Flash Fiction – Mercenaries for Hire

More completely random fiction that could possibly be expanded upon if I decide to do so.

Sonez Perray’s champagne colored hair fell loose from behind her ear, swinging into her view. She combed it back with her fingers, lifting her eyes from her tablet’s screen. The bar was more crowded now than when she’d arrived more than an hour ago. The old man sitting a table over had ordered a shepherd’s pie, and she could smell the beef the moment he cut into it. Her stomach gave a long whine.

She pushed her forearm against her belly, annoyed. It wasn’t like she’d skipped breakfast. She shouldn’t already be hungry again. Unconsciously she opened the planner app on her tablet and found a blank slot in which to create an event. Parasite Check, she typed, then saved the task. It fell like a Tetris piece between two other tasks, and she admired the now fully multicolored block of the day.

There were few empty slots on her calendar, but if she was honest, Sonez wasn’t as busy as the carefully color coded rectangles implied. Many of her tasks were self-delegated busywork. All research no one had asked her to do, and studies she’d chosen on a whim.

She stole a glance at the old man’s plate, golden eyes following the journey of a carrot on a fork from the meaty interior of the pie to his mouth. Her stomach growled again and she let out a short sigh. She’d done her homework, looking up profiles and talking with locals. Kathla Ames was supposed to be here, like she was every other day, looking for work.

Sonez checked the time and frowned. Maybe Kathla had already found work; then what? She’d never track her down.

“Alright sweetie,” said a voice from behind her. Sonez narrowed her eyes before turning halfway around in her seat to face the bar’s owner. “Are you going to order anything or not? You can’t just hang out here.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Sonez said. Her neighbor at the next table had her craving a meat pie, but she needed to save her money to hire Kathla. “I was waiting for someone, but I guess she’s not coming.”

“Sorry, honey,” the woman said, frowning. “You’re welcome to wait a little longer if you think–”

“No, that’s alright. Thank you.” Sonez smiled and stood, placing the strap of her bag over her neck and shoulder. “Have a nice day.”

As soon as she was out the door, Sonez violently searched her bag and pulled the tablet back out. “Well, fuck,” she said, eyeballing the sidewalk for inattentive walkers as she struggled with her things. Were her sources wrong? She was sure she’d checked the dates on everything she’d read. She opened the local bounty board and stepped backward, putting her back to the corrugated steel wall of the bar.

“Searching for Kathla Ames,” she typed, tapping the Send button hard when she’d finished. There were a few other local mercenaries, but Kathla was the only woman. From the start Sonez planned to hire another female, but now she reconsidered. If she was going to be on time, she needed someone by morning. And if Kathla wasn’t available, she didn’t have any other choices in Solovei.

Sonez chewed the inside of her cheek. The thought of traveling alone with a strange man didn’t sit well with her. She couldn’t imagine a mercenary being anything but hairy, inconveniently large, and monosyllabic. Her image of Kathla wasn’t far from that, but at least she’d feel more comfortable with another woman.

She watched the page refresh several times, hoping to see a red notification alerting her to a message. Someone had to know something. But, even if they did, what did a stranger have to gain from helping her?

Sonez turned off her tablet’s screen and started to slip it back into her bag when it chimed. The screen lit up again automatically, and she held it up in front of her.

The message was a brief, Why Kathla? sent by the username razorpeeltv. Sonez lifted an eyebrow.

After contemplating not answering at all, she tapped out a response.

Only female merc.

The response arrived in seconds. You a pervert?

Sonez tucked her hair behind her ear.  No. A female.

How much will you pay Kathla?

Making a small, exasperated noise, Sonez slipped her tablet back into her bag. There was no time to chitchat with lonely locals. She scanned the crowded street for another place she could slip inside and set up.

Most of the restaurants along this stretch were express joints, maybe with a few stools pulled up to counters underneath an awning outside. She preferred to be inside, seated where strangers couldn’t read over her shoulder.

A small, dark storefront caught her attention and she adjusted her bag before heading toward it. She took long strides, crossing the street between gaps in traffic and entering the coffee house in a gale that scattered napkins from vacant tables.

“Hello,” she greeted the barista, holding her hair in place with her hand while propping the door with her foot. Her hands were already back in her bag, searching for the tablet.

