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Bad Sun

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“An assassin. Well. That does sound interesting, doesn’t it?” —Jesse McCree

 


 

FEBRUARY 2067, PRESENT DAY
21:57. 270 MILES OUTSIDE OF SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA.

This was the place.

Jesse glanced quickly at his cheap, stolen watch. The luminescent face blinked up at him, numbers flashing rhythmically in a two-second step. He’d made it just in time, too. Three minutes to ten, ready for a late evening rendezvous. Taking a look around him, he noted the the quiet, dark streets, dimly lit by evenly spaced lights that ran all the way down the main street, illuminating the potholes. Pretty much deserted, in this cold windy weather. Not unusual for a Thursday night in a quiet town in the middle of nowhere, but with an air of utter stillness that always put Jesse mildly on edge. The sky above him was open, vast and black, light pollution blotting out the stars so that if he glanced up, the void seemed to yawn at him, swallowing him up in its emptiness. Nothing like the bright empty skies of the desert, back home in New Mexico. Jesse considered for a long moment. Right now, if his commanding officer were to ask him, the colour was black.

The engine of his motorbike was still running—a quiet, comforting purr underneath his hands and thighs, solid weight between his legs. He turned off the power, reluctantly, already feeling more uncomfortable at the sudden silence.

The informant, like most uninformed informants, had assumed that a quiet still town would be the perfect place for a meeting. Of course, this worked perfectly in the movies. In real life, however, small towns weren’t usually the best of options—McCree knew from experience that cities were the places you wanted to be. In a big city, everyone was a stranger, people could disappear any day, and the larger the better. Nevertheless, here he was. The rendezvous point was some two hundred and seventy miles outside of Saint Petersburg, located near the edge of the town his contact had chosen. It had a rather long, unpronounceable name Jesse had long forgotten. The coordinates were on his datapad, at least, and he’d memorized the layout of it. A mandatory check-in wasn’t for a while yet. He had time. This one was off the books, no backup. Despite the less than ideal location, he wasn’t too concerned. He was just following a lead and meeting a guy, after all.

But he had also brought Peacekeeper, just in case.

The First Omnic Crisis had been officially declared over a few years after Jesse McCree had been born, but a second crisis during his lifetime seemed to be nearing reality much quicker than he’d previously thought, if the daily reports on Atlas News were anything to go by.

If he really strained to recall the Crisis, he could conjure up several hazy images in his brain—reports of bombings, frantic evacuations, omnics marching on cities across the globe. But generally he’d been too young while the chaos was occurring for it to properly register in his mind. At the time, it had been too distant in his life to worry about. Jesse’s childhood had been fairly normal, schooling average, career prospects less than ideal once he’d started running with the Deadlocks, but other than that he didn’t consider it to have really affected him in a personal way—that is, until he came into contact with Overwatch. With Blackwatch. With Reyes. Omnics and their ensuing crises entered a little more highly on his radar nowadays.

Which brought him to his current location.

Now that he had passed through some of the worst hit areas of Russia, he mused on the damage. After the last omnic push had been stopped, there had been the necessary and highly costly rebuilding phase. Sadly, as always happened, the majority of funds had been relocated towards the biggest cities and the tourist and government hotspots. This country had been hit badly by the devastation, and the omnic devils were said to still stumble around in some desolate parts of Siberia. Svyatogors were highly effective in combating omnics, but were also devastatingly expensive.

This particular area, a small cluster of towns bordered by barren farmland, seemed to have missed out on the majority of the reconstruction. Jesse had started off from Saint Petersburg on his bike, passing through a handful of different towns and truck stops along the way. In each one, as he always did, he had lifted a few items from unsuspecting targets, swapping and discarding clothes as he went, emerging a different person than he had been when he’d originally arrived in Russia. The further he got out from the urban areas, the more desolate and depressing the countryside became. Thick coarse gravel churned beneath the wheels of his old-fashioned motorbike, and after an hour or two he had stopped bothering to count the number of empty, shelled out ruins and the grim, weathered faces of the people he saw. The storm clouds had followed him from the city, hovering over him like a bad omen, but it hadn’t rained yet. By the time they finally broke, pouring out over the land and turning the soil into thick mud, McCree hoped he’d be far away from here, continuing down along a trail he’d started following three weeks ago.

