I’m a little late on this one, but life got in the way. Anyway, I went with the story Miranda by Henry, second part by CJ.
Part 1 (By Henry)
It takes 31 separate steps to set up a proper party, or so Mother always said. She spent so much time nattering on about how best to do this or that, I don’t know whether she realized that I tuned her out nearly every step of the way. It wasn’t that I hated her, though I did a little at the time, it was just that there were always things that seemed more important for me to pay attention to. I think she’d be pleased to know that I’ve come around these days, that I now treasure some of the things she tried so hard to drill into my head. I’ve only really held onto the most important ones, I think, and a few of the ones that she repeated too many times for me to forget. What, you ask, brings this to mind today? The most important of my mother’s lessons: always have fall guys, always have alibis. I really do think she’d be pleased by how much I’ve put that lesson to good use.
Mother always seemed so concerned with maintaining a good standing in polite society that I never realized just how deep a game she was playing until she had passed. Who, after all, would suspect such a peacocking spendthrift socialite? Not even I put all the pieces together until I received her letter.
Nothing quashes carefully calculated youthful rebellion quite like discovering simultaneously that your mother has died in a yachting accident while traveling with high society friends in the Keys, and that your mother has actually been working since before your birth as an infiltrator, spy, saboteur, and assassin. Oh, and that the yachting accident was definitely a cover story for something a bit more grim.
But back to the fall guys and alibis, Charles, I’m sure you understand where this is going. I’m afraid that this little message is nothing more than a trite fare-thee-well. If you’re reading this, it’s because I already own your systems. I’m afraid that they’ll all start a truly magnificent re-write process shortly, and there will be no trace of this message for you to share with anyone. Nor will there be any way to prove that you didn’t erase all your hard drives in a failed attempt to dissuade the really very nice officers that you didn’t actually have anything to do with that child pornography ring.
I’m sure you can try to tell your side of the story, but conspiracy tales and protestations of innocence from rich men caught next to child porn only go so far. And, of course, if you say the wrong things to the wrong people, you could face a number of things far worse than jail time. I do hope you enjoy your last few moments of freedom.
Love and kisses,
Payback’s a bitch,
Miranda watched the monitor program she had running on her laptop, operating her man-in-the-middle attack on Charles Goming Webbling. The photo upload he’d just attempted to make from his phone was already being processed and sanitized. She shook her head, smiling silently. He really should have realized that she wouldn’t have given him any message if she didn’t already have everything it took to prevent that message from getting out. The federal agents had already been apprised of the “situation” and were en route. She felt a little bad for them, given that her step-father’s private security goons might actually try to start a gunfight, but that would only help to sink her step-father even faster. Fitting, given that he’d sunk her mother by tying her to a lead weight.
It helped that her step-father had never realized that she’d figured out his role in her mother’s death several years earlier. It was amazing just how much more sense her mother’s re-marriage made in the context of her mother’s investigations. Her mother’s apologies to her, for everything from Charles to Miranda’s lack of friends… even as she’d done her best to train Miranda to take her place some day, she’d still clearly wanted to give her daughter something like a regular childhood. Or, at least, something similar to one that would still be useful to a future spy.
Miranda’s mother’s employers had been pathetically eager to speak with her once she made contact with them. It had been almost child’s play, really. They were so frightened of the possibility that Charles Webbling and his business associates were all in bed with ASPIRE that they were willing to do anything to work with the daughter of Lucretia DiMercurio. Miranda thought that their obsession with her mother’s progeny was nearly as creepy as the clandestine bio-engineering eugenics programs that they were so eager to oppose, but her current benefactors were still useful.
Sighing, Miranda rubbed her eyes gently and leaned back from her computer as news of Webbling’s arrest began filtering out to media sites. She stood up from her desk, beginning her quick stretching sequence to limber up after spending so long sitting, and then wandered over to the big whiteboard that she’d attached to the wall. With a feeling of elation bubbling in her chest, she drew a thick line through Webbling’s name. There were still three more of his cohort to go through. One of them had to have the links to those ASPIRE techno-eugenics bastards that her benefactors were looking for. And even if they didn’t, she smiled, she still had the perfect excuse to ruin their lives in revenge for what they’d done to her mother.
A jaunty Christmas jingle started running through her head, and she grinned as she altered the words. “She knows when you are sleeping, she knows when you’re awake,” her voice filled the small room as she hummed her way through the next few bars, focused on the names remaining. “Mi-ran-da is coming to town.” She smiled, toothily.
Part 2 (By CJ)
Sometimes you have to get up close and personal to get the job done.
