"Энepгия" was all the folder said. Energia. Energy.

I felt a slight shiver when I spread the papers to take the photographs. Men and their giant cocks, beating back Mother Nature. That thing fucked the ground so hard it blew 100 tons of metal deep into "I'll Call You" space. Behind all the chess and mathematics, the Russians had huge fiery balls. The most powerful rocket design in the world was spread out before me, much like my legs had been just moments before. Espionage always made me wet. I love my job.

To my way of thinking, there are 3 worlds. The Man's World, the Woman's World and the Real World. We grow up making our own little Venn diagrams, drawing circles to play in the overlaps. The Man's World is a world of doing. Men see everything in targets, coverage, payload, kilo-tonnage, yield. Men make solutions, thrusting their will around like phalli, cranking great anthills of policy and metaphor and steel into the air, forever running to the next goal, burning to solve. I can get behind that. I feel the nubbin of penis-resolve when I'm getting shit done, killing for my country, sowing the seeds and keeping the peace. I feel that need. The need to solve. The yearning. The pit of the belly, fuck the odds burn. Penis envy? Maybe. Do I care? I'm too busy to care. I'm in the Men's World, doing. It's my second skin, the wool I pull over my own eyes. Like a latex lie, I play tomboy for "The Man" and I love it.

You know those moments that you can only have when you're five-by-five in your element? The only one I can remember came that time I was in Argentina with Dutchy. We had this guy out in the jungle, working him over for something. I didn't know Spanish or Portuguese or whatever he was spouting, but I knew he was unraveling. The sweltering humidity, the thrumming rusty old generator, the smell of ozone and burnt meat, the thin sheen of guilty sweat and pleasure I got from all of it... I'll never forget it. I remember the cordy feeling of his throat under my perfectly manicured hands while I choked him. I remember drinking old tequila with Dutchy while we burned the hut, but mostly, I remember he died looking at my tits. Pig.

That's the Woman's World. I never felt that connection I should have to it. The need for closeness, security, understanding, control. I tried to clutch and nurture and gather, but it rang hollow. What I always did enjoy was the power. The power of influence, to steer men towards my whims, to bend the hive to my will. To be a queen, worshiped on a throne, my every impossible dream to be puzzled out by the throngs of the stupid worker bees. Rationality subdued, pinned under the heel of emotion and lust and need. I could get behind that. I could bend and wriggle and primp and polish, totter on heels and slink in scraps of fabric. Child's play, make-believe, easy. Let them get wrapped up and knock 'em down like pins on the alley. Lipstick is just war paint. I always understood that.

They tell their men that too. Don't be lead around by your balls, don't let the women dazzle you with a bouquet of flesh and silk. Keep it in your pants for Mother Russia. Yeah right, Momma. Your rocket boys are the easiest kinds of score. Physics is all about bodies in motion, collisions, endpoints, solutions. They can't fathom the delicacies of body chemistry, the artistry of teasing a man along by his basic reptilian hind brain. It was like picking up marbles with chopsticks. Much easier if the marble was molten, heated up past the point of rational thought, beyond surface tensions and smooth rolling. I made them sloppy, pheromones pumped out of me by the knowledge I was the smarter player, I was the Kingpin. The Queen, fucking her way to the top. This is the Real World. The world beyond illusions of control. The world of knives and blood and getting killed over ideas. The kind of place where you could find yourself butchering a man who moments ago stood shaking, digging desperately in his tweed pockets for a hotel key, the admission ticket to a paradise of foreign flesh, to the attentions of a cocktail pussy that had picked him over the alpha males. A world where you could die over "Energia", written on a page.

"Mr. Tanaka," she said, stretching out all the vowels in the name as if she was having sex with it as it cooed out of her mouth, "so you like to be tied up, eh?"

She was smirking at him with cavalier superiority as she paced back and forth in front of him. Her high heels clicked sharply on the wooden floor below her. She was very scantily clad in leather, her breasts bubbling out of the bra painted onto her chest. Her bright red lipstick and strikingly aqua eyes screamed at him from her otherwise pale face. She was very tightly gripping a rubbery rope in her hands, so tight that her fingers were white and the rope made choking sounds.

Tanaka, a small man, who was sitting in the little chair in the middle of the room, was already beginning to sweat. His dark tie hung loose around him and dark puddles of moisture were beginning to grow around his armpits. The bright lamp above him felt quite warm, but that was not the main reason he was wet.

"Yesss, Mistress Carla" he hissed nervously. "I ruvv to be tied up."

Mistress Fiona, Mistress Carla's associate, a tall blonde bombshell, stood behind Mr. Tanaka. She began to chuckle in an eerily little girl-like manner. She was clad much in the same way that Carla was. "You hear that, sis? Our little Mr. Tanaka here ruuvvvs to be dominated!"

"I love it!" exclaimed Mistress Carla. "That is more fun! Here, do as he pleases!" She tossed the yellow rubber hose over to Fiona, who easily snatched it out of midair.

