The Beginning of Kyna
Twenty-one years earlier:
A pane of glass separates the viewing room from the sterile environment on the other side. A team of eight scientists clothed in traditional white lab coats talk in hushed tones as they stand over a long rack of test tubes. Computer printouts and graphs are scattered on a long silver table to their left. The scientists always worked in teams of eight, as was strictly ordered for all major experiments by the corporation’s CEO in accordance with his superstitious business practices. Closer inspection of the test tubes shows eggs ready for invitro fertilization. Small symbols written on each tube identify the ownership of each future child. There are eight rows of eggs, with eight eggs each. One egg is selected, seemingly at random by each scientist, now each holding a syringe. Each of the selected eggs is then injected with an unidentifiable milky white substance.
The man behind the pane of glass watches approvingly, noting the exact location of the egg that would soon be implanted within his wife. Years of rigid training and discipline allow him to stay focused with little cause for breath or blinking until the completion of the injection. He does not allow himself to turn until he witnesses the team of scientists securing the eggs carefully into a high level refrigeration safe. The man, dressed in business attire, now allows himself to walk away with an air of confidence and a clear vision of his future being carried on by this future daughter. A daughter destined to carry on his legacy, a jade dragon to act as more than merely a thorn in the side of his competition. Many years of financial investment are finally about to pay off. He has carefully chosen this female specifically to make the sting even worse in a society driven by male dominance. He can almost taste the sweet nectar of revenge as the end of a generations-long feud will finally come to a close in his lifetime.
Timed perfectly with the closure of the high-level government facility, a small coat closet opens and a figure carefully slinks out with cat-like movements. The figure, clothed entirely in black from head to toe is careful to avoid the laser triggers throughout the room as though it was a well-rehearsed dance. With practiced agility and knowledge of the security within the facility, the safe containing the embryos is quickly accessed and the location of the carefully placed eggs are jumbled. The figure works rapidly, producing replica labels to ensure that detection of the change will not be discovered until it is far too late.
My name is Kyna and I will be twenty-one in three days, the age when I will finally be able to choose to live and work outside of the confines of my living compound. In appearance, I look like an average Chinese girl: shoulder length straight black hair, small build, 5’4’, my only unique features being the flecks of green in my otherwise brown eyes. I like to say that I have the athletic body type of a teenage boy, although I suppose others may describe it as being closer to a gymnast. I am one of those cliché’ adopted children. You know, the ones where a rich American family takes it upon themselves to adopt a disposable Chinese girl. Although the Chinese government officially repealed the One Child policy in China, it is still rigidly practiced, especially amongst the wealthy elite and families that cannot afford for a child that will not care for them in their old age. This rejection of girls as a care taker in a family led to a perfect scenario for my parents to fill their barren home in a way that they were unable to fill my mother’s barren womb. My mother is Chinese-American herself and “saving” a Chinese child fit perfectly into her philanthropic agenda, giving it a personal flair.
I have been very blessed to have so much in my life with the family that chose me; as my life easily could have been something much worse, growing up as a rejected Chinese girl in a country rife with disposable females. My parents have built their empire around me, as their heir, and I have wanted for nothing. However, my father’s sensitive occupation has secluded me from growing up around anyone close to my age. As a result, I quickly became attuned to the mannerisms of my elders. Public school does not offer much in refined education; at least according to my parents, and I have been blessed with private tutors whom I continue to learn from.
Among the many tutors that I have encountered through the years, Banko has always been my favorite. I can never discern a real age for him as he can look old one day and young the next. I also have been unable to get him to admit to being of Nepalese or Tibetan heritage or perhaps something else entirely. Mother insisted upon him as my tutor due to his Buddhist background as she views patience as a virtue that is important for one to uphold, especially if that one is a woman such as myself. I have no idea where my mother “acquired” him from, as a Buddhist teacher of his standing is not something one might come across in normal walks of life. Banko has been with me since around my tenth birthday, and we bonded almost instantly. Although it is easy to say that he has not taught me much that would fall under “book smarts”, I am old enough to know that his life lessons have taught me more than I could learn from reading any book or computing any mathematical equation. In addition to his virtuous lessons long since left behind by normal society, Banko started teaching me defense techniques five years ago. These lessons are a secret between the two of us. It is not something I feel is worth mentioning to my mother, the pacifist, but I know that my father would approve, given his firm belief that one must be prepared for anything.
