Pandora crossed her arms and thought for a moment. “Timeline? Well, I’d give us three hours to their twelve miles out. All forests, tough underbrush, uphill and very remote out there. They’re following a very deliberate infiltration pace. Seems as though they’re not sure.” “Decoy hideout is to their northwest,” Payne commented wryly. He pulled in a breath. Twirled his cigar. “We want them to divert to the old railroad station. Set up an ambush. Lock down this place and put up the ‘gone fishing’ smokescreen. Train station’s long since abandoned by the state and the private company that owned it.” “Sure.” The Black Widow flexed her dangerous silken web. “Cake work.” “Wait a second,” Scarlet interjected hesitantly. “How’d they get this far?” “Good question, Ms. Scarlet,” Pandora snarled. “You make any calls?”

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“No way, lady,” she fought back with hands on hips. Gloomy faced. They locked gazes in a tormented standoff for about six seconds. “Don’t look at me.” “What do our techs tell us?” Payne asked the Black Widow. “Good question,” she started. “There’s not any possibility they followed us from the airport. I terminated their surveillance in the men’s room. But, we do know they have the vicinity, yet not the location. Then again, that could be a ruse. Their tactics could be deliberate. Someone could be making this look good. On top of that, the intruders could be trying to lure us out in the open. So, Luck, I guess?” “Put us on the run, perhaps,” he commented. “No. There’s something else.” “Lucky pick of the terrain?” Scarlet offered. “So, they’re pros?” “That might be. However, not a chance they’re lucky,” he answered with a grim expression. “I don’t believe in luck or coincidences. Deliberate intentions.” An alert technician gestured to one of the wall projections. “According to screen three we’re locked down here tighter than a medieval chastity belt. Nothing out nothing in. We’ve got enough countermeasures and shielding to be off the planet. ” “Well, all things being equal,” Scarlet chimed in. “If it’s too good to be true, then it is too good to be true. My opinion, if you’re asking,” she said sarcastically. “Mole.” “Normally, I wouldn’t.” The Black Widow snapped. “At any rate, could be.” “You got a…” She began but was cut off by Payne who held up one finger to silence her. “Uh, yeah. Sure, the screen says we’re secure, right?” “Hold that thought, Scarlet and follow me.” Payne headed back upstairs. “Both of you. Now. After we speak, Panda. Pull in the surveillance and plot a trajectory to the train station. After that, tell the chief tech to pack up and bail.” “Roger that,” she said in quick response. “Got a stranger in our house.” “So, back a few minutes ago, Panda,” he said as he turned to the Black Widow. The first floor landing was still and quiet. A slight pine scented breeze had a ghostly feel to it. “I think Scarlet was going to tell us we have a penetration.” “Okay, she’d be good at that,” the Widow growled and grimaced. “The new guy,” Scarlet barely uttered and gauged their faces. “Didn’t you congratulate some guy for making the team? Yeah, yeah, I know. I was groggy from your drug, but I still heard that. The one who met us at the airport?”