"I'll try not to make it too tight," Fiona whispered into his ear as she violently began wrapping it around his wrists. When she was done she asked him what he thought. "Very nice," he thought it was.

"Are you sure you're comfortable?" Carla asked. "You paid for three hours." Mr. Tanaka nodded to indicated that he indeed was quite comfie.

Mistress Carla ripped open his shirt, sending buttons flying to all corners of the small wooden room. She slowly began to kiss on his nearly-hairless chest.

"Oohhh," Tanaka purred. "I wike."

"No more talking!" Fiona yelled. She then shoved a ball gag into his mouth, a bright red one, like he had seen in an American movie about ten years before. Carla produced a whip from her black leather toolbag on the floor and struck his legs as Fiona made sure the gag was tight. A scream tried to explode from his mouth but the gag was doing its job quite well.

"Or screaming," Carla added, grinning wickedly. She then bent down and ripped his trousers off. She flung them across the room. Then she whipped his bare legs, the sound cruelly sharp and piercing. He tried to scream again.

"OK, that's enough," Fiona said flatly. Carla smiled, bent down, and pulled a long, shiny knife out of the bag.

"Sorry, Mr. Tanaka," she said as she held the sharp blade to his throat, "we're upping our price."

As he grunted, Fiona walked around in front of him and found his pants. She yanked the wallet from it. "You international businessmen are such idiots! They're so easy, aren't they, sis?"

"Extremely," purred Carla. She snarled at Tanaka playfully as the blade, ever-so-slightly, began to pierce his skin. A tiny droplet of crimson escaped the union of the blade and the flesh of his neck.

"Fabulous!" Fiona yelled, pulling out a wad of green paper from his wallet. "One of the few left who believe in carrying large amounts of cash."

"Any last words, Mr. Tanaka?" Carla asked, flashing her mouthful of gleaming white teeth at him.

Suddenly, he bit the ball gag in half, one half of it flying to the left, the other half in his mouth which was suddenly unusually large. He spit it out. "Just one. Goodbye."

An ear-splitting screech emanated from his mouth. As Carla and Fiona looked at him in fearful awe, it opened up to inhuman proportions. Then, before another thought could cross their minds, two large red snakes shot out from either side of his mouth. One barreled through Fiona's head, the other through Carla's. Their blood and brains spattered on the wall behind them. With a couple of triumphant squeals, the snakes left their squishy heads and returned to his mouth. The bodies crumpled to the floor in dull thuds. His mouth closed until it looked like a normal human one again.

Tanaka took a long, deep breath in through his nose, straightened his tie, and said "American women, think they so tufff."

He wiped a bit of blood off of his mouth that the snakes had left behind, picked up their bag, then his pants and wallet, and strolled out of the room.

I unlocked the store right at 8, bits of sun hanging over my shoulder. I made the usual preparations for the customers coming that day.

An hour later, the night shadows controlled the city.

9 PM. I flipped over an elegant white card by my obscured window. "THE SANDMAN. OPEN. BY APPOINTMENT ONLY." And then I waited.


My first client came in, scatting some song quietly under his breath, his eyes alight with the evening's possibilities. I avoided direct conversation with him as much as possible. His mouth ran at a mile a minute, real clever fellow, but was most definitely touched in the head, and if you didn't know the answer to one of his endless rain of questions, he got more than a little depressed. Really hurt the business. So while he went on about ravens and writing desks, I went to the back and came back with his order and a new catalog. He sprang the box open with childish delight, squealing giddily as he unfolded the green spandex bodysuit. At his request, I had done a complete redesign of the trademark logo on the front. The sleek curvy line seemed to be alive, a blob in a lava lamp, slinky, pulsing. The dot that punctuated it was bright red, his second favorite color. (I thought it made a pretty easy target, but we had been around that block before ...) He leafed through the catalog momentarily (bombs and guns), putting on a farcical air of seriousness, hemming and hawing at every page, rubbing his chin in consternation. Finally, tired by the endless desire to please, I offered a weak chuckle, and he latched on it like a bee to honey. He bowed preposterously, pulled a turnway 180, and marched out the door. Guy's a real enigma ...


Precisely at 10:30, my second client arrived. Tall, Germanic, expressionless face. His demeanor was cold, but I had grown accustomed to it. They all had their thing, that was no concern of mine. To be honest, I was a little hesitant about the appointment. Last time he had ordered some liquid nitrogen, and while normally it was a staple, my supplier had been manhandled by some teenaged vigilante wannabe and had had to dump the delivery in the Bay. I explained this to him in short civil tones. I offered him a 50% discount and a free upgrade to my newest bulletproof armor (in blue, of course.) He grunted assent. He seemed to acknowledge that my work was a dangerous one - or that he knew all too well the troubles of dealing with upstart punks roaming the streets, causing mischief by seeking it out. We shook hands as he left, and as I looked down at my frost-engulfed palm I saw he had left me a bonus: a perfectly cut diamond. Maybe 2 carats. I could make ten thou on the market with that ice ...