As a child, I have tried to always be the perfect specimen for a daughter. Walking and talking before my first birthday and displaying a photographic memory of events and anything around me or in a room I have seen for mere seconds. It wasn’t until my private tutors were brought in to replace the child care specialists that my memory and ability to grasp new information at an alarming rate seemed to be something other than a commonality. Father has wanted to test my intelligence for years, but mother is worried that it may go against my “girlish virtues” and give me an inflated sense of self-worth. I find it unnecessary to be defined by any result from a test anyway, so I have never pushed the issue. Although my bringing up might sound lonely and secluded to some, I have never been able to relate to anyone my age, so I have never felt as though I was missing out on anything anyway.
Last year, on my twentieth birthday, my father allowed me to be read into a security group to access the inner workings of the facility where he works to finally have unfettered access to some of his projects. The nature of my father’s work is a mixture of science and technology. He works in robotics and gadgets and has been commissioned for many top level government projects. I am fairly certain that my mother has no idea what my father really does at work and I feel blessed to be have begun the process of training to be a junior analyst on his team. I proved my worthiness to his colleagues at the age of fourteen when I coded a program that rivalled the security of any currently in place within the government security practices. I may have gotten a slap on the wrist for a bit of market crashing, but it was all in good fun, and outside of classified walls, none of it could be traced back to me anyhow. Since then, I have been groomed to join my father, which subsequently led to further seclusion at home.
Seclusion at home is truly more of a paradise then it may sound. My father purchased an entire cliff range overlooking the ocean and there are no neighbors for miles. There are large paddocks and many breeds of horses. A fully operating compound of workers both related to my father’s work and assistants for my mother’s many projects. It would take hours to walk across the entire property, and my favorite mode of transportation ranges from high-tech turbo golf carts, did I mention we have our own golf course, to my favorite horse Jasmine. Jasmine is a Gypsy Darner whose mane and tail always reminded me of the long thick hair associated with Jasmine from the Disney movie Aladdin. Jasmine always stuck out to me as a strong heroine when I was younger and I was transfixed with her. Although television was not a regularity in my house, one of my primary teachers introduced it to me in talking about sensitivity with Middle Eastern cultures and I begged her to let me watch it as a reward whenever I recited my lessons correctly. Even though this contradicted the sensitivity training I was supposed to be focusing on, I have always been good at getting what I wanted from people. Jasmine, the horse is marbled in color ranging from white to grey and then to a sleek flowing black to complement her kind brown eyes. I have had her for 6 years now and we have a strong bond.
Gearing up for birthday celebrations, my mother has requested a family outing for shopping to make this birthday stand out from the quiet celebrations we have had in the past. I know that my life has been predominantly sheltered and with something so high profile as all of us going out into the public eye, I can’t help but feel anxious at what this might entail. Although I have left home many times before, it was always with many body guards and rarely with both of my parents at the same time. Even if my parents were required for an official function, I was usually left at home in the fortress.
As I am preparing to be seen in the public eye, I notice a light blinking on my cell phone. It is a message from Banko apologizing for being unable to attend this evening’s lesson due to illness. Immediately, I am struck with worry. Banko is never sick. I still don’t know how old he is with that Buddhist youthfulness about him. Perhaps he is really eighty and dying. This thought leaves me feeling guilty, but my guilt is soon replaced with one of unfamiliar panic and a need to ensure his safety. I know that my mother would not allow me to miss out on a rare shopping trip that included me, so I have to think fast. Being very feminist, I know the one thing she can relate to is dealing with “woman’s pains.” I am somehow able to extricate myself from the outing with profuse apologies and promises to make it up to her ten-fold. Perhaps my persuasive tactic are finally coming in handy if they can have an effect even on my mother.
Banko’s residence is located on our enormous property in the left corner near the horse stables. After waiting for what felt like an eternity but was merely twenty minutes, I am faced with repeated unanswered phone calls to Banko. I grab a hoodie and throw it on before heading outside. My mind wanders to thoughts of being able to finally open up to my mother and tell her my wish to accompany father to work full time, and how best to broach the subject with her. I am already looking forward to talking with Banko about how best to word it when it. As I can see Banko’s house in the distance, I hear the ringtone of my father’s security guard. I quickly grab the phone out of the pocket of my hoodie and see Kano’s pained expression on the video call before I hear him speak.
