Keith trailed a few meters behind his target, hood over his head ostensibly to protect his ears from the cold. She spoke on the phone while she walked, her hands moving animatedly with her words, and Keith caught a few snatches of conversation.
“…pick something up and then I’ll be there,” she said. “Yes, Matt, I know I promised I wouldn’t be late this time, but I got held up at work…”
Keith’s heart pounded in anticipation when she ducked into a nearby bakery. He lingered outside, leaning against the building with an unlit cigarette between his fingers, eyes fixed on the sidewalk rather than on the city crowds passing by.
The city itself was both familiar and unfamiliar to Keith; it was his hometown, the place of his birth, but by then it had already fallen decades before. Seeing it like this, vibrant and healthy, its people smiling and going about their business, brought an envious ache to his chest.
The envy sharpened into anger, directed at the young woman inside the bakery. Keith scowled, fingers automatically curling around the hilt of the knife hidden in his jacket, but Kolivan’s voice whispered caution to him:
“Do not let emotion guide your hand. Remember that there is no going back for you; if you are seen - if there are witnesses - there will be consequences.”
Keith exhaled and forced his grip to loosen, right as his target left the bakery with a white box in her arms. He resumed his hunt, hanging back a few paces so she wouldn’t notice him, and when she finally stepped into an apartment building, Keith stopped.
He knew from research he’d done that his target lived on the fifth floor, but for now he would wait, preferring to fulfill his task in the cover of darkness.
Keith counted his blessings that Katie Holt, despite being a prodigious computer scientist, lived in such a dingy apartment. Though the fire escape creaked more than he liked under his weight, the noise was soft and unobtrusive enough to be blamed on a brisk evening breeze.
He wedged the tip of his knife underneath the window, smirking when the lock proved broken and he could push it up. Then, carefully, he crept inside, his feet sinking into a soft rug.
The tinny sound of speakers drifted into the living room. Keith, grip on his knife tight, crept away from the room and down the hallway towards a closed bedroom, lighting streaming into the hall from underneath the door.
Music played inside, something loud and catchy that would not become ‘classic’ enough to still be known in Keith’s time, but it suited him and masked any noise he might make.
Patience yields focus. His old mentor’s words echoed through his head once he stood in front of the door, resting his hand on the doorknob.
(Never mind that Shiro would disapprove if he could see Keith now…)
Keith turned the knob and shoved the door open; he shot inside, barely processing his surroundings even as the door bounced against the wall. He only saw his target, her eyes wide, where she stood with a pair of glasses halfway between her face and a vanity.
She dropped her glasses, putting her hands up reflexively, but Keith moved too fast for her to fight him, knife already angled towards her throat. But then—
She caught Keith’s wrist, and during that split-second shift, Keith met her eyes.
They were too high.
Keith stared, hesitating as he finally took in more details. Hair too short, the glasses, the slender but masculine build, the—
His distraction cost him, and the man snatched the knife from Keith’s hand. He held it improperly, grip too loose, but then Keith was unarmed.
But not defenseless.
Keith stepped back, effortlessly sliding into a defensive stand, the kind to defend against a short blade, but the man that faced him didn’t attack.
Instead he demanded, “Why did you attack me?”
Keith bit his lip. “Who are you?”
The man blinked and said, “You just broke into my apartment and attacked me with a knife!” He gestured around the room, pointing at a set of speakers balanced on a bedside table. “What, don’t tell me you’re my neighbor and filing a noise complaint?”
Absurdly, the catchy tune playing in the background lent their altercation a strange atmosphere, but Keith had all but tuned it out, head lost in his objective until now.
“I…no,” Keith said.
The man snorted, raising the knife to his face and examining it without taking his attention off of Keith. “Odd sort of metal though,” he observed, eyes flitting up to him. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Is it some kind of steel?”
“Luxite,” Keith told him with a shrug.
“Lux-what?” he said. “I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s forged from a rare metal mined from deep underground,” Keith explained. “It hasn’t been discovered yet.”
He crossed his arms and stared at Keith skeptically. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that you haven’t developed the technology to be able to mine it,” he said. He relaxed his posture, and though he was wary of leaving witnesses - of telling them too much - he held no grudge against this man who looked eerily like his target.
For some reason, the man laughed so hard he wrapped an arm around his belly while Keith stared at him, bewildered. When he caught his breath, he smiled and said, “Are you from the future or something, here to kill me for some choice I make that affects it?” He rubbed the back of his neck and added, “Oh, I always knew I was destined for great things, so I’m glad to know my efforts are finally paying off.”
Keith gaped at him, arms hanging loosely at his sides; his heart pounded, shocked that he could’ve guessed the truth so easily. “Not you,” he said when he recovered.
The man sobered immediately, eyes round with surprise. “Wait, what?”
He shook his head. “You’re not the one scientist I’m looking for.”
“Oh, you have Star Wars in the future?” he said with a smirk.
Keith scowled and crossed his arms. “We are not fighting stars,” he retorted tersely. “Now, I have a mission, and since I’ve gotten you mixed up with someone else…maybe you can help me?”
“Exchange one life for the many?” He tapped his cheek, eyes darting around as he mulled it over. “How do I know you’re not just some psychopath trying to get away with murder?”
“I stopped when I realized you weren’t my target.”
“So you did,” the man agreed. He sat at the foot of his bed, Keith’s knife still held loosely between his hands, then glanced up at him. “Then who is your target?”
Heat flared under Keith’s collar under the man’s sharp gaze, making him almost as anxious as the memory of Kolivan’s warnings to be discreet, to avoid notice and detection. Yet here he stood before the man that he mistook for his target, conversing with him and…asking for his help.
Keith didn’t know this city, this time, like he knew his own, or that was how he rationalized what he said next:
“I’m looking for a scientist named Katie Holt.”
The effect on the man was instantaneous, anger overflowing as he shot upright and used the few extra centimeters he had in height to tower over Keith. “You won’t have any help from me,” he said, voice low and dangerous.
Keith blinked, but he refused to back down. “And why not?” he said, glaring up at him. “You said it yourself: one life for the many. This Katie Holt is—”
“My sister,” said the man, “and you will not go anywhere near her.”
His heart sank, heavy with dread, and faced with the protective brother of his target Keith regretted convincing Kolivan to choose him.