Winner. A trained assassin makes a desperate move for freedom.
Co-Winner, Writer's Cramp, Aug 8, 2021.
She slunk slowly along the street, staying low, sticking to the shadows, blessing the heavy weeping mist that gave her cover and near-invisibility. This mission was vital, and failure was unthinkable. From time to time, at random intervals, she crouched, froze, and peered ahead, before creeping to the next patch of darkness.
This was not her preferred habitat, was not even her own world. She cringed and pawed her whiskers after creeping through some foul odour. This world stank of chemicals, of acids, of dead rotting things. She longed for the vast, green forests and sparkling rivers and clean, crisp scents of home.
The mind leash urged her left at the intersection. Vision was poor, and The Guide relied on her sense of smell. The spoor continued straight ahead, not left. She resisted the leash until a flash of pain burned through the comm port. The Guide could read her senses, and so must know something she did not. She turned left.
This brought her to a more active area of the city. Creatures strolled the sidewalks. Vehicles prowled the streets. Streetlights cut the darkness and glowed in the mist. She shifted her colour from black to brown, to match the building beside her. As long as she was still, she was virtually invisible.
A whip of pain spurred her forward. She cringed again, but obeyed, and crept through the bright spots under the lights, hoping none of the creatures would come close and see her. At the end of the block, she picked up the spoor again and the leash pulled hard. She bolted, following both spoor and leash at top speed, past startled creatures who whirled and pointed and made mouth-noises. At full tilt, she could only cringe mentally: she had been made into something out of the ordinary and attracted attention. She was noticed and seen, a horrible sensation that made her skin crawl.
Suddenly, she realized that she had lost the spoor. The leash was slack. Glancing around fearfully, she reversed her path and sought the scent. She found it going down a basement staircase. She crept down and pawed the door. It opened to her touch. She entered the dark room with relief, and followed the spoor, creeping ever closer to her victim and the end of the mission. The leash tightened on her mind and she began to suspect that she was a pawn, soon to be sacrificed.
She entered another room filled with the scent of her target. Suddenly the leash was gone. She crouched in astonishment.
"Welcome, friend," a voice whispered. It was her language. In her ears. Words she had not heard since she was captured years ago and the mind-leash buried in her brain. "You are not alone of your kind, nor are you the only captive. Your Guide can sit on the porch of his home or in his laboratory or in his office and think himself king or emperor, ruler of worlds. But there is more to the universe than he can comprehend, and he and his kind are doomed."
She crept forward. Her nose told her this creature was her intended victim.
"Yes, I am the one you are to kill. And you are right in your intuition that you will not survive this mission. They think me important enough to sacrifice a Weapon. Note that your leash is inactive, and will remain so as long as I live or you are in this room. In this place and at this time, you are free to choose."
She twitched her tail in consternation. What if she refused to complete the mission? She could not remain in this room forever. Wherever she fled, wherever she tried to hide, there would be unending pain. The leash would whip her, drive her, madden her with torment.
Yet if she killed the creature? The leash would burn her brain to cinders the second she had ripped out its throat.
Never again would she see home. Never run through the forests with a mate. Never splash in the lake with cubs. There was only one route to freedom.
Before she could change her mind, she leapt to kill.