Kano’s voice is lost amidst the sounds of shouts and sirens, but one sentence comes across clear: “A bomb went off next to the limo….”
I can’t catch my breath. I am sure I am having a heart attack, the world has gone silent… I start to black out. It feels like hours, but perhaps is mere seconds as I catch myself and hear shouting coming from the phone that is now lying on the ground. I slowly grab for my phone feeling as though I am moving through molasses and time is not passing in slow motion.
Six months have passed since a suicide bomber detonated himself in front of the armored limo that held both of my parents. My mother was exiting the armored car at the exact moment that the bomb was activated. I have berated myself with the details every day since that day and I wonder if I will ever reach a point when I do not feel any kind of guilt. If only he had chosen for the bomb to go off 30 seconds sooner, my mother would have still be inside the car, and she would have been protected from mortal injury.
The loss of my mother has changed me into someone even I hardly recognize. My father comes home even less than before, more often than not, sleeping at work instead of bearing to come home to the house that they shared together. He also cannot help but feel guilt, having sustained recoverable injuries while my mother suffered the brunt of the blast.
Headlines referred to it as a “random, senseless act of violence”, but I didn’t spend my adolescence growing up in what can only be affectionately called a military grade security compound, for it to be considered a random act of terror.
I have spent these past months drifting further from my father and closer to anyone who can teach me anything useful in enacting my revenge. I survive solely on the fuel of my obsession with retaliation. I am proud to say that in addition to prior firearm training, I can now shoot expertly with a wide variety of weapons, to include small arms, various bows, and missiles, among other things. Thanks to my access to funds that I have had no cause to spend up until this point, I can put any techie to shame with my weaponized gadgets. My defense training has touched upon more aggressive forms of training and has added to my mixed martial arts and acrobatic training.
Somehow within me, I know that a guilt for always wishing for my mother to be someone different is a part of what feeds the revenge. Instead of loving her as she was, I always felt a sort of resentment towards someone who loved me as her own. We never had the close bond that I developed with my father. I wish I could have seen her as the loving mother that she meant to be instead of always trying to avoid her. I would give anything to get that time back. Now that it has been taken away from me, someone will pay for taking her from me, and from my father. They will pay for turning my family into something broken and damaged.
I have taken all prior training and expounded upon it in a new devotion to my life as the deadliest weapon I can become in human form. Some days I wish for the help of cyborg parts to make me more than what I am, but I have no trouble making the most of what I have.
Since my mother’s death, I have discovered that the suicide bomber that killed my mother was affiliated with a terrorist group known as HL or حرارة لتونس (Hararra Letoonis) in Arabic, which translates to Freedom for Tunisia. I have not been able to figure out any reason why a Tunisian terrorist group would want to attack my family, let alone plan an attack on American soil. Of course this is always the ideology of the hatred for the rest, but nothing I have been able to discover about this group makes them seem like the type to go through the trouble for a suicide bombing. I know they have to be linked to some other terrorist organization in some way, but how? Why did the news never make this link? Why did they not claim success in this attack? None of it adds up.
The piercing light shining through my bedroom window rests on my closed eye lids and I slowly open them. Soreness immediately rushes through my body as I find myself hunched over my computer at my desk. I must have nodded off out of sheer exhaustion again last night. I can’t even remember the last time that I actually spent a night in my bed. You would think that eight months after the death of my mother that some sort of normalcy would start to kick in for me. Instead I find myself even more dedicated to the task of revenge.
As I contemplate making my way over to my bed, a chime sounds and I look up to see an incoming video call on my computer. The name and number are private and I immediately set a trace on the call as I quickly rake my fingers through my unkempt hair and click accept out of curiosity.
“Miss Huntersberg I presume…”
The video is showing me a dark room with barely an outline of the person on the other end. I feel weary already of the caller on the other end that chooses to cloak themselves in shadows.
“And who is this”
“I can assure you that your trace will reach nothing but loops of IP addresses from around the world as I made sure of complete security before placing this call. However, I can warrant your attempt as noble. I had to go through a fair bit of trouble myself just to reach you in this capacity.”