“Good afternoon,” the barista answered, watching as Sonez slipped into a booth. “Can I get you anything?”

“Yes,” Sonez said, not providing her full attention. “I just need a minute.”

She set the tablet on the table, and it chimed with another message. Her eyes brightened when the screen illuminated to show there had been several more while she was walking, but narrowed once she realized all came from the same username. Razorpeeltv.

I’ll do the job for half what you pay Kathla, said the first new message. Sonez hadn’t answered the previous question as to how much that was. She also hadn’t described the job.

Hello?

Sonez swept the messages to the left side of her screen, where they disappeared.

Kathla’s speciality is combat. Did you need to kill someone? I don’t care if the job is illegal. Sonez swiped it away.

It does depend on why. I’m not morally bankrupt. She trashed it.

There were no other messages. Sonez propped her forehead against her hand, leaning over the tablet. Perhaps the locals were reluctant to disclose the whereabouts of their mercenaries, or they were afraid. She needed to go about this differently.

“We have a fresh shipment of a delicious dark roast, if you’re interested,” the barista said, watching her from behind the counter.

“I might try that,” Sonez said, almost straining to sound polite.

A message popped onto her screen. You probably won’t catch Kathla in town for a few more days, at least. Do you have days to wait on her?

Sonez growled, swiping the message.

“Looks like it might rain,” the barista said, pretending to lean forward on one foot to see a glimpse of grey sky through the window. “Too bad. I thought it’d get warm, soon. Good day for a hot drink, though.”

Sonez dropped her hands and stared at the barista, defeated. “Yeah. I’ll try that dark roast.”

The young woman smiled. “It’s delicious,” she said again, snatching a disposable cup off the top of a high stack. “It’ll be just a minute.”

Sonez didn’t want coffee, but she knew she’d have to distract the barista one way or another if she was going to concentrate.

Let’s meet up. I’ll show you my portfolio.

Sonez grabbed the tablet and tapped the message, pulling up a touchscreen keyboard. “No,” she said, pushing the two letters hard.

But I’m already here.

Sonez sat up straight and looked slowly over her shoulder. All the booths were empty behind her. She turned forward and looked out over the shop, eyes wandering across its many dark, shadowy places. There was no one.

For a fleeting moment she remembered the obnoxious persistence of the barista and wondered if she might be the villainous razorpeeltv, but when she stole a glance at her, the unassuming young woman was waiting for a stream of steaming black liquid to fill the disposable cup. It couldn’t be her; she wasn’t even typing.

Sonez exhaled, bringing up the bounty board app and searching for her original post. There was one notification denoted in red in the top right of the app, and when she clicked it, it only said, “One person is interested in your post.”

I wonder who, Sonez thought, smiling at the barista as she approached with her coffee.

She didn’t bother to message back and call the creep on his bluff, and, to her surprise, he didn’t say anything else to her.

After an hour of eying the bounty board app and sipping her coffee until it turned cold, Sonez left the coffee house and stepped out into the rainy street. The coffee had cost the same as a small meal from an express place, but she felt full. Full and thirsty.

She covered her head and bag with her jacket and walked the mile back to the budget hotel where she was staying. She had to leave the next night, and hadn’t mad any progress finding Kathla. It looked like she’d have to pay the additional premium to have a mercenary travel to her, and she found the thought of starting out without one intimidating.

Sonez smiled at the older man behind the desk in the hotel’s humid lobby. It smelled old and wet inside, and she wondered as she moved toward the stairs whether the beige carpet had once been white.

The hall to her room was similarly dismal, with fluorescent lights flickering overhead. Sonez squinted down the hall, surprised to find she wasn’t alone. There was a man sitting on the floor, his legs stretched out in front of him and almost touching the door across the way from hers.

She stopped. That was her room’s door.

Turning on her heel, Sonez took a step back down the stairs before he called out.

“Wait,” he said, scrambling to stand.

She took another step, staring back over her shoulder.

“Are you Perray? S. Perray?” He walked fast down the hall.

Sonez shook her head and kept going.

“Yeah, you are.” His voice didn’t sound threatening, but everything else about his being here threw up red flags. His insistence. His appearance.