Now that he could actually see the place, he wasn’t impressed—dingier than the photos he was able to find online, and smaller looking too. Silently, he wished his informant could have picked a better spot.  He’d worked in fancier and more optimistic places than this; but... then again, he’d also worked in worse. Tonight’s outing was for the purpose of contacting an informant, so McCree wasn’t about to complain (regrettably, the contact wasn’t the much preferred sexy type, but it still beat crawling through sewage in Laos).

After glancing up at the sign above the door of his final destination, he dismounted his bike. Flicking out the kickstand with his foot, he leant it to the side, and locked it with his fingerprint scan. Checking the sides out of habit, he winced at a few new scuff marks running through the crimson paint from the ricochet of the gravel. That was the problem with wheeled bikes, those that still made contact with the ground. When he got back home to the States he’d have to take it back into the shop for a touch up, and Old Pete at the garage would laugh at him over a glass of iced tea and tell him to finally “get wit’ the times an’ invest in a hoverbike, ya darned fool,” but Jesse would never abandon her. She was his pride and joy.

The cold wind picked up and McCree shivered in the darkness. Pulling his scarf up higher around his neck, he retrieved his hat from where it hung on his nape for travel and put it on, already feeling more comfortable at the motion. Though he’d been swapping clothes consistently every time he stopped, he hadn’t changed his hat. You needed to keep some things regular, after all, since a man in entirely foreign clothes could never disguise that slight discomfort. Then he gave his bike another glance, frowning slightly. He’d had a few modifications done to its security system, and it couldn’t be unlocked without his fingerprint, but Jesse didn’t doubt that there were some entrepreneuring criminal types who might give it a go nevertheless. There was nowhere else to leave it, however, so he decided to take his chances. If nothing else, the fancy locking mechanism would hopefully dissuade most people, since criminality required a level of casual, unfaltering confidence the majority of people could never quite muster. His slim datapad, secure in its black and red case, beeped once, twice. Jesse switched it to silent.

A light flickered behind him, and he turned quickly to see where it came from. Tucking his head forward to shade his face with the brim, he cast a glance over the streets. Half burnt out neon lights popped around a toothpaste commercial in both English and Russian. White teeth blared from a woman's smile, even, regular, perfect. The brightest, whitest smile around! Don't delay, pick up your tube today! Fake.

Re-pocketing the datapad, Jesse pushed the brim of his hat further down his face and shouldered open the heavy wooden door of the bar.

A sudden rush of noise and sweltering heat washed over him as he entered the bar. It was a regular hole in the wall, dim and grimy, peeling dark green paint on the walls, lurid and unpleasant. McCree bumped the door shut with his shoulder and stuck his hands into his pockets. He was grateful he’d ditched his usual casual wear for something low profile, even if the suede jacket he’d lifted from the back of a chair in a roadside diner wasn’t really doing him any favours. Before long he’d start sweating unpleasantly in this get-up, he knew, so he decided to get this over quickly.

A few people turned to look as he entered, eyes immediately drawn towards his hat. One corner featured a pool table, velvet old and worn, where several women were milling around, laughing and smoking, bent close to each other in order to hear over the loud music. They were clearly keeping to themselves, staying away from the men in a protective circle. Jesse didn’t blame them. He shifted his weight into a casual position and took a few steps in, glancing around at the company he would keep for the next hour or so. Thankfully, the glint of his robotic wrist wasn’t out of place—there were some beefy mercenary types boasting robotic prosthetics at one table, playing cards and laughing uproariously, though there were a notable lack of any omnics in the room. Jesse remembered the shelled out ruins from earlier. Omnic hate remained strong here.