I can feel myself fidgeting, trying to decide if I should hang up or wait to see what this shadow man wants from me. With the lack of a concrete trace at this point, I feel it is in my best interest to know who was able to gain access through my locked down computer security and fire walls. I can already envision the hardware and network modifications I will be making as soon as this call is completed. Shadow man won’t be able to reach me again any time soon, if I have anything to do with it.
The shadow man shifts closer to the eerie glow of the screen. His face is covered with a black ski mask and dark Oakley sunglasses. The voice is gritty and sounds as though it is coming from an older man, perhaps in his 50s or 60s. The ski mask makes me want to place him in a colder climate, but that could be an intentional ruse to try to throw me off.
He finally responds with “You can call me Seamus, and I am calling on behalf of the NAIA.”
My posture is immediately straightened as my ears perk up and my mind starts racing. I can’t believe that I am actually being contacted by the North American Intelligence Agency. I have been trying to contact them for months in regards to leads on the terrorists that were associated with my mother’s death.
Seamus resumes speaking “We have an assignment for you. Do it well and we may have another, fail and it will mean termination of your life.”
Well at least there is no talking around the issue. I like a man who can give it to me straight. “What kind of a mission.”
“I’m not sure you understand,” he responds smugly, “this assignment isn’t optional or even debatable. You dug too deeply into areas you know nothing about. Now you will either prove yourself or pay for uncovering secrets. I will send over the details with a secure laptop. It should be there within the hour.”
With that, the screen goes dark. I try to take in everything I can from what I saw and heard. There was a covered window in the background and the layout from the shadows appeared as if it were some type of an office. Nothing stood out as being personalized or having a lot of furniture, so it was a location that likely wouldn’t be used again. Seamus, or whatever his REAL name is spoke proficient English but still had a slight accent, maybe Japanese, maybe Chinese. I will have to go back through the conversation I recorded so that I can study it more in depth.
Exactly 59 minutes later there is a chime on my computer and a video message from the gate that I have received a package. I accept and tell the guard to have it delivered to the main house. That means that whoever this is has connections close, really close. I still don’t know whether this is anything actually affiliated with the NAIA or not, and unfortunately I have no way to verify without getting further involved. I am not fearful of the threat. Rather I am feeling giddy with an excuse to actually do something with myself, to get out of the confines of my house where I have been suffocating with loneliness and guilt. Even before the laptop shows up, I know that I will accept whatever the mission may be. I know that whatever needs to be done will require my absence. I feel compelled to speak with Banko before this happens and send a message to him with the hopes of meeting sometime within the week. I haven’t been able to spend as much time with anyone since my mother’s death. All of it reminds me of her and her overbearing self that was wrapped around every aspect of my life.
I don’t have to wait long for the laptop to be delivered to me and I immediately open it up with the use of a 6 digit code that suspiciously appears in a text message from an unknown number as soon as the laptop is in my hands. The code’s timing starts to freak me out a little, and I feel naked to the cameras that usually make me feel secure. There has obviously been a security breach on our property and I make a mental note to talk with father’s security guard, Kano, the next time he comes home.
With the laptop now opened, the same code works to log into the computer. I am greeted with a series of schematics that appear to be a containment center in the shipping yard at the docks. The assignment seems easy enough. A simple breaking and entering or B&E. I notice that the assignment is for tonight and make a mental promise to meet with Banko as soon as I am done with retrieving the specified briefcase.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I am sitting in a borrowed car five miles from the Seattle Bay docks, waiting for the exact time that was given to me to proceed. I am preparing myself for the assignment mentally and physically with some stretching from my seat and checking out my various lock pick and electronic lock picking gadgets. I have clothed myself entirely in black from head to toe. My lack of boobs does wonders in throwing anyone off of the scent of more than a teenage boy and I am thankful for a split second. As I am about to exit the car, my blue-tooth messaging pops up on the computerized dashboard.
The shadow man Seamus is back at it. “Miss Huntersberg, I just wanted you to be aware of the fact that you are not the only one given the assignment of briefcase retrieval this evening. The real test will be in speed and who can leave the briefcase at the drop point in time. Happy hunting.” There is a low chuckle as he clicks off.
I silently curse this shadow man and instantly see movement to my left. A dark figure is visible in my driver side mirror and approaching fast. I immediately move over to the passenger seat and make a running leap out of the side door. I vault myself as fast as I can towards the shipping containers and almost step right onto a steel trap just laying out in the middle of the road.