“Tell me where it is!” Miranda kicked the groaning man once more for emphasis. She looked down at her boots after to make sure she hadn’t scuffed the tip. They were one of her mother’s last gifts to her. She’d hate to waste it on this worm.
He was shaking his head, leaning against the brick wall. Miranda crouched down so they were almost at eye level. “Tell me. Do you think what happened to Charles Webbling was an accident? I will ruin you if you don’t give me what I want.”
She didn’t bother to tell him she planned to ruin his life anyway. Jacob Alexander had been an easy man to find, flaunting his wealth at any casino that would let him start a line of credit. She hadn’t seen one refuse him yet; maybe because he was terrible at gambling. He owed over half a million between five places already and had been well on his way to increasing that number when she’d found him.
“I, I don’t know anything.” He wheezed. She figured he’d had a few ribs cracked when the bouncers of the casino got an anonymous tip he was counting cards. They’d deposited him almost at her feet in the alley outside.
“Jacob, you know, I want to believe you. I really do, but this,” Miranda turned her phone around so he could see his online bank account balance. “This makes me think you’re getting paid to lie.”
“I can’t tell you anything.”
“You don’t even have to. I already know. I know your money comes from untraceable sources. I know over two million dollars appeared hours after your last meeting with Charles. And I know you left that meeting with something I need.”
“They’ll kill me.” She rolled her eyes.
“I’ll do worse.” Miranda hit a button on her phone and the bank balance started dropping. Jacob made a strangled squawking sound. Men like him were always the same; they valued money more than the idea of their lives. “Clock is ticking. Sooner or later it’s going to hit zero. I don’t think the casinos will be happy when they realise you can’t pay your debts.”
“I don’t know where it is anymore. That’s what happens. No one can hang on to it for long, and with Charles with the feds and everyone worried he’ll make a deal, we had to change things around.”
“Keep talking.” Miranda stood up, making it look casual even though her thighs were burning from crouching so long. She leaned against the opposite wall, arms folded over her chest.
“One of my associates has it.”
“Which one?” She tapped a button and slid the phone across the pavement so he could watch the numbers drop faster.
“I don’t know!” Miranda let her face do the talking. “I left it in a security deposit box, someone else goes and picks it up.”
So it was small enough to fit in a box. That was the one detail Miranda had left out. Neither she nor her mother’s former employers knew what it was. Her step-father had blabbed about what wasn’t in his office before a lawyer stepped in and shut down the conversation. No one had to worry about Charles making a deal. When ASPIRE learned he’d talked, even by mistake, they’d make sure he never talked again.
“What’s on it?” She needed to know what she was looking for. One of the other two must have it. If it proved their link to ASPIRE, it was exactly what her benefactors needed to shut them down.
“I, I don’t know.” He was sweating, the body odour managing to mix with the other trash in the alley. His black hair clung to his forehead.
“You’re a fucking awful gambler.” She sneered. “Seriously, do you stutter every time you lie? How have you gotten away with anything?”
She was doubting he was as involved with ASPIRE as the firm believed. No way a company covertly engineering an army would trust anything to a guy who stumbled through a basic lie. Someone else might have felt bad for the guy, but she just saw another cretin who had been an accomplice to her mother’s death. He deserved what was coming.
“It’s a flash memory drive,” he closed his eyes, his hands clenched at his sides. She waited, arms still crossed, while he struggled with whatever internal debate he faced. His eyes flew open. “I want protection!” Miranda shrugged. She pointed at her phone. The numbers had fallen into the low six digits.
“Tick tock, asshole.”
“It wasn’t mine. But we were doing deals and we all had to share, we had to share the risk. It has details, of a program and, and names. Names of the people involved.”
Bulls-eye. It was just what her benefactors needed to shut down the eugenics program. She wondered if ASPIRE knew the partners had it on a drive. Not the best move for a company trying to keep its secrets.
“Thanks, Jacob. You’ve been a big help.” Miranda gave him a wide smile that didn’t last and bent to pick up her phone. She checked the back for scratches and tapped the screen. His bank balance hit zero. A message popped up. They’d located one of the other two and were sending a car for her. Time to go to work.
“What about me?” He winced when he moved. Definitely a few cracked ribs.
“Someone’s going to come looking for you. Casinos hate it when their big spender turns out to have no cash. But don’t worry, they can’t get their money if you’re dead. Think of it as the best sort of protection.”
Miranda laughed as she walked away, slipping in earbuds to drown out his furious insults. Two down, two to go. “1, 2, Miranda’s coming for you,” she hummed.