Jesse lengthened his stride and sat down at the bar, the stool uncomfortably sticky, then nodded at the bartender. Jesse gave her a quick once-over. The girl on shift that night was not altogether unattractive, he mused. As she moved to push a lock of dark dyed black hair behind her ear, Jesse noticed her left forearm, where his trained eyes could spot a distinctive thick rope of fading bruises matching the shape of a large handprint. She’d attempted to cover it up with concealer, but in the heat of the bar it had started to sweat off, lines of pale makeup streaking across the darker fading purple. Jesse swallowed, hoped at least she’d given the other person a matching set.

McCree pulled his hat off his head and set it down onto the bartop, reaching into his pocket for a cigar and lighter, which he placed next to the hat for later. The girl came over, drying a newly washed glass.

“What can I can get you, sir?” she asked in fluid Russian, slightly shouting in order to be heard.

Jesse’s Russian wasn’t perfect, but good enough to get him around most places without incident. Working for Blackwatch and accepting assignments around the world meant you either picked up a working knowledge of most languages, or you were a poor assassin, which equaled a dead assassin. Speaking English here wouldn’t immediately set off any major alarm bells given the sign outside, but Jesse was aware he had a distinct and heavily recognizable accent, which meant he should probably try to stick to as much Russian as his limited vocabulary would allow. An English speaker here probably wouldn’t be remembered, but a New Mexican would be.

“If you have it, bourbon. On rocks.” He winced at his own clumsy Russian. Careful, careful.

The girl nodded once. “Yeah, we have it. But I’ll need to see some credit before I fetch it for you. It’s uh, standard procedure to see the money first. Nowadays.”

McCree nodded and flashed her a few banknotes pulled from the back pocket of his jeans. He carried no credit chips on assignment; cards were traceable. Cash never was.

She glanced at the money and turned to grab the bottle and a glass. He turned to survey his surroundings again. Most of the few who had been staring at his clothes had now turned back to their cards or their drinks, but Jesse wasn’t fooled. He knew when people were truly occupied and when they were trying hard to pretend they weren’t. There were a couple of men sitting at a table close to him who were definitely fingering concealed guns, and two at another that looked vaguely like gangsters from a bad movie. They were sitting at a table next to the window, so they had most definitely spotted him arriving on his expensive bike. Jesse shot them a quick glance from the corner of his eye, grinned at the thought that they were probably planning to have him killed and thrown out with the trash later for it. Subtly, he slid his left arm down his side to brush lightly against the shape of his six-shooter. It was concealed in a holster under his jacket for quick draw, and not in its customary place on his belt. He wasn’t looking for trouble with any civilians, but better to be ready in any situation. For them, or anything else.

He checked his watch again. Five minutes until the meeting.

The bartender poured him his drink. McCree nodded to her gratefully before passing her the money.

“This is an interesting place,” he began casually. “We’re not far out from Volskaya, no?”

“That’s right.”

Jesse could barely hear her over the heavy bass line of the song playing in the background, low and thrumming. It was in English, and vaguely familiar. He couldn’t remove his jacket due to the holster, but as he shifted in his seat he could feel the uncomfortable sensation of sweat forming underneath the collar of his stolen shirt and under his arms. “Served us well for what happened, those years back,” he replied.

Now she looked uncomfortable. “We don’t like to talk about them here.”

Them. Jesse nodded. “I figured as much.” He leaned in like he was interested, shooting her his sleaziest smile. “Tell me about people here,” he murmured, as if sweet talking. “Is there anyone interesting around?” His contact would meet him here at the bar. That was the arrangement.

Jesse took a sip of his whiskey. It wasn’t bourbon. He actually wasn’t sure what it was.

He decided not to mention it. The biotics system running through his body would neutralize the effects of any known drugs, if they had been added.

The bartender seemed to catch on pretty quickly to his maneuver, giving the bar a quick once over before seemingly deciding that her boss wasn’t around. She leaned her weight over the bar top, returning his smile.

“We get a lot of interesting types of people here,” she replied. “Rough sort of town, but you might find some... suitable company, if that’s what you’re wanting.”