“Seriously, what the hell?” I angrily whisper to the night. Someone could easily get hurt with amateur moves like that. I can feel the presence of at least two individuals closing in on me and I try to see what I have at my disposal. There are low laying tree branches 10 yards in front of me and I am sure that I can make it. As I leap for them at the last second I hear something whiz by me, barely missing my right earlobe. I thank Banko and many other trainers for never going easy on my training or I would have missed the branch that I was able to grasp in time, thanks to a slam dunk worthy jump.
I am caught off guard by the competition as well as the realization that I am working alone and was not prepared for this to be an assignment that may require deadly force. I quickly regroup and check what I have brought to defend myself when I wasn’t expecting to encounter more than a security guard or two. I have some jump cord, lock tools, and a few gadgets that can be useful in misdirection. I throw out a smoke grenade and jump down from the tree before it even hits the ground.
What I have now been able to identify as bullets are pinging into walls around me as I close in on the storage containers. The trajectory and directions of the shots leads me to believe that there must be at least 2 or 3 other people that were given the same assignment. I just wonder why I was sent in so utterly unprepared.
After a loud boom, an eerie moment of silence follows which makes me want to get this crap over with as soon as possible. Obviously none of these other fools understands the value of silence and conversion in a B&E assignment. By now, someone must have heard something and called it in to the emergency dispatch. I use the shadows and my small shadow to my advantage as I approach the container with the designated number: 315. I stop just short of my target as I realize that the doors are already open and I can hear voices coming from inside.
I hide behind a yellow container directly to the right of #315 and wait to see what direction my new competition will be going in. I hear the voices exit and pounce on the one exiting to the left. There is a bit of hand to hand combat, which quickly finds me separating him from his gun and his knife as my MMA skills come in handy in disabling him. I wrench the briefcase from his hands and pull, tumbling backwards when he suddenly lets go. While trying to regain my balance I find myself ambushed from behind. An arm goes around my throat and tries to cut off my air supply but I kick backwards and up, while shifting my weight forward to hit with as much force as possible. As I incapacitate the second man, I run for the fence to the right of where I parked as opposed to the entrance I came in. The rope I brought comes in handy to loop into the trees and I make it over the fence before anyone has time to follow me.
Before I know it I find myself walking briskly through a downtown area approaching the drop area, a McDonald’s dumpster. It is everything I can do to not look like a crazy person looking around me, in constant readiness for someone to attack. My heart is pounding so fast I start to wonder if it is going to pound right out of my chest. I keep checking for someone to attack me from all angles and my paranoia grows as I get closer to the secluded dumpster. Somehow I manage to detach myself from the briefcase and allow it to slip into the dumpster. As I turn to run for my life, a hand clamps over my mouth and everything goes dark.
I groggily awaken with a nose full of the scent of leather. I am afraid to open my eyes, but I sense someone staring at me and I risk it. I see black leather seats beneath me and realize that I am laying down in a car. Curiously I do not find my hands or legs bound. The space between the seats feels wide and I guess that I am probably in some sort of a limo. I look up with my right side of my face still stuck to the seat and I can see darkly tinted windows. I cannot hear the engine nor feel any movement and find it safe to assume that the car is not currently moving. A throat clears and I immediately bolt upright.
“You must be wondering why you are here.”
I struggle to find my voice and just now realize the immense dryness in my throat.
“Who are you?” I manage to croak out.
“Who are you?” I manage to croak out.
“My name is Cheung Lao, and I have been looking for your mother.”
I feel like everything in my world is wrong and spinning and I notice that his English is thick with a Chinese accent. An accent I have recently become acquainted with. “What do you mean?”
“Hui Li is your real name”
I start to panic and the car seems to close in on me. “My name is Kyna.”
I have no idea how, but this Lao guy manages to remain calm. “No your birth name is Hui Li, you were stolen from China many years ago.”
Now I just feel angry, I wasn’t stolen, I was a rejected child given to a family in another country, in THIS country! At least I think I am still in my own country. I have no idea how much time has passed or where the heck I am right now.
Without an answer, Lao goes on “A woman infiltrated the facility where your embryo was being stored and you were stolen. I have been tasked with finding you for the past twenty years.”
