My fingers tingle in anticipation as I go in for the kill, the unsheathed dagger vibrating in my hand. The dark-haired man on the footpath ahead of me is oblivious to the closing distance between us. Two more strides and I’ll be upon him; I can already smell his after-shave in the still night air. No sound comes from my boots as I stride forward. Time stands still as I grip his shoulder, stabbing the blade into his back, executing the death sentence.
As I pull back the dagger, time resumes and the man continues on his way. No blood dribbles from beneath his suit jacket; there are no cries of pain. He has no idea anything out of the ordinary has just taken place.
“I don’t get it, Justin.” My younger sisterMegarawatches my victim until he disappears in the night. “Why didn’t you just actually stab him and get it over with?”
“Because my dear,” I say with a grin, “that’s not how Karma works. His death will be