11 o'clock marked the arrival of a new customer. I had set up the appointment a week earlier. All of my appointments were by referral only. When I had first started up the business, I did jobs for everybody. Small timers, whole company operations, and everything in between. Between them all, I had been making a bundle. But then someone inevitably got shafted, and I got ratted out to Gordon and his little Boy Scouts. They had surrounded the warehouse, were preparing to come in, so I took matters into my own hands. I blew the whole thing to smithereens. It all burned, burned to nothing. They even declared me dead, though I was long gone out the escape hatch by the time it exploded. After that, I went around to two of my most trusted customers, explained my situation, and started up again, this time much more low-key. But then I got some stranger (real ugly fellow - from the left anyway) barging in on my store one night asking about split-screen security monitors and two-way mirrors. Told me he'd heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that I could assist in such matters. So after that I set up an appointment system, to keep things organized. But now I was up to at least 10 regulars. It was only a matter of time before another accident ...

Anyway, my 11 o'clock comes in, short guy, real sharp dresser. Tailored tuxedo, monocle, cigarette holder. Name's Copperbottom, or something like it. Doesn't really matter - this isn't the kind of business that's interested in junk mail listings and background checks. He asks about my business in a chirpy British accent, nodding snappily when I tell him it's good, cackling too loudly when I give him my standard follow up line ("...and the dynamite business is booming," deadpan.) He's nervous. Probably thinks this might be a trap. I hand him a catalog from underneath the counter, start pulling up boxes of assorted goodies for him to admire. Smoke bombs, gas grenades, rappelling hooks, plastic cuffs, lockpicks. He looks over them all; his shoulders ease up a little, his eyes dilate just a tad. Delusions of grandeur - Napoleon Syndrome, I guess. Then he asks me a question that any other business guy would find strange. He asks if I do umbrellas. I quickly reply that I don't but I will for him, and what does he have in mind? Expecting this, he has already unrolled several schematics on my counter. Pretty standard stuff, solid-state compressors, napalm chamber, a cane gun variation. I tell him no sweat, give me 48 hours. He starts a bit, gazing at me with a twinkle in his eye, a moment of wondrous appreciation at my abilities. Then he is cackling loudly again, heading out the door, squawking directions to his driver ...


Midnight. The old man comes. One of the original two customers I held onto. Distinguished gentleman, must be in his seventies. He's not the actual customer, though. Just the gofer. And whoever he works for is the baddest one of them all. He buys everything, and lots of it. The latest armored padding, audio and video surveillance, climbing gear, stuff so fresh it got stolen out of the Taiwanese R&D yesterday. Whatever stuff he's pulling, he means business. He's my best customer. And he's got a special thing for these boomerangs from Mongolia. They're cut pretty weird, but I bet with a little custom work, you could really go to town. I've got 500 of those for him, and a new Yamaha custom carburetor for a bike. The old man collects all of the order boxes - 11 in all - and I hold the door open for him while he makes his way back to the bright yellow Maserati. Every time he comes it's a different car; the license plates are untraceable. Not that I would know ...


12:30, my last customer of the night. She's so smooth, she's inside at the counter before I turn around. Asking about her order with a kittenish smile. She's amazing, and I never hesitate to flirt with her. While I'm getting her boxes from the back, I ask her why she hasn't thought about settling down, getting married, having kids. She tosses off the question with a laugh. I guess it's true, though. Customers at this kind of place aren't exactly the marrying kind. Though I'd make an exception for her. I stack the boxes up, ask her if she needs anything else. She just shakes her head, inspecting the packages and collecting them one by one. When she picks up the last one (carefully labeled "Latex. High Heels. Knives." in bold block lettering) I swear I can almost hear her purring with content. And then she's out the door with a wave of her hand. Real cool cat ...


One o'clock. I'm shutting down the place, flip the window card back over: "THE SANDMAN. CLOSED FOR REPAIRS." I'm just about to lock up when the phone rings. I think about not answering it, but I can't afford not to.

"Hello?"

"It's me. I need something pronto." The other original customer.

"Sure, what can I help you with today?"

"A tank of laughing gas, the special kind. No, two tanks! We're painting the town red tonight!" A gruff chorus of laughter emerges from the handset.

"I'll have it ready in 30 minutes. Anything else?"

His voice dropped to a low tone. "Yes, I need some more of those delightful purple silk boxers. Wonderful stuff, but doesn't really hold up to the strains of everyday mayhem. Let's say ten pair?"

"Yes, sir. I'll be waiting." I hung up the phone, made my way back to the window, reversed the card once more, and took a seat in the darkened office, waiting as promised.

In a city that never sleeps, The Sandman is king...

Begin

Franzeska Zmyatyna placed her husband's pistol to his forehead...