“What are you saying?” I have to stick my head between my legs, I am pretty sure that I am going to puke all over this nice leather momentarily.
“Your mother stole you.”
“What mother are you talking about? The only mother I know adopted me when no one else wanted me!” I practically yell it at him.
“You have known only falsehoods Hui Li, Your mother did not have the permission to do as she did. She should have never taken you.”
“How did anyone take me. I don’t even know what you mean!” My head is spinning and I am in dire need for fresh air. Shadow Man Lao seems to realize that he is in for a good puke fest soon and he lowers one of the tinted windows a bit. I rush over to the window and suck in the air like sweet nectar into my lungs. I can hear seagulls and he surf and know that we are on the coast somewhere, hopefully still somewhere in Seattle.
“Although you may be unaware, you have but one mother. Two fathers perhaps, but only one mother.”
“I am so confused, I don’t even know what you are saying. I think you are too late for whoever you are meant to search for. My mother died less than a year.”
“Ah yes, well I know much of the orchestrated fake death of your mother.”
His response makes my body go rigid. The air is sucked from my lungs. My mind reels in questions and what-ifs. “What do you mean orchestrated and fake?”
“There is much that you must learn my dear Hui Li, but for now you are to learn more about your mother and her “friends”, those that are the true terrorists of this life… The one who took you, meant to destroy an empire. Your mother is a terrorist wanted for treason in the great country of China.”
I can’t even speak. My whole world is swirling around me. How is my mother a terrorist, how does he know my mother. How is my mother…. My MOTHER mother… my birth mom IS my adopted mom. I am pretty sure that my brain is close to exploding at this point. What in the hell is he talking about. My mother is as naïve as they come in terms of business and foreign affairs. “You Lie” I spit at him.
“I can prove it to you” and with that he shows me a video of a woman who look very familiar and yet not. The woman is wearing a black tank top and camo pants, she is in a wooded area, and giving commands and rapid Mandarin Chinese, a language my mother pressured me to perfect while feigning more than a little knowledge of common faces. The woman turns to face the camera and smiles in a way that is both familiar and yet not to me, I realize that my mother is not who I thought I knew at all. I realize that I have no idea who I am, and what sham of a family life I have lived. My entire life has been an enormous lie.
Without any warning, a cloth is back over my mouth and all goes black.
I awaken and bolt upright, instantly needing to sit down, thanks to a panic attack. I look around me and see the familiar setting of my own bedroom. I have no idea how I am somehow back in my bedroom. I remember that it was just yesterday that I was wishfully thinking about the times I missed sleeping in an actual bed. Was that yesterday? It feels like years ago.
Suddenly I remember the video of my mother and I can hold it in no more. I run for my bathroom and heave into the toilet. I flush the toilet and sink to the floor huddling my knees and sobbing. “Who am I?” I ask the bathroom walls. “My life is a joke” I maniacally laugh towards the shower. “And to think I felt guilty for resenting my mother…” I do not finish my thought aloud, the thought that somehow, somewhere within me, I always knew that things weren’t right.
After about an hour of wallowing on the bathroom floor feeling sorry for myself, I take a shower and find determination in what I am about to do next. I dress in nondescript clothing. A t-shirt and jeans. I could be anyone dressed like this. Luckily living life in a compound means most people won’t know what I look like. I tie my hair back into a pony tail and start packing a backpack full of essentials.
I take one last cursory glance around my room, wishing I could take more of my gadgets with me, but I know that I can always get more. I unlock the safe behind the slide out dresser and silently thank my mother for making me continually put money into it in case anything crazy happened. I start counting and packing money into different compartments and places on my body.
As I pack up the unmarked bills, my mind drifts. Well at least this counts for a crazy time. I am numb with emotion for my mother. I don’t even know how to figure out if she is alive or dead. Father’s strange hours makes me wonder what day I actually last saw him. My guilt and rage has consumed me for so long that I didn’t even notice all of the major changes that had been going on around me. I can’t even remember the last time I saw father’s personal bodyguard Kano, who always drops by to joke around with me. When was the last time that I saw Banko? How was I so oblivious to so many changes… Was I living here alone?