Sonez stopped on a landing in the middle of the stairwell and stared as he arrived at the top of the stairs, placing his hands on the doorframe on either side of him. He was average sized, but clearly a mercenary. His clothes were more practical than attractive, and a gun belt hung lazily around his hips. He smiled.

“I waited for, like, two hours,” he said, taking a step down.

Sonez glanced toward the steps, trying to decide if she was going to make a dash for the lobby.

“Wait, are you scared?” It was the first hint of self-awareness he’d exhibited.

“Yes,” Sonez snapped. “You’re creepy as fuck! You’re razorpeeltv, aren’t you?”

“Oh,” he responded, stopping and sitting on the steps. “I guess… I guess that was kinda creepy. In retrospect.”

“Kinda,” Sonez said, half laughing at the absurdity.

“Right.” He rubbed the back of his head and seemed to ruminate before he spoke again. “It’s just, I really need to get out of Solovei. Like, I need to get out of here yesterday. And I don’t have my own ride out, so –”

“I don’t see how that’s my problem,” Sonez said, turning fully toward him and putting her hands on her hips. “I ‘really need’ a halfway decent mercenary.”

“Yes,” the man said, smiling again. “Which I am! It’ll be symbiotic.”

“I specified that I wanted to hire Kathla Ames. Specifically.”

“But Kathla isn’t here.”

“So, I’ll hire another woman.”

“Why’s it gotta be a woman?”

Sonez felt heat rising to her face. “Because I don’t need some fucking creep on my ship.”

“I’m not a creep,” the man said, putting his hand against his chest. He looked genuinely offended. “I’m a mercenary. Like you’re trying to hire. I know Kathla personally. I can help you find her.”

“Just like I’m sure you’ve got a van full of candy and a puppy waiting outside.”

“My name is Petrov Relaz,” he said, standing again. “And I am very effective. Did you check my ratings on the app?”

Sonez hadn’t. She hadn’t thought to.

“I do the same kind of work as Kathla. We’re …sort of competitors. And there’s not a lot of business, here.”

“Is that why she’s off doing a job and you’re trying desperately to steal her business?”

“Yes.” He stared at her with the sort of earnest seriousness she couldn’t help but pity, but it didn’t make her want to hire him. He seemed to catch on and continued, “Check my ratings. Once I’m out of Solovei, I’ll help you track her down, and you can hire her instead.”

“Like you tracked me down?”

“Yes.”

She couldn’t believe this guy. “How did you find me?”

“Solovei is my city,” Petrov said. “And finding people is part of what I do.”

“Solovei is your city, but you really need to leave,” Sonez said, touching her chin with her index finger. “Hmm.”

Petrov wasn’t smiling anymore. Sonez felt relieved by his look of defeat.

“I do,” he said, reaching into his pocket.

She braced, but he only produced a card and extended it to her. She was so surprised, she took it without hesitation.

“Is this a business card?”

“Think about it,” Petrov said, sliding around her. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

Sonez said nothing, and he turned and took the stairs two at a time. Once he was out of sight, she returned to her room at the end of the long, bright hall. She tossed the business card in the wastepaper basket just inside the door, and fell onto her creaky, hard little bed, rubbing her temples.

Some people, she whispered, grabbing the remote to the outdated television near the foot of her bed.

I’m not sure about the way I handled the messaging, and keeping his username one word uncapitalized. Thoughts?

 

11 thoughts on “Flash Fiction – Mercenaries for Hire

  1. Sounds like it’d be a great novel! I’d love to read more. I don’t mind the screen name being all lowercase, although if you wanted to spice it up, maybe all caps instead? But like I said, lowercase was fine by me!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great read. I wanted to know more about the characters and their motivations, which is a great sign of any decent fiction.
    Nothing wrong with messaging being displayed in italics, that was sufficiently clear I thought. Although that coupled with italics also being used for internal dialogue (e.g. ‘I wonder who’) as well as or emphasis may hinder flow if you choose to expand.
    I loved the username being uncapitalised, as it gave it an authentic online feel. Could almost see it on a Craigslist ad.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I definitely enjoyed this piece! You handled the messaging and username handle well – I don’t think it needs adjustment. Is there going to be more to this story? I’m excited for some background into the characters. Your story is “Black Lagoon” meets “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo.” Can’t wait for more!

    Liked by 1 person

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