Part 3 (By Me)
Sasha Stone was turning out to be slightly more difficult to deal with than any of the other three. Hell, she was more difficult than the other three combined. Miranda sat cross-legged at the end of the couch in her hotel room on the 20th floor, the light from her laptop the only illumination available. The silence of the room was only broken by the clack-clack-clack of her fingers on the keyboard.
It had been weeks since the firm had given her the information on Sasha. This woman was a ghost; a ghost with so many ties to so many underhanded organizations. Sasha was good at staying off the radar completely, and the thing about ruining someone without a social media presence was that they were usually the ones that needed to be publicly ruined. Thus, more difficult to deal with; though not entirely impossible.
Miranda was pulled from her thoughts as her cell phone vibrated off the arm of the couch. She leaned over to pick it up, only answering once she’d recognized the number.
“It’s done.” Click.
If anyone else had been in the room, they would have called the smile on her face downright sinister. With her program complete and Sasha’s scrubbers taken down for the next twelve hours or so, things were about to get interesting.
As it turned out, creating a social media presence had been far easier than Miranda had thought. Between Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, Youtube and a handful of other websites, she had inundated the internet with every dirty little secret she could dig up on Sasha. It hadn’t taken long for news crews to latch onto the woman and begin the process of tearing her down completely. Every day she watched the news and there was always something new, some new secret unearthed by the masses, that dug Sasha’s social media grave just a little bit deeper.
The thing Miranda hadn’t counted on, though, was Sasha retaliating personally. She had changed cities three times in the last week so she couldn’t be tracked, just on the off chance that someone tried; a fat lot of good that did, it seemed. It was nearly ten o’clock at night when the door to her hotel room literally flew off its hinges and slide to a stop at the foot of the couch.
“You think you’re so clever.” Sasha stood in the doorway with the smoke from the small explosive curling about her like some demonic entity.
Miranda was over the back of the couch and through the door to the adjoining bedroom before Sasha could level the small black pistol at her. Panic tugged at the back of her mind but she shoved it away, moving to the bathroom to grab a pair of sharp kanzashi (a gift from her mother… before the accident). Wielding what were essentially sharp, metal chopsticks, she was regretting her stance of no guns pretty fiercely.
“Will you walk into my parlour?” Sasha called, footsteps growing closer.
“Said the spider to the fly,” Miranda muttered, taking up a position to the side of the bedroom door.
Predictably, Sasha swung the door open slowly and entered gun hand first, and that’s when Miranda struck. One of the kanzashi slid into the space between Sasha’s thumb and forefinger. Sasha cried out, dropping the gun and pulling her hand away. The door slammed into Miranda, catching her in the temple, when Sasha threw her weight into it. Through the haze of pain, Miranda managed to snatch the gun and fling it across the room.
“So nice of you to join me,” Miranda said, throwing her own weight into the door so that Sasha bounced off of it and into the doorframe. She circled around the door to approach her unwanted guest, blinking rapidly to clear the edges of her vision. “Perhaps, since you’re here, you could tell me who else had a hand in my mother’s murder. Hm?”
Sasha laughed as she pushed herself unsteadily to her feet. “All this work you’ve done and you still don’t know. Not nearly as clever as you thought, are you?”
Miranda barely had time to register the tiny, spring-loaded pistol slide out of Sasha’s sleeve before pain bloomed in her right leg and hip. The next two shots went wide as Miranda dove behind the wall for cover. She heard Sasha shuffling around and wiggled her cell phone from her pocket. The blood on her hand made dealing with the touch screen a little difficult, but she managed to select an app before dropping her phone on the floor.
Sasha’s shadow fell through the doorway and Miranda crouched, ready to move as soon as she passed into the bedroom. The same tactic shouldn’t have worked twice, but it seemed Sasha wasn’t anticipating her to strike low. The Kanzashi sunk into the fleshy part of Sasha’s inner thigh with sickening ease. Then Miranda grasped the door and slammed it against Sasha, and moved as quickly as she could across the room.
Her hand wrapped around the handle of the pistol just as two more gunshots rang out and pain blossomed in her chest. Miranda twisted to land on her back, bringing the pistol up to empty three shots center mass. Sasha crumpled to the ground. Miranda collapsed against the carpet; she was going to bleed out in a damn hotel. She could hear her phone beeping, her panic button hadn’t been acknowledged. She should’ve known someone in the firm had a hand in everything.
Miranda hadn’t realized she’d passed out until someone was shaking her awake. “Don’t you dare die on me, Mia.”
“Why would I do that? Everything’s finally coming up Miranda.”
There was a strained chuckled and then she was being lifted, “You’re a real pain in my ass, you know that? Come on, let’s get you patched up.”