I am very worried that something may have happened to father and Banko. I know that it is risky, but I have to check on Banko, I need to make sure that he is safe. I feel in desperate need for his invaluable advice before I do what I am about to do. I decide not to take a golf cart, remembering that they all have GPS chips and decide to jog over instead, happy I chose the sensible running shoes instead of something a bit more fashionable.
As I get closer to Banko’s I come upon the stables. Banko’s house is just past the stables, but I feel an eerie stillness in the air. Normally there would be a lot of noise at the stables as we are always boarding many horses at once. Something compels me to go into the stables. With every fiber of my being I know that I should turn around and walk out, but an unseen force is guiding me onward to each stall. As I get closer to the end of the stables a stench reaches my nostrils. I’m not sure how I missed it before as it gags me now and I am fearful of what lies beyond. I am praying for my dear sweet Jasmine. “Please let her be safe” I quietly whisper over and over again. As I get closer to her stall I notice horses in the stalls. I can’t help but look over. The first horse I inspect is a roan thoroughbred, a prize mare, Henrianna. She looks as if she was peacefully sleeping, except that her legs are bent at weird angles. I cover my nose even more from the stench and finally notice a single gunshot wound to her head, as my eyes drift up the wall behind her I notice dark splatters and am instantly heaving on the floor. It takes every ounce of willpower I possess to press on towards Jasmine’s stall. There are a total of eight horses dead, all shot in the same way. What kind of sick bastard would kill a magnificent beast in perfect health this way? When I reach Jasmine’s stall I’m not sure whether or not to be happy as I notice she is missing. I silently pray for her to be alive, and as I turn to run out of the back entrance I notice a slip of paper on her stall door.
The paper is pristinely white, with a slight crumple from being placed in the door catch. In block letters it reads: JASMINE IS SAFE IN HER KINGDOM, WAITING FOR HER PRINCESS TO COME HOME.
I grab the note and run for my backpack, realizing that I left it at the front door. I sprint down the aisle towards the main door not stopping for a second look into any of the other stalls, fearful of what I might find. I have no idea what to make of the note, and I know now is not the best time to sit around and contemplate. I sprint for Banko’s door and stop short when I find it hanging open.
I’m really not sure how much more I can take of this craziness and I am afraid to venture into his small living space. I have to know for sure if he is in there though. I slowly enter and notice that there has been a struggle and that Banko’s normally tidy residence is in disarray. Lamps and books are strewn around the floor, I run through the house and am thankful that I do not locate a body. I feel like the worst person in the world as I sit down on Banko’s back porch to plot my next move. I don’t even know how long Banko has been missing. I was so absorbed in my own emotions that I don’t know when everything changed. I have spent my whole life paying attention to details, only to lose them when they mattered most. Whatever happens, I know that this is home to me no longer. I stand up, heading for the path by the waterfall that leads to a seldom used gate out of the compound. There is no last look to give. I somehow know that my father is not coming back either. I have nothing left to look back for.
For the last six months I have lived my life under the radar. I chopped my hair short and died it dark violet, I even invested in some blue contacts. I live in a small apartment in a bad area of Tacoma where no one ever asks any questions about my comings and goings. I make money on simple hacking jobs and getting people identification when legal means won’t work for them. It’s not my greatest accomplishment in life but it works for a great cover as I look for my mother. By standing out against social norms, people never look for you to be someone in hiding, because you are already looked at like a criminal. The perfect cover.
I don’t know if anyone is after me or what has happened to any of the people in my life. I have been able to determine that my mother is still alive. I was able to pick her up on security cameras, once in TaiPei at an airport, and another time in Buenes Aires. The last time I saw proof of her was 2 months ago and I haven’t found anything new since. I have heard nothing from Shadow Man Lao or Sheamus, whatever his real name was, and I have no idea if any of what he said was true. I know he is not stupid and if he wanted to find me that he would. I worry for Blanko and for father. Father’s work would not give way to any sort of missing person report and I am afraid to contact him at work in case he is being watched.
I pack a simple backpack with the essentials. I have learned how to leave the house prepared to never come back to it and to call nowhere “home” again. I head to an internet café in an upscale business part of town. It is easy to pick up on the tail end of some corporate person’s use of the computer as they routinely forget to log off completely. It also allows me to work in a way that erases all traces back to me. Hoodies have become my best friend in such places. One never can be too sure in a place with cameras. Another thing I will never trust again.