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“We did his profile and bone fides rather quickly,” Payne replied and grumble for a moment or two. “Possibility. Geez-us, what the hell happened?” “Hold that right there, big guy. What do you mean ‘we’, my dear?” Panda groaned. “You did a favor for a friend at DOD Intel. A merc who fit the specs we needed out of the blue. Uh huh, you sure did. Damn it, Payne,” She fired up her lecture circuitry. “You let politics get in the way. You cut corners on this one. Didn’t you? A senator’s pal. Senate Intelligence committee. One of our conduits is two-faced. We got a mole.” “My fault, no excuses, and I’m fully admonished for it,” he said with a regretful sigh. He chomped down hard on his cigar. Panda was about to speak and he stopped her. “My responsibility to deal with this. You’re right, Panda. Retribution will be paid. Goddamn it. Now I’ve got two employment terminations to handle. Scarlet?” He gave her a long serious study at close range, between both of them. “Guess what?” “I think I know what’s coming. Earn my keep, huh?” Scarlet asked and answered. “Yes you do. This is what you started in the first place. You lit a fuse and this is about to explode. So, there’s an opportunity here by which we change things.” He recoiled and rethought what he’d said. “Okay, forget that. Regardless, because I know where the paper trail leads on this, you’re involved,” Payne sounded ominously. “Let me think.” “I’ll do it. Don’t care anymore what it is. Or, what it takes, I’m in,” Scarlet agreed and skimmed a skeptical look at Panda. “We fight to the end.” “Well, well,” the Black Widow sounded a deadly tone. Geezus, I never knew what her real name was. Mala, Myla, code named Black Widow, Pandora operations, who the hell could ever figure the crazy bitch out. She’s just nuts. Her tone echoed her risky inclinations. “Imagine that. I think she’s coming around.” She posed with hands on her hips. “Maybe she gets it.” She nodded a few times. “Alright then.” “Good, let’s get to it,” Scarlet said to both of them. “Terminate the bastard.” In a matter of minutes, the speed by which an illusion can be erected defied the normal scope of the imagination. A so called average person could not gauge the reach and extent of covert operations. As if no one had ever been at the fashionable cabin in the remote woods, all appearances transformed to a deception. Equipment disappeared along with technical personnel into thin air, as if none of this ever existed. A for rent sign appeared mysteriously on the main roadway.

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Meanwhile, a team of seven, cloaked in the unique camouflage required, including Scarlet, stealthily inched through the dark forest toward the old train depot. At the same time, Scarlet wondered what she’d be required to do in the vacant expectation of what she’d already guessed. Three miles away to the northeast, they encountered a small clearing surrounded by thick foliage. The forced pace and the elevation had tested her fitness level. None of the team members seemed phased by the effort. None the less, the old rail system, hardly used anymore by the national park service, was not far away. Over the next ridge, the depot sat quietly waiting for unexpected visitors. “A senator,” Payne whispered when Scarlet pressed him. “He has to go along with his partner, the mole. The one who’s infiltrated our camp. Go to be done.” “The senator is a sleaze, a sexual deviant who has a penchant for underage congressional pages,” Mala-Pandora, whatever her name was said. “Not only that…” “Why not just expose his sexual deviance to the press?” Scarlet interrupted the Black Widow and then realized the error of her ways. “Sorry.” “He would simply play for the sympathy vote. Like most politicians who get caught with their hands in the cookie jar,” Payne replied. “He’d claim an alibi, an excuse, like an addiction, go into rehab and still put our country at risk.” “He will never see justice,” the Black Widow warned. “This man is way too powerful. Our system will be unable to do anything to him.” “She’s right about that,” Payne added. “He put the hit on you, Scarlet, and leaked your file to our old enemies,” the fierce Amazon continued. “The Russians and the Chinese. He’s in bed with all of’em.” “He’s a threat to national security and the republic for which we stand,” Payne added right behind the Black Widow. “This is your first initiation into our network. You know there’s a line here. You crossed one when you became a vigilante hacker.” “You know what they say,” Mala added with a wicked wink. “Ballots or bullets. There comes a time when freedom must be redefined by the death of corrupt people.” She paused while Scarlet considered what Thomas Jefferson had said about the liberty tree. Mala said, “That’s especially true when corruption affects the governed.” “Mala makes a good point,” Payne agreed and it showed in his expression. He looked around, gave hand signals to the others, and looked at me. “Your call, Scarlet.”