He'd fallen into a deep post-coital sleep. She hadn't permitted him to enter her for two days. She wanted to make sure she drained him of everything he had before he passed out. She didn't mind the punches that night. His violence during their fuck session reminded her of why she hated him so much. He enjoyed beating her and seeing what he supposed was fear in her eyes. Foolish man.

I could kill you with the first two fingers of either hand, she thought. By my grace alone do you still live and move and have your being. But not for long, Милочка. Cow.


Latex

Artie had found Franzeska on a pay-for-play Internet site, Hot Moscow Women, a slimeball from New York's financial district who thought the world owed him a midtown apartment. He came up from the streets with a high school education and a fast mouth, a born hustler who understood only money and its ability to open doors. "It's Arthur," was how he introduced himself. His colleagues kidded him about his Brooks Brothers suits so he spent the two large for a classic black Armani, burning with anger at the perceived slight. Goddamned Ivy fuckwads. A Rolex came next.

Four years after the Bubble burst Artie was flat broke, working in Connersville, Indiana for the Ford plant as an accountant for a lousy $13.75/hr, $43,000 in debt and living under an assumed name. He saved enough money for one plane fare to Moscow and for two back. Franzeska was tall, slim, and spoke barely any English. A software program babelfished his letters to her and hers to him. Her fractured mistranslated English did not deter his lust for her. Pig, she thought. He is свинья. I will marry him and become a citizen, and then I shall divorce him in six months. On their 'honeymoon' she wore the latex outfit he'd bought her. She almost smothered him the first night. It would have been easy.

Every morning the pig left for his accounting job in a Perma-Prest white shirt and Dockers. He was poor, she thought. He is poor, and therefore I am poor. And this town, it is like living in Moldavia or southern Ukraine. The people here are farmers. Chyort voz'mi!


High Heels

She did pushups as soon as he left for work. 200 pushups, 200 situps, leg lifts, pullups on the door frame, fingers only, just as she was taught at the Academy, only this time there was no evil Esmyatin to beat her for form infractions. Stop. Repeat. Stop. Repeat. She stopped only when she was gasping for air, her skin covered with sheets of sweat, just as she'd been trained. Punches - ten minutes in horse stance. Kicks out of horse and cat stances - again. Again. AGAIN. When he got mad Esmyatin, that evil troll, would take off his belt and whip her. AGAIN. AGAIN. He'd spit on her and made her get up, and then he'd have her stand there, and he'd kick her. Like THIS, Franzeska you whore. Like THIS.

Back in Indiana, she bought a Resuscitation Annie that she kept in the closet. Every day she'd mount it on a chair and do her drills. Eye strikes. Larynx strikes. Nose strikes. Side strikes. Front strikes. Temple strikes. Open fist, closed fist, knee, elbow, left side, right side, ear claps. Again. AGAIN, until she could do it with her eyes closed.

She could kill with her hands. She could kill with her high heels. She could garrotte with the twine she used to grow tomatos. Improvise, adapt, survive. You kill before you are killed. This was the Academy.


Knives

"Franzeska?"

Esmyatin stood over the body, hands on hips, a bad sign. Blood covered the bed. It was her blood.

"Yes sir." She was exhausted. He had been a lot stronger than he'd looked, this sailor. She let him get her drunk, p'yan v stel-ku, -- it took a lot to get her drunk; she was nervous as hell -- and when she resisted his entreaties he hit her and dragged her to her room, where he made her perform oral sex on him. Then he beat her until she was almost unconscious, and then he raped her.

She had disengaged, as she had been trained to do. She felt him moving her body, but in her mind she was on the ceiling, looking down at herself. And then, after he was through, she, the erstwhile weak limp rag doll of a girl, comatose after vodka and her beating, opened her eyes and became the goddess of rage and justice. He had awakened the bear. The bear had no mercy.

Afterward, she called Ezmyatin and smoked a Business Club Gold. Soon, she heard the sound of dopplered sirens.

Ezmyatin got up from the body, cold and silent. "Franzeska, come over here, child." She knew that voice. It was the voice of pain. She was wide awake now, the deep vodka drunk suddenly gone, overwhelmed with fear. She crawled to the body, her mouth still bleeding. She knew not to speak.

"Look at him, Franzeska. Look at him!"

She was shaking.

"Is he dead?"

"I crushed his larynx and then I strangled him with the telephone cord. It is impossible he is alive." Warm blood trickled into the back of her throat. She could taste the iron. "Impossible."

"And yet." He grabbed her hair and pulled her head to his face. "And yet, my blond cunt, he still has a pulse. Not so impossible, you..." He removed his belt. "cow."

He commanded her to bare her back. "You were supposed to graduate tonight, cow." She did, and lay down, grabbed the bedposts and began crying silently, face away from him. The belt came down. She cried for so many reasons. "All my time, wasted on you, cow." Again. "You will never work for us. Vrubatsa?" Again. "Never."