McCree got the hint and palmed her another banknote. She slid it into her back pocket. Then, brusquely: “Your date isn’t here.”

McCree stopped in his tracks, careful to maintain his easy smile as an alarm bell went off in his mind. “No? That is a shame.”

She knows more than she should, he thought uneasily.

“Never showed, I’m afraid. You’ve been stood up.”

Jesse grimaced, then shrugged casually. “Well, sometimes things do not always work out as planned.” So the contact hadn’t showed up.

“But if you’re not that picky,” she continued, voice carefully balanced, ”there’s someone else you might be interested in.” She gave him a long, hard look; leaned in so close that McCree could smell the strong smell of her cheap perfume. “I’m tired of your sort appearing—the dangerous sort.”

Jesse paused. While he searched for the words in his limited vocabulary, he lowered his gaze non-threateningly, then gave her an easy smile. “The dangerous sort?”

She didn’t hesitate. “This place has always had trouble with drug dealers and smugglers. But there’s been an increase recently in… other kinds of trouble. The kind of trouble you sort bring. I don’t want this town known as a haven for… murderers and assassins.”

Jesse didn’t miss the slide of her eyes to the corner, a hang, and a slide back to his face. A connection. Assassin. That was the key. His heart began to race quicker, involuntarily. He drank more of his liquor.

Another warning bell in his mind. Why did she know so much?

Because the contact warned her, his brain offered in response. He told her he wouldn’t be coming.

That’s what you think I’m here for? I’m just a regular guy, I’m afraid.” McCree chuckled softly, as if her words were entirely outlandish, an amusing joke. “An assassin. Well. That does sound interesting, doesn’t it?” Tone light, jovial.

She didn’t respond to his bluff, but instead stared straight at him, and shifted her head almost imperceptibly towards the back of the bar, into the smokiest, darkest corner. “Him.”

Jesse resisted the urge to turn around and give himself away. Instead, he glanced toward the large mirror set behind the bar, accompanied by bottles of cheap liquor. The light from behind the bar illuminated it, but he could barely see the reflection of the man she was referring to. He was dressed in all black, dark hair tied in a topknot, and the smoke from the cigarette between his lips obscured his face, sitting all in shadow. A single drink in front of him. Clear. Vodka? Gin? Heavy alcohol content, yet barely touched. Here was someone who wanted to remain sober.

Jesse knew instantly who this man was. Or rather, what his codename and profession was. Here was the reason his contact hadn’t showed. McCree cursed internally. He hoped the guy had gotten away, but somehow, he doubted the outcome would be so positive. He ran his arm over his gun again. It looked like he would be needing it after all.

“Alina!” came a gruff voice suddenly from the back of the bar, near the door leading to the kitchen. “I pay you to serve drinks, not gossip. You want company, you can join the girls on the street corner!”

She practically leaped back from the bar-top, but the warm metal of Jesse’s arm on her hand stopped her in her tracks.

Jesse nodded towards the kitchen door. “Do you need any help with him?” he murmured, flicking open his jacket just enough to allow the barest glint of Peacekeeper to shine in the dim light.

She glanced at his arm, at the gun, and chewed down on her bottom lip. Then she pulled her arm from his grip and hurried away. “I think you need it more than I do,” she hissed behind her as she went over to another patron.

McCree reluctantly finished the not-bourbon, wincing as it burned acidic all the way down his throat. Truth be told, he was breaking one of the first Blackwatch rules by drinking on the job. But you couldn’t go to a bar like this and not order a drink. It was odd looking, and in these types of places, odd translated into suspicious. He lit his cigar and smoked casually for a while, keeping his eye on the figure in the corner. This man wasn’t supposed to be here. He was supposed to have left by now.

Though he couldn’t see his face, Jesse knew the figure in the corner was looking at him. He could feel it, burning into the flesh of his back. A challenge. A million-word silent conversation spoken across the bar.

Jesse was supposed to have met with his contact to find out where his target would be next. His target wasn’t supposed to be waiting for him.