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“I understand that, Payne,” Scarlet said with annoyance. “I don’t make any excuses. Sure, I’m a cyber-burglar, who’s committed numerous digital break-ins.” “Up to now,” he started again. “No one’s gotten physically injured. Sure, you stole some data, caused monetary losses and you shut down some computer systems. You cost the Russians and the Chinese a pile of money. This is different.” Our eyes met at a hard crossroad of thinking. “You’re going to commit a homicide.” “Only two choices here.” The Black Widow stared deeply into Scarlet’s eyes. “You’re with us, or you’re on your own. Choose the latter and you’re dead.” “Wow, that puts it in perspective,” she said looking at Payne for a cue. “Sorry, Scarlet,” he answered after a long pause. “You’re too good to be left out in the cold by yourself. Eventually, they would get you and torture you.” “We can’t take the chance you’d survive,” the Black Widow warned ominously. “Geezus, I’m screwed,” Scarlet said remorsefully. “Aren’t I?” “Well,” Mala-Pandora glanced at Payne. “Yeah, you have been several times.” “Uh, okay. Thank you for that.” Scarlet blew out a breath. “Let’s get it done.” “Over the ridge, the train depot.” Payne pointed, as the others deployed. “Those four,” Panda started to explain. “Will set up a perimeter and take out the opposing forces. This will be done so quickly, you won’t believe it. You will then have a few seconds to rush the senator’s car. One of these guys will fire a special charge into the car’s electrical system.” She noted Scarlet’s furrowed brow. “No, don’t worry about that. We’ll blow the lock mechanism from a distance. Can’t explain now how it works. You enter the limo and kill him quickly. And, the mole will be there too. Both go down.” “You got that.” Scarlet nodded to him her acceptance of all this. “Okay then. That’s settled. We go now and don’t look back,” Payne said to the two of them. He glanced at his tactical watch. “Scarlet, time is of the essence. Get it done.” Over the ridge, through the woods, at a deliberately fast pace, nearly in a crouch, they moved on their target. A circular tactic surrounded the old rail transport facility. From a short distance in the dark green thickets, the historic depot came into view. Rustic, boarded up with old ply wood, and snugly masked by leafy vines, the station house seemed a portrait from another era. A long graveled roadway, overgrown weeds, strewn with woodsy debris led up to the front of the building.

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On the platform outside the ticket office, two sentries stood guard. Others had encircled the dark armored limo, while two black SUV’s parked behind it. In the back seat of the limo, two men appeared to be engrossed in a conversation. All had an oblivious misconception about how secure they were here deep in the woods. With binoculars, Payne surveyed the scene and was satisfied as to their overconfidence. In the next few seconds, all that would change as death invited the next move. At close range and upon his signal, the snipers opened up. With rapid fire recoil and the smell of gunpowder, the air came alive with a firefight. The heavy thuds of muffled pops, like some kid playing a joke with a paper bag full of hot air, disrupted the sound waves. All around the senator’s black limo, security personnel shrieked in horror and slumped to the ground. Bodies were torn apart by the gut splitting impact of specially made ammunition. In the madness of their surprised horror, bullet riddled security personnel dropped to the ground to display a macabre scene of slaughter. As quickly as it began, the assault was over. Mala had been right that it happened so fast, the mind could hardly comprehend the deadly accuracy and swiftness of this professional killing spree. For this small band of rebels, they were highly skilled in their abilities. At which point, she rushed the limo and heard the sizzling crackle of the car’s electrical system. With the wiring system shorted out, the door locks popped up and the limo was now unsecure from the outside. Once she’d made it to the rear door, her eyes picked up on the chauffer. The top of his head was missing. No doubt, one of the sniper’s had taken care of the member of the senator’s security team. “Don’t move you two bastards!” She yelled after jerking the door open. Blood from the chauffer splattered and stained both her targets. Their expensive suits and crisp white shirts were spotted with red debris. “You’re both guilty of treason,” she said more calmly and in complete control of her senses. “Hereby sentenced to death.” “Please! Don’t shoot!” The senator’s aide pleaded with her. He was the mole who’d betrayed Payne, Scarlet and the others. “I will tell you everything,” he began to mutter while cowering on the floor board. “The senator planned it all. He knows.” “Shut up you coward,” the bloated and pompous senator thundered. To Scarlet he threatened and cursed profanities at her, “Listen up, bitch. I don’t know who you think you are. How dare you mess with me. Do you know who I am?”