When it was over, he dropped a stiletto knife next to the bed, between her and the as-yet-alive sailor. "Finish him. Then leave. Ya tebia dostal."


End

Her face recovered. She found day work as an office worker for an oil company. The security officers knew she'd received training at the Academy, so she found evening jobs too, special jobs, jobs that required unusual talents. She was good at it. Still, she wanted to leave and start over. Америка. She wanted to be a human. She wasn't sure there was any human left in her, but she was willing to give it a try.


They say you can never leave your past.


Franzeska Zmyatyna placed her snoring husband's Walther PPK to his forehead and pulled the trigger. Then she placed it at the bottom of his skull, gun pointed up toward the crown and shot again. Double-tap. The silencer kept things quiet. He was dead after the first shot, she was sure of that. The second one was just for insurance. Esmyatin had trained her well.

Shifting uncomfortably in his thin paper gown, he picks up the People magazine and thumbs through it for the third time. The pages pass before his eyes, but nothing registers. His bare butt sticks to the paper as he slides off the table and goes over to the window. Through the blinds he can see the loading dock of the medical center. Two men sit with their legs dangling from the dock, smoking. A woman in a dress the color of tomato soup passes by. Pressing his head against the window glass, he exhales through tightly pursed lips, emitting a flatulent sound. The window fogs from his breath. Turning from the window, his eyes fall on a box of examination gloves. Latex. Touching the gloves leaves a fine powdery residue on his fingers, which he nervously wipes on his paper smock. He glances at his watch. Looking up, he catches his reflection in the mirror on the back of the door. Standing before the mirror, he bends over, turns, and observes himself from between his legs. He peers around his wrinkly genitals to view the great pale expanse of his buttocks. Spreading his cheeks, he studies his rectum, punctuating his ass like a puckered pink asterisk. Voices in the hallway startle him. Attempting to turn and hop himself back onto the examining table, he misjudges, catching his left testicle on the corner of the table. A strangled yelp escapes from him and he crumbles to the floor. Writhing and kicking, he bites his lip trying to keep from crying out. Waves of pain and nausea course through him. With his cheek against the cold linoleum floor he sees the examining room door fly open. A pair of feet in high heels approach, stopping an inch before his face.

“Sir, are you alright?”

The man does not respond. He is transfixed by the shoes. They are a deep, blood-red color, open toed, with a delicate rose design tooled into the leather tops, ending with thin buckled straps at the ankles. Ten red toe nails peer at him through sheer white stockings. The smell of new leather reaches his nose.

“Sir, what happened? Can you get up?”

Without taking his eyes off the shoes, he speaks:

“Oh, I'm OK. I just want . . . to lay here for just a minute.”

“I'll go get the doctor . . .”

“No, no, no . . . just stay right there. I'm getting up now.”

Turning his head upwards, his eyes follow the length of the white stockings, taking in every curve, right up to the top, where a hint of white panty is visible for a split second. Struggling to his feet, he fumbles with his paper gown.

“What happened? Did you fall down?”

“Er, yes, I ah, slipped and fell. I'm all right though.”

“Well, the doctor will be with you shortly. Are you sure you're OK?”

“Yes, I'm fine. Thank you.”

With his eyes cast downward, he watches the red high-heeled shoes turn and stride out of the examination room, the door softly closing behind them.

Slowly he settles himself back up on the examination table. His left testicle throbs. Without looking, he reaches for the magazine rack, expecting to grab the well-worn People magazine again, but finds himself holding a copy of Field and Stream. Flipping to the middle, his eyes fall on an advertisement. A bearded man in a plaid shirt holds a knife with a gleaming silver blade. The ad reads:

Pick up this knife and find its feel is solid and well balanced. The five-inch drop-point blade with a gut hook feels just right. And you'll like that the knife comes in both folding- and fixed-blade designs with either a wood or carved bone handle—

A quick knock on the door is heard, and the doctor strides in.

“Good afternoon. Sorry for the wait. Just back from my vacation and things are a little backed up. So let's get down to business, shall we? We've done numerous tests and they all lead to the same conclusion. I'm afraid you're going to need surgery . . .”

The night air was unseasonably cool and Larissa could feel the wind on her skin through the places her costume had ripped. Larissa crouched low on the rooftop, watching the traffic below intently. Not taking her eyes of the cars zipping by, she snaked a finger into the space between thigh-high boot and flesh and slowly pulled out a piece of paper. With the blood-red nail of her forefinger she slashed through a name written in elegant looping calligraphy, Father David Mulroney. The priest had not died easily, in fact, had fought her tooth and nail for his life, the end result being that her clothing was a complete loss. A pity, she thought, she had rather liked the sinuous, elegant line her figure took on while wearing it. Also a pity that she had to leave behind the mask and the bullwhip. Although a consummate professional, she had been taken slightly aback by the ferocity with which the Good Father had pulled out a switchblade and attempted to slice through her lovely swan's neck. She sighed wryly, she should have been ready for that, the Church could hardly bear the scandal of its most outspoken critic of modern hedonism being found dead in an underground fetish club. And even though she had requested it before performing the coup de grace, the priest had refused to grant her absolution for his murder. She spied an eighteen wheeler going west on the street four stories below her, arched her back and dived forward, landing with a barely audible thump on the roof of the trailer. Safer, she thought as she pressed her body close as a lover to the top of the Bierstein Market Truck, she could hardly walk around on the street dressed like this.

