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Firebird

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Heavy hammer, heavy ghost

Firebird, firebird

 

She is eight and she is Olga and she kills an entire family and their two dogs with her bare hands and a hunting knife.

She walks back to the rendezvous point covered in blood at three in the morning – an incongruous sight; a slight red haired girl wearing a bastardised version of tactical gear. But it is not like there is anyone to see her. And if there were, she would take care of it.

However, there is a little girl on the corner and she looks just like her. The little girl says this is not right. She lunges at her with the knife, but it slides right through the little girl and she is puzzled for a second before continuing on her way.

If the little girl is not real, she cannot hurt her.

And what does she know anyway?

 

She is ten and she is Elizabeth and she misses the target by a fraction of an inch the first time around. The target is now dead, but dead second time around is only good if you actually get a second chance. They do not believe in second chances, even if they can bring the desired results.

She is ten and she is Elizabeth and she is strapped down and screaming screaming screaming. The pain is all consuming until it is not. Until she cannot remember anything other than

she is ten and she is Camille.

 

She is twelve and she is Lubov and she frames her partner for something she did not do. They are playing companions to some rich children in order to take out the entire family, and the mother smiles in a way that she does not understand.

She likes that smile though, and she frames her partner to get that smile, even though she does not receive quite the same smile in the end.

The family is killed as instructed. But just as she pulls the trigger on the youngest child, feeling satisfied at a job well done, another little girl approaches her.

This is nothing to be proud of the other little girl says sadly, but when she turns her gun on her the little girl is no longer there.

The little girl reminds her of someone, but she cannot remember.

(She can never remember.)

They then kill her partner for jeopardising the mission.

And an hour later they get rid of Lubov too.

 

She is fourteen and she is Phaedra and she is in bed with a man four times her age. He is a politician in a country that should know better than to trust a man such as this; a man with appetites such as this.

He has also stumbled across something he should not have done. That is why he is to be terminated. They do not care about his appetites. In fact, they encourage appetites such as his. There is money in depravity, pain and abuse. Good money. But there is better money in secrets.

She slits his throat as she sinks down on his cock and watches dispassionately as the sheets turn red.

She is better at this than she used to be. She does not remember, but she has scars that show she must have needed improvement.

As she gets off the bed she sees a little girl by the door. They are using you the little girl says, and their hair is the exact same shade of red. She blinks and the little girl is gone.

She goes to the rendezvous point and half an hour later she is gone too.

 

She is fifteen and she is Ruth and she is Elsa and she is Giselle. She is fifteen and she starts to get a feeling.

There is a little girl. She has not seen the little girl before (she has) but she does not tell them about her either, because she is hers and she has nothing that is hers. Not her actions, nor her body, nor, she suspects, her mind.

They keep you like this because you are more dangerous than they are says the little girl.

She forgets that the next time she sits back under bright lights.

But she does not forget it completely.

 

She is sixteen and she is Natalia. She is told she is a precision instrument. She is told she is a phenomenon, an angel of death and retribution. She is told, she thinks, because they know she will not remember. She does not know why she thinks this, but she knows it is true.

There is a little girl in the corner of the room.

No one else seems to see her. She has thought before that the little girl is not real and now she is sure. They cannot hear her voice and they walk right though her.

She is pleased by this, because then the little girl cannot be taken away.

The little girl says Natalia like she is testing it out. Then she says remember like it is important.

She tries to remember but then the bright lights come, and the pain, so she does not.

(But she does.)

 

She is sixteen and she is Katerina (she is not) and she meets another like her. He is taller and older and blanker.

The little girl is there. The little girl says precision instrument. The little girl says phenomenon.

She realises that this man is not a precision instrument, that he is blunt force trauma and genocide, machine gun fire and nuclear war. He is a necklace made by a blacksmith, while she is jewellery made for kings. She realises that she is a phenomenon, because she can remember (remember what?) and she can pretend (but why?) and he cannot, not really.

She would pity this man, but she does not know pity.

She is sixteen and she is not Katerina anymore (she never was), and if she sees the man again she does not remember (she never remembers).

(Oh, but she does.)

 

She is seventeen and she is Odette (but she is not, she is not) and she is picking off people like flies.

They do not care about collateral damage. They do not care about many things that are not violence and death and compliance. But she has made it a game now; kill the target, but cleverly, so that it is only the target.

(This is better says the little girl. This is better than it was.)

But there is a man and he is in the way. Completing the mission is more important than any game she can devise in her fractured (she knows something is wrong) mind.

Oh but the game.

She catches the man’s eye and he moves so he covers more of the target, not less, as if she is not giving him the option to live. He has a gun but for some reason he does not fire it, and she shoots the target through his shoulder (Keep playing this game says the little girl. This game is important ) so the man does not die as the target bleeds out across concrete behind him.

Before she goes to the rendezvous she checks though, because it is a game and she does not like to lose (has never liked to lose, will never lose).

(You have lost something.)

(What have you lost?)

(Remember Natalia says the little girl.)

He lives.

 

She is nineteen and she is Felicia (she is not) and she has been many before that (she was not them either).