Code for an illegal underground gambling site complete and posted under someone else’s record and I am logged off. I grab a quick latte and head out on the street, wondering where my stomach will lead me for dinner. The café sits on a busy corner of an intersection filled with choices for food and I like to hide amidst the crowds. I’ve walked less than a block when my stomach gives way to a feeling of uneasiness. I instantly know that I am being followed. I flip out my switchblade and keep walking as if I have noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
It might seem strange that I would sense these things in a crowded area, but I have spent a lot of time practicing Blanko’s many meditation techniques to hone my skills, and one must never ignore their gut feeling. Never one to want to prolong an incident, I turn off the main street and shortly find myself heading towards a darkened alley with a narrow exit, over a dumpster.
I keep my length steady and do not even glance behind me. After all, what is the point, whoever it is won’t stop following me anyway. I get five steps into the alley before I quickly spin around and close the distance between me and the stalker. I quickly grab the wrist of the shorter individual and spin it behind their back. I am slightly surprised at the ability of the person to spin out of my hold. The hooded individual pins my arms behind my back and pushes me backwards against the wall of a brick building. It is then that I see a wisp of lack hair peeking out from under the hood.
“I am going to release you now, but I need you to stay here.”
As the woman speaks I am frozen in place. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I am shocked into utter silence. As she removes the hood from her face, I see a familiar sight to match the voice I know better than any other. The voice of my mother.
I stand paralyzed in an alley as my mother, that’s right my mother, talks to me. She hugs me about ten times and has tears in her eyes. I can’t even hug her back I am so numb. I have so many questions that my brain has shut down and I no longer seem to have the ability to talk. She tells me that she has somewhere safe for us to talk and with head covered again leads me to a nearby upscale apartment complex.
Once inside I am still numb, having been led as if a dog on a leash I was too out of it to even notice exactly how I got here. I look around at the white walls of the dining room and notice dainty pink border around bright yellow sunflowers lining the kitchen walls. I notice a bookshelf with books and that this place looks lived in. The table is dark cherry wood and newly polished. I just sit there in that wooden chair and slowly look up at my mother who has been standing there silently waiting for a chance to speak.
“I owe you an explanation. I know that. Before you do anything, please hear me out. Everything that I have done has been to protect you. I have acted to ensure your safety.”
As she talks I find myself memorizing minute details around her house. Wondering if I should be paying more attention, and wondering if I will ever see her again after today. I have already mourned her passing. I don’t know how to act now that she is here, alive in from of me. I wonder if I even want to see her again after everything has happened.
“I knew that it was selfish of me to keep you with me for all of these years, but I couldn’t bear to live without you. I thought that I would be able to watch you from a distance, but as soon as I looked into those brown eyes, flecked with green, I knew that I was in trouble. I would never be able to live without you again.” She pauses to ensure that I am looking at her as she continues, “When I found out that the Chinese government had figured out who and where I was, I didn’t want them to know that I had a daughter. I had to make it look as if I had been killed. I knew that they would leave me alone if I had been so publicly murdered and in a large city with video and witnesses.”
I blankly look up at her, trying to absorb what she is saying as she goes on, “I knew then that your life was worth a thousand times more than mine, and I had arranged for you to be protected and sent away. I was working with your father to ensure your safety when one of them picked you up in your intelligence digging. I must admit that I was surprised at your tenacity to avenge my death. I tried to always live in a way that distanced myself from you should I ever need to depart, I never wanted you to hurt for my loss the way that you have.”
Without knowing when, I noticed that tears were streaming down my cheeks. In a comforting motherly gesture, my real and only mother came over to me and slowly wiped them away with her fingers. She sat down beside me and grabbed my hand, looking into my eyes.
“You must know how much all of this hurts me. Everything I do is to protect your life. You were hard to find. I could not let him get to you. I have lived for you since the moment you were a mere embryo. He wanted to take you from me and implant you in another woman, to act as a pawn in his evil exploits of financial world domination.”
Wait, I was lost now. A single word escaped my lips “Who?”
My mother looked shocked as she realized that she was getting ahead of herself. “I’m sorry my dear Kyna, I meant the man that would have used you. The man that altered your DNA to make you a more refined human being. The man I have been hunting your entire life. The man I once was married to, the man who is your sperm donor: Cheung Lao.”