An hour later she was scrubbed, coiffed and dressed for the second affair of the night. Turning to admire herself in the full-length mirror, Larissa hissed, "perfect". The dress was perfect; a gauzy, shimmering silvery marvel that gracefully bordered the line between trashy and stunning, between scandalous and sexy. Larissa had rubbed cocoa butter on her dark, smooth skin and the fragrance of chocolate emanating softly from her long legs heightened her desirability immensely. Larissa knew well the connection between food and sex, and how little divided them. Almost as an afterthough she grabbed a beaded clutch purse that exactly matched her dress, then sauntered out to the limousine that was waiting to take her to the party.

Although haunting, beautiful music and the white noise of polite conversation filled the air, Larissa could still hear her high heels clicking on the marble floors. Almost imperceptibly, she scowled, this producer bragged that he had done his house in the style of a Roman Villa. Actually is was a vulgar mix of architectural traits from a dozen other times and styles, including Baroque Venice and Colonial Mexico. Larissa gazed into her glass of champagne but did not drink. She waited with mock coyness, alone by the fountain, for the producer to make his way back to his, what had he called her? Oh yes, his lovely little Hershey's Kiss. Although disgusted, she had pretended to be flattered, and saw the greed in his piggy little eyes. He wanted to devour her.

In less than three minutes he made his way back to her, his jowls flushed red from drink, giving him a startling, boyish appearance. He laid a clammy hand on her bare shoulder, leaned close and whispered an invitation. Almost imperceptibly, Larissa nodded.

Moments later they were alone in a bedroom with a massive wrought iron bed. He was kneeling naked before her, licking her expensive and lovely prada shoes. She rolled her eyes heavenward in disgust, a gesture he took for pleasure. Clumsily he reached for her, lips puckering, parted and slightly wet. She stopped him by placing one long, tapered finger on his lips and whispering huskily, "wait". He eyed her greedily as she stood, walked across the room and reached for her beaded handbag. She smiled at him and scolded, "Close your eyes. No peeking!"

And he kept his eyes closed until the length of piano wire she had pulled out of her purse was around his neck and it was too late. Afterwards, she poured out the untouched champagne over his white, distended belly and gently closed his bulging, surprised eyes. Tenderly, she kissed his forehead and pulled out the piece of white paper from her clutch bag. She scratched off another name.

Larissa was hungry now, and walking out of the gaudy mansion through the well-fed and liquored party guests was almost unbearable. One more job, she reminded herself, one more job and I'm through. Larissa never mixed business with the personal, it kept things neater on the whole, she reflected.

The last job was in a warehouse. Her customer had it on good authority that several people that he found extremely unpleasant were meeting that evening in an attempt to usurp her customer's considerable authority in certain key financial areas. Larissa had come recommended because of her unfailing accuracy and unblemished record. Although she was noted for her finesse and elegance in her work, her costumer had quite thoroughly emphasized that finesse was not he was looking for here, and that he would prefer things messy. Larissa hated to spill blood, she found it messy and amateurish, however the customer was offering what was tantamount to triple her usual fees and she was persuaded that financial concerns outweighed artistic in the particular matter. The warehouse had skylights, this made entry particularly easy for her. The costume for this job was a trenchcoat, black turtleneck, dark glasses, boots, skirt, beret. She leaned forward, obscured from sight, but seeing imperfectly through the grime-coated skylight and listened as a group of unintelligent thugs planned a violent transfer of power. She counted, there were five, four in plain sight and one badly hidden on a catwalk. She counted to six, then thrust her fist through the skylight, shattering glass and scattering the thugs below her, as they ran in fear and disarray. She jumped, her coat floating outwards like a cape and landed neatly on the floor. The was a shout from her right, without looking she flung her right arm out gracefully, like a dance move. A silvery flash, the subsequent meaty thud and gurgling cry of someone who had just had a lung pierced were the only signs that she had a flung a knife instead of executed a complicated flamenco step. One ran towards her, with her left hand she executed what appeared to be a complicated sleight-of-hand gesture and produced a wicked, serrated blade, she thrust forward and up, gutting her opponent then launched into a spinning kicking that caught the man who ran up behind her in the throat, crushing his larynx. The smell of blood inundated the air, tempting her with its warm, savory delights. Forcing control, she crouched to the floor just in time to avoid the bullet that whizzed by the empty spot where her head was. Catwalk, she thought, and reached inside her trenchcoat to produce a hatchet. She flung this up, seemingly aimlessly, but it severed a high tension electrical conduit overhead, bringing it sizzling and sparking down onto the metal catwalk. The smell of blood was strong, and she felt her teeth lengthen involuntarily as she stalked the floor looking for her final target. She could hear his heartbeat thundering, betraying his poorly chosen hiding spot. Impatient, she knocked over the stack of crates he was hiding behind with a swat. He was cowering, a visible, dark stain spread slowly over the front of his pants, he screamed when he saw her, screamed and begged, "please, you black bitch, please". But it was too late, the hunger took over, and she was on him, all fangs and claws and fury.