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“Wait! I beg you!” Again the mole whined, lost his nerve and pleaded from his former pretext of false bravado. She thought for a moment, unlike badgers, moles are like other rodents. They’re sneaky, hide in the shadows and destroy things. He blurted out, “Look, I had no choice.” Scarlet thought again, there are always choices. “The senator controls the money, the secret conduits and all resources. He’s the runs the whole thing.” “Shut up, you rat,” Scarlet ordered the former aide and turned her attention from the foul mouthed cursing senator. “You first, you traitor. In the name of the republic, you’ve been found guilty of treason.” In her mind, she heard the echo of her old sensei’s voice, ‘embrace the darkness’, as a subtle reminder of what she must do. “You sold us out during a time of war. You selfish little bastard! No whining and sniveling.” Without further hesitance she pointed her muffled pistol, ‘embrace the darkness’ came to mind again. Through the vigilant view of her steely gaze, Scarlet squeezed the trigger. With a snap of the pistol, the echo of a silenced spurt put one shot in the middle of his forehead. Poof, a crimson crater punched through the bone. Blood dripped down his curving nose, as the force of the impact drove him backwards. His skull fractured and his head jerked in reverse. His body dropped to the floor, where he slumped dead. A few seconds slipped by, as she watched the man die. His ashen face, eyes wide open, the stare of death met hers. Sure, she considered, she’d killed in combat as a soldier, under orders, national security and for self-defense. Fought in the Middle East as an Army cop. Yeah, and she was a cyber-hacker too. The Cyber Tiger was the best of the best. But, that didn’t count for anything right now. Nothing did. However, this excursion to the dark side was different than all that. For clearly to her, she was outside the framework for standard rules of engagement. In an overt war, killing had a different justification. As to the covert war of resistance, this experience had a transformational effect on her. Now, she was an assassin and she had committed a killing. Was it murder or justifiable homicide? Would there be more? “Now, you listen to me, bitch,” the senator once again challenged in his bloated and pompous manner. “No matter what you think you’re doing. Or, what you think you know. You better listen up.” Globs of white spittle drooled down his chin in his hostile cursing at her. He bellowed all kinds of derisive words. “You’re in deep trouble here. Why, I’ll have you bound, gagged and pulled apart by sundown.”

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“A fat, sweaty, selfish windbag to the end,” Scarlet whispered ever so gently. Her voice lingered as a cool breeze of insightful judgment on a hot sweltering afternoon. “Death follows in your footsteps, senator.” With all deliberate control of her well-trained senses, she stared the senator into the corner. Again, she recalled the wisdom of her sensei. If you’re going to kill a serpent, then you must kill all of it. “Our republic suffers injustice and tyranny men like you created.” He seemed to listen, but only to the extent he gained advantage from it. “All tyranny needs to oppress the people, put them in slavery and fatten your selfish coffers, is a few good people to do nothing.” “You’re just a frustrated woman trying to act like a man. A prissy wench who needs a good hard pounding. Misguided, simple minded idealistic bitch. Listen alley-cat, I will hang your skinned ass from my barn door,” he cursed again at her. Yet, he seemed to wince at the sight of her gun. To distance himself, he pulled back and pressed his bulbous bulk hard into the black cushioned seat of the limo. “After I have done things to your body you can’t begin to imagine, I’ll tan your hide like a deer.” “See you in hell, you bastard,” she said calmly, without a hint of vengeance and whipped up her pistol. For a few purposeful seconds, Scarlet let him look down the silenced barrel of her gun. “Senator, you have been found guilty by we the people and hereby sentenced to immediate execution with extreme prejudice.” “Hold on, wait, come on wait!” He heard the click as she cocked the hammer on her auto-pistol. “Okay. I can see you’re upset by all this. Let’s make a deal.” He leaned forward as if to console her, with big fat jowls flashing a grin. “Come on now.” “Stay back, hog boy,” she threatened and poked her pistol a little closer to his face. Scarlet knew better than to get too close, or put her gun within reach of her adversary. “No deal fatso. You time’s up. Your death dealing days are over.” “What?” The senator sucked a heavy gulp of air, then gasp as if choking, when he saw two lone figures standing behind Scarlet. Like warrior archangels, the two struck immediate fear in him. He cringed at his fate and pled for his life. “No, oh my god, Paladin Payne and Mala. Please, I beg you, show mercy!” “No mercy for enemies of the republic,” Scarlet whispered, felt the valiant presence of her new partners and squeezed the trigger. Poof went the burst of the bullet into the senator’s forehead and he died instantly. “Welcome to the Scarlet Badger.”

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