Something was clearly wrong, and now Jesse needed to use his wits if he was going to get out. But showing discomfort here would be suicidal, and so instead he lit his cigar, smoking casually.

Jesse’s casual manner worked until some new patrons sat down at a table and blocked the reflection of his target in the mirror, and he was reduced to relying on his hearing and the occasional glance around at the décor. It wasn’t going to hold up for much longer, especially since the aesthetic of this place involved several ancient photographs of Red Square, a few mounted animal heads that looked distinctly nasty, in his opinion, and some questionable stains on the bar top. And Jesse had looked at them one too many times already.

McCree heard the shift as the man in question silently rose from his table, and strained to hear his conversation with the server as he settled his tab. The conversations around him and the music were drowning out the sound. Jesse realized he should have invested in that enhanced hearing device Dr. Ziegler had been trying to pitch to him, despite how obvious and high profile it looked. They were still working on making the piece more discreet. He’d turned her down at the time, citing that his ops would rarely allow something so obvious. In retrospect, given that currently he was having difficulty listening in on what could contain important information, it might have been a foolish move, especially since soon afterwards Dr. Ziegler had flown off to Singapore on some urgent mission Jesse hadn’t been privy to the details of. She still hadn’t returned when he’d left. Jesse privately hoped she was alright, and grimaced at the thought of Reyes dressing him down when he got back for turning down something that would cost him a mission.

He was so engaged in mentally recoiling at the prospect of being verbally decimated by Reyes (yet again), he almost missed the moment his target slipped out the back door.

As soon as he realized, McCree carefully got up from his stool and replaced his hat on his head, chewing on the end of his cigar. The mercenaries who had been eyeing him earlier gave him a warning glance, but he inclined his head to tell them he had no intention of intruding on their turf, and they relaxed, clearly realizing the fight wasn’t worth it. He strolled to the fire escape as quickly as he dared, silently cursed the weight of his own heavy footsteps, and stopped just before he reached the door. He checked his surroundings one last time. Nobody was paying attention to him anymore. That was good.

He paused, counted backwards down from five, and unzipped his jacket. Then he pushed open the door.

The fire escape led out onto a barely lit back alley, moonlight blocked by the tall brick buildings that rose uncomfortably close together on either side of the paved street. The building directly across from him was a grubby looking apartment complex, and to his left were some industrial sized garbage dumpsters from which he could hear the distinct rustling of some kind of scavenging animal. McCree waited until the door had shut behind him, blocking off any backlight, and put out his cigar. From the bar, he could still hear the low throb of music. Silently, he slipped Peacekeeper out of its holster. It had finally started to rain.

He glanced around, vision hindered by the dark and doubly so by the weather. Captain Amari had the scopes on her rifles, and Commander Morrison had his tactical visors that enhanced vision in his right eye, giving him increased range and accuracy, but McCree hadn’t secured anything similar before he’d flown out to Saint Petersburg, thinking that he’d be in, out. A quick, no-engagement op. He was deeply regretting it now.  

McCree slipped into the shadow of one of the dumpsters that was sitting tucked up against one wall. He heard the sound of the animal, whatever it was, silently flee into the night, and shot a quick glance to the brick next to his head. Someone had sprayed an unflattering picture of an omnic in blue paint and written something in Russian. Jesse didn’t even need to understand the writing to know it was a slur.

He paused for a moment to think. The contact hadn’t showed, either because the target had made his presence known and the contact had been scared off, or—McCree winced—the contact was now face down deep in a river somewhere. For three weeks he’d been stalking this target, and each time he had moved on before McCree could get there. But this time, he’d remained long enough for Jesse to catch up. Either there was some business of his here that remained unfinished, or he was deliberately lying in wait for his pursuer.

Given what had just happened in the bar, Jesse knew which answer he’d bet his credit chips on. And he really, really didn’t like that idea. Placing his forefinger alongside the trigger of his revolver, he took a deep breath and held it, listening for movement.

The whistle of an arrow slicing through the air came almost too late, and he barely rolled forward in time to dodge what would have definitely been a headshot. The arrow glanced off the brick and landed somewhere in the darkness behind him with a distinct, metallic sound.