Later, she berated herself for losing control. It was unprofessional. However, she refleced, her customer had asked for "messy" and horrific, and it was certainly that. Larissa licked her lips with a very red tongue. There were still several hours before dawn she mused, time enough for a bite to drink.

Julia dressed quickly. A black latex bodysuit to make her slick so hands could find no purchase. High heels did not impair her mobility - in fact, she felt stranger fighting without them. They could be deadly weapons in her hands, though her hands were deadly enough on their own. And knives, hidden in various places, to be withdrawn - almost instantaneously - when needed. If black latex emphasized her sculpted body, if high heels made her legs longer, her breasts more prominent, her ass more pert, well, today it was particularly important to look her best.




"Today's operation will be unusual, and I warn you all that it will be dangerous. It will be, in fact, one of the most dangerous operations we have ever attempted. The enemy most likely suspects that we will be coming, and he is far more capable than any national army or any other fighting force that any of us have faced."

Julia spoke from a raised platform. Before her were a hundred figures, male and female forms dressed the same as she was, save for Julia's unmasked face. Her troops would have seemed almost identical to an outsider, but Julia knew her fighters and could identify them at a glance - a chin held slightly more aloft than the others (André da Silva), shoulders sharper than most (Lakshmi Sharmistha), a foot restrained from tapping (Li Xianyuan). Julia selected every member of her force herself, trained all of them, and knew intimately how each one carried him or herself. She knew every soldier's strengths and had chosen only her most capable handfighters for today.

"We will be attacking a wedding. Many of the attendees will be civilians, and as such we will not use guns or explosives. You are to use nonlethal force whenever possible against civilians, and most importantly do not harm the bride or groom.

"The wedding is being held on a small, uninhabited island in Melanesia. Because of the presence of civilians, biological countermeasures are unlikely. The enemy depends heavily on electronic weapons" - Robert had always loved his toys - "and as such, we will neutralize beam weapons and robots with a high-altitude nuclear airburst. This EMP should destroy most electronics, and we have an extra in reserve in case backups arrive. We will be arriving just before the EMP via helicopters, which will take shelter under overhanging cliffs on the island's northwest shore. Our analysts have examined the enemy's radar apparatus and believe we have found a path to enter undetected. We will scale the cliffs by hand and attack. We will have radios, but be prepared for radio silence if the second EMP is activated.

"Because the enemy will not wish to harm civilian attendees, our analysts believe that the guards will not be armed with automatic weapons. Most likely, they will be only lightly armed. Each and every one of you is capable of fighting off gunmen. I will deal with the bride and groom. You will pacify the island in order to permit me to do so. Again, I remind you that civilian casualties are to be kept to an absolute minimum. Do not harm the bride and groom. We leave in one hour."




Julia examined her reflection as best she could in the window of the helicopter. Espresso-colored hair, large dark eyes, subtle makeup (for however long it lasted; even the 18-hour lipstick didn't usually survive hours of kung fu under life-threatening conditions.) She was at the age where she supposed her family would leave subtle hints about settling down again, preferably with a more stable husband this time. If she ever saw them. She hadn't, not since one Thanksgiving several years back when she and Robert had tried to visit her parents and inadvertently led KGB agents to storm the house.

The helicopter flight lasted hours, hours of anticipation and the ache to do violence, to see the faces of the happy couple, Robert and that red-headed woman with metallic bones and a carefully computer-augmented brain. Julia's scientists had analyzed the bride's construction and determined that she was not vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse weapons, which was a disappointment at first. But on further reflection, Julia realized that she didn't wish to kill the bride. At least not until she could watch.

As the island entered view, though, old habits kicked in and Julia felt herself prepare for battle - to turn off her other thought processes, and let years of training take over. A particular focus was required to do this kind of work. And no matter how she felt, a fight could always restore calm: the feel of launching herself through the air, the cold heft of a dagger, the sensation of stretching out and putting all her anger into physical form. Julia and her companions stretched their muscles, silently, serenely. Even though they would relax and laugh about the battle later, silence always reigned before.




Robert stood next to his beautiful red-headed bride. She was laughing up at him in antique white silk, yards and yards, cut coquettishly, emphasizing her body. His tuxedo was cut to flatter his body as well - he had always taken pride in his physical form - and hide the weapons hidden in various places. Now of all times he had to be careful. Enemies might expect vulnerability on a day like today. Julia might visit him.