There is a man, and he looks at her like he knows something of her (there is nothing to know).

(There is everything to know says the little girl. There is so much you cannot remember.)

She is nineteen and she is Felicia and when he asks her name she says, “Natalia”.

And the little girl says good.

 

She is twenty two and she is Nancy (she is Natalia) and the little girl says precision instrument.

They put her under bright lights and there is pain and pain and pain but it is common now; it is boring and it no longer makes her forget.

Not completely.

She is twenty two and she is a precision instrument and there is a little girl, and she is not real but she is, and that little girl remembers when she cannot. They cannot make her forget anymore.

Not completely.

She is a precision instrument, but only partially of their making.

 

She is twenty three and she is Natalia even if they call her Anastasia (and Galina and bitch and Ashleigh and whore and Lily and ours) and there are targets and targets and targets but there is also a man, and she thinks he should be dead but he is not.

(You did a good thing there says the little girl.

“Good?” she asks.

Yes she says smiling. Good.)

He is there when she is Galina (she is Natalia) and when she is Lily (she is Natalia) and when she is bitch (she is Natalia). He is never close, but he is there.

She is supposed to go straight to the rendezvous but sometimes, when he is there, she does not. Instead she follows him. She wonders if he is like the little girl, but he never says things like the little girl. He says things like, “I wouldn’t go there if I were you,” and, “Heya darling,” and, “Another coffee please”.

Sometimes she wonders what he does when he is not where she is; wonders how he can move like she moves – sure and precise – but smile in a way she cannot. She wonders if he is dangerous and decides he is not because he is not like her. She wonders if he changes like she changes (she knows she changes), and decides he must not, because he looks fundamentally the same each time she sees him – solid and real.

So, if he is real then he is good, because he knows where she is. But if he is real, he is not that good, because she can follow him without him knowing.

If he is real and if he is good then he should be trying to kill her, because she is real and she is better but she is not good.

(That is not your fault says the little girl, we were only a little girl.

“We?” she asks.

Yes she says smiling. We.)

But he is not. He smiles at her sometimes, when she lets him know she is there. She thinks he might be following her, but he is not trying to hurt her and there is still the game.

(Keep playing this game the little girl says. This game is important.)

One time he buys her a drink in a bar, but leaves before she can say anything.

What would she say? ‘Thank you’ is not a phase she has ever used.

What has she to be thankful for?

(Be thankful they made you strong says the little girl.

“I don’t want to thank them for anything,” she says.

Thank them the way they thank others says the little girl. Pay them in kind.

And she likes that, because their loyalty is hot; it tastes metallic and it looks like blood.)

 

She is twenty three and she is Amelia (she is Natalia) and this time he is the target.

They noticed (finally, but too late) and they are not happy. They say ‘American’ and they say ‘covert’ and they say ‘never misses’.

The little girl says remember but the pain is greater and the lights are brighter and this time, she is Amelia (she is not) and she thinks red is a good colour on him; bloody lips and bloody arms and bloody clothes.

(She also thinks why are you calling me Natalia?

And the little girl says remember.

But the lights are too bright this time. They are so bright she cannot see and she is gone gone gone and somehow he lives.)

‘bitch’ they say. And

‘worthless’ they say. And

‘put her under hard’ they say. And

remember Natalia! the little girl says.

 

She is twenty three and the lights are too bright and the room is full of blood and screaming and the little girl is saying say thank you so she carves it into their chests with broken metal and paints in onto the walls in blood and

she is Natalia and

the light is a fire, but the pain is clean and she is burning and she is rising from the ashes.

 

She is twenty three and she is Natalia and she finds him in a hospital. It is not well guarded and the room is too white and the machines beep too similarly to the other machines. But he is not scared when he wakes to find her there, bleeding and burning and alive in a way she has never been before.

(“How do you know he will help?” she asks the little girl.

Because you didn’t kill him she says.

“I didn’t kill him?”

No.

“Why?”

You need someone real to remember for you, when you cannot remember yourself she says.

Play the game she says.

Then she says precision instrument.

Then she says Natalia.)

And Natalia realises she is a precision instrument. But precision instruments only really have one function, and if she wants to remember she has to change – become her own weapon, built to her own design and not someone else’s. And a little girl cannot help with that but, she thinks, maybe this man can.

After all, that drink he bought her – that burned on the way down and warmed the cold parts of her, at least for a moment – was the first thing she wanted to say thank you for.

And she has, in blood and bruises, but still he lives.

So when he wakes and shows no surprise she says, “Thank you for the drink,” and he laughs, scratchy and hoarse.

And then she says, “I want to remember,” and he replies, “I can help you remember, if you want.”

She nods, and the little girl says good.

She remembers a little though, so she feels she should warn him.

“I am dangerous,” she says.

He smiles and says, “So am I.”

And Natalia remembers Felicia, and telling him her name – her real name – when he asked. And she remembers the little girl telling her you did a good thing there and when she had wanted to say thank you the little girl saying pay them in kind, and she remembers the blood in the room, and the bright lights and the carved words and

yes, she is dangerous. And

yes, she is more dangerous than them. And

yes, he is right.

He is dangerous too.