McCree cursed, swinging his head around wildly to pinpoint where it had come from. This was supposed to have been a simple recon job. Reyes was going to have his head on a silver platter. But his target was another assassin, and the first rule of taking down another assassin was this: always assume they were one step ahead of you.

Better to be overly cautious than to be dead, child, Ana had drilled into his brain after he had come back from a Blackwatch op that had left him with injuries down the entire left side of his body. Unfortunately, caution had never been Jesse’s strongest suit, and now the sniper had revealed his location. Stealth had gone out the door along with his target, and now there was nothing he could do but retaliate, as messy as it might be.

McCree raised his revolver and fired into the night. He heard the sound of the bullet ricochet off the roof tiles of the apartment complex across from him, and, there—the sound of soft, quick footsteps. His fellow assassin clearly liked the high ground. Another arrow came flying through the air and barely missed his left thigh, instead puncturing an unfortunate black garbage bag that began to emit a horrible rotten smell.

He had to get out of his current position, mostly because he was being sniped at from a height, but also partly because of the stench. Taking potshots at a man while he was surrounded by garbage—well, that just wasn’t right. McCree couldn’t scale the building, not without specialized equipment, but he did have good range on his gun, and his ma had always told him he was a crack shot.

He fired again, and now he saw a few lights turn on inside the complex and heard the sound of people raising their voices inside the bar. He knew he had to draw this out into a place where the target had no height advantage and where the sound of gunfire wasn’t going to attract the local police.

They were near the edge of town, and the town was bordered on all sides by barren farmland. It wasn’t great, but it would do. And McCree was a self-professed master of improvisation, especially when everything had gone up shit creek without a paddle.

Jesse began running towards the street corner, ducking in and out of the street lights. Before he made it, however, from out of nowhere came a burst of what felt like slivers of glass digging into his legs and chest. He swore loudly, instinctively threw his arms up over his face and felt the sharp puncture of metal into his forearms. Fucking hell, what was that, a shrapnel grenade?

He had no time to think. Jesse raised his gun and fired again wildly, and heard the satisfying sound of someone slipping on wet roof tile. He doubted he’d eliminated the target, but he’d thrown them off. Time to escape and salvage as much of this as he could.

Rounding the corner of the bar, Jesse could see people piling out of the front door, yelling at him in Russian and a few pulling out mobile devices. He could see the bartender from earlier, eyes scanning the streets. That was bad. Any footage was bad.

He grimaced, made a split second decision and fired a warning shot far above their heads at the sign over the door. The bullets pinged off the sign and Jesse heard them scream and duck, which gave him just enough time to decide to ditch the bar entirely and run across the barely lit deserted street towards the next block. He cursed again. He’d have to pick up his bike later, if it was still there by the time he made it back.

There were footsteps behind him, a soft thump thump thump in an erratic pattern that he knew was his pursuer.

Jesse ran straight down another alley, praying his intel was good and this did in fact lead to the outskirts of the town. He’d already been wrong about too many things tonight. The sound of his heavy boots against the ground was uncomfortably loud, thundering in his ears. Thankfully, he wasn’t currently wearing spurs. If he was, he might never live that one down.

You might not live at all if you don’t fire back, son, he thought, which for some reason came to him in Commander Morrison’s voice. Spinning himself around in a sharp 180, he fired three rounds in quick succession.

He stopped. He couldn’t hear his pursuer. Had he lost him? Unless—

The arrow came shooting through the air and into his right thigh. Jesse cried out with the pain, felt his knees buckle as he grabbed at the wound with his free hand. He heard the horrible grate of his datapad skidding out of his pocket, and watched in increasing horror as another arrow landed directly into its mark, shattering the screen beyond repair.

Leave it. Just leave the damned thing.

McCree looked down at the mess of his leg. The arrow had pierced right through the heavy denim straight into the muscle. He grabbed the shaft of the arrow, set his jaw, and pulled the barb straight out, teeth grinding with the pain. If he made it through the utter wreckage of tonight, Reyes was going to flay him alive.