The island was being constantly monitored by radar and the eyes of his soldiers. Radio contact was constant; outside the perimeter of the wedding, his soldiers were standing guard with grenade launchers and laser pistols. The guards hidden in the audience maintained continuous radio contact. Robots - stronger than humans, less vulnerable to bullets or energy weapons, invulnerable to biological agents - accompanied the soldiers monitoring the perimeter. Everything was outside of the line of sight; Robert didn't want his guests to see the security measures that were necessary. Many of them weren't aware of his line of work.

Backups were only a radio call away. Robert didn't expect difficulties - very few people knew about the wedding. His bride could certainly be relied upon for discretion - she had fought at his side for over a year. But he planned for difficulties all the same.




A flash of light.

Silence. The hum of radios had disappeared. The guests were still gaping open-mouthed and rubbing their eyes. Robert's vision slowly returned to normal and he turned immediately to his bride. She looked at him, frowning. "I've lost radio contact, Robert." She tapped the side of her head. She meant the radio nestled into one of her brain's ventricles. "I'm not getting any reports from the perimeter. Internal diagnostics show everything's in order."

Robert fingered his radio, knowing that it was dead. "That was a nuclear explosion. She's taken out our radios. And the robots. And most of our weapons."

"It's her, then? Julia?" Her face twisted into a frown. "At our wedding? How utterly uncouth."

Reinforcements would arrive if radio contact was lost for more than two hours. But Robert knew it wouldn't take her that long. Distant booms meant that the grenade launchers were being fired. Gunfire could be heard in the distance. And as he watched, black figures arrived and began to dispatch his guards.

It was over in minutes. His guards were armed with lasers and pain rays and other weapons that could be used without danger of stray bullets injuring the wedding guests. Most of them were dignitaries or Robert and his bride's civilian family members. Now his men's weapons were useless and the guards were felled quickly by swords and knives and flying kicks.

Robert watched as gracefully somersaulting figures cut through the crowd, and realized he was being surrounded. The identical black figures seemed to be forming a circle around him and his bride, fighting off his soldiers but maintaining a safe distance from him. An eerie silence had fallen. Most of the guards were unconscious or dead; the guests were huddled in a circle. The black figures themselves were wordless as they fought.

One figure vaulted in from his left, flipping, now kicking a guard in the chest and launching herself off of him. Brown hair flew out behind her as she twisted in the air, throwing a knife and pegging another guard in the shoulder. She was fifty feet from him - forty, thirty, and as he drew his gun he realized it was already too late because by the time he had it out, and clicked off the safety, it was flying through the air and he felt a sharp pain in his hand from a stiletto heel.

His bride pulled up her sleeve, prepared to fire the laser attached to her skeleton, but Julia already had a hold of her, and seemed to merely run her fingers over his bride's neck. She fell in a heap on the ground. "She'll come to in a couple hours, Robert. If she's still alive by then."

He smiled in spite of himself. "Julia, you always knew my weak spots." He looked at her, her face flushed from fighting, her hair tangled up. She was sweaty, breathless. He remembered how she'd always looked the same after fighting as after sex. "You always had a certain flair. This is the most stylish attack I've ever seen you do."

She blushed, and turned away for a moment. He watched her wave a hand in the air, signaling like a trader on the floor of a stock exchange to one of her soldiers. The soldier nodded and he left, signaling silently to his companions. "You never turn off the charm, do you, Robert? You can talk your way into any girl's heart. I suppose that's how you got her." Julia gestured to the bride, whose veil had fallen off, leaving her hair to fan out over the sand.

"Anyway, the choppers will be here in a moment. I was just here to offer my congratulations." He could hear the blades now; the black helicopter had moved in quickly and was lowering itself down. A ladder fell down to Julia; her soldiers were already climbing up to the other choppers. He watched as she climbed up hers, agile, graceful. "Oh, and a wedding gift," she shouted down to him. She was nearly in the helicopter as she dropped the grenade.

It fell at his feet, and bounced, and bounced, and it was about to explode but it bounced again off a rock and suddenly it was in the air, flying away from him, towards the ocean, when it exploded. He felt hot air from it but the blast wasn't even enough to get his bride's white dress dusty.

He wondered whether Julia had missed on purpose.






The Von Wicked Chronicles
by Excalibre and Evil Catullus

I remember when it was me who made you want to take over the world and enslave humanity
Latex. High heels. Knives.
It's not my fault that I'm so evil
I was a teenage Overlord
Lady Deathblast's Lover
This little light of mine
The Thanksgiving battle
My funny villaintine
Robots and comic books
This wicked life
The education of little overlords
All things truly wicked
Darkness lights its own way
No rest
How it all began
Sometimes I think you love that doomsday machine more than you love me.
They are mine. They are dead.
There is a crack in everything
Hell hath no fury like a villainess scorned

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