He backed up against the metal fence at the end of the alley, limping, and fired again, and again. He could hear sirens wailing in the distance; the sounds of dogs barking and people yelling. He had no idea if his shots were even hitting.

Jesse glanced up at the height of the fence. With one leg now pretty much unusable, it loomed higher. He’d never scaled a fence with one leg and a bleeding arrow wound before.

“Well, guess there’s a first time for everythin’,” he growled, and hoisted himself up on his good leg, Peacekeeper gripped between his teeth. The pain was agonizing, sharp metal tearing into the flesh of his right hand, but he kept going desperately, straddling the fence and dropping himself down into the wet bushes on the other side.

He landed badly. As he tried to push himself up, he heard the sickening screech of the internal gears in his cybernetic arm give out. He dropped, teeth clacking with the impact, and fire shrieked up his wounded leg. Four years he’d had this thing now, without any major complaints, and now it decided to take the evening off. At least he hadn’t landed on his injured thigh. He could keep going. He had to, if he was going to salvage this utter wreck of a mission and get out with his life. He was out one arm and one leg. He could make it. He pushed himself up with his right fist, breathing shallow and rapid, and kept running.

The bushes beside the fence led into an expanse of flat grass and nettles that would leaven the height disadvantage and allow McCree to fire without guessing. And there, even through the drizzle of rain, he could see his mark, a black silhouette against the moonlight, approaching him with a drawn bow.

McCree closed his left eye and aimed for a brief moment. He fired, just at the same time an arrow came hurtling its way into his ribs.

It punctured through the material of his jacket, past his shirt, and straight into the kevlar of his undervest. The impact threw Jesse into the damp grass, Peacekeeper thudding somewhere in the dark tangle. Cursing, Jesse reached for his pocket. Then he remembered his datapad was gone, shattered somewhere past the fence. He cursed again.

This was supposed to have been simple. Now he was bleeding out and he had no idea if the sniper was dead. He knew his only hope were the few Blackwatch agents who would be on duty at this hour, and they’d only begin looking for him when he inevitably missed his scheduled check-in.

McCree’s last thought before falling unconscious was that he really wished he could have seen the sun setting over the mesa one last time, dark reds and burnt oranges spreading over the pale pink rock.

He’d messed up. The colour now was red.

The transmission had come in through the private comm frequency on his datapad three weeks prior, as McCree had been laying low in a motel in Nevada relaxing after the success of his last op. It was a kill mission, that much was certain. Jesse's specialty. The sender’s frequency had been scrambled, as was usual, and a money deposit for necessary purchases had been run through twelve fictitious names before finally landing in one of his accounts. That was also fairly usual.

What was unusual were the contents of the transmission itself.

DRAGONSTRIKE. That was it. There had been no time limit given, no details for a later meeting to confirm the kill and receive the rest of the payment. Just the name, just an alias.

But Jesse McCree wasn’t a professional Blackwatch assassin for nothing. And professionals never turned down a job so intriguing.

He hadn’t heard of the alias before, but that wasn’t wholly uncommon. The worst assassins were the ones who plastered their names and faces around the world on wanted posters, reveling in the infamy, wanting to be caught.

The best assassins were the ones nobody knew existed.

 

From: user_id_3323393
To: user_id_2665464
Sent: [CLASSIFIED]
Subject: FWD:detail_163746796

Do you know about this? Has this op been confirmed?

 

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From: [CLASSIFIED]<d465d76sh563@s.t.y.m.p.h.a.l.i.a>
To: user_id_3323393<09f84ef9092m@t.h.e.m.i.s.c.y.r.a>
Sent: [CLASSIFIED]
Subject: detail_163746796

DRAGONSTRIKE.

 

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From: user_id_2665464
To: user_id_3323393
Sent: [CLASSIFIED]
Subject: RE:detail_163746796

I’m checking it out now. It’s unusual, but accept it as per the others. I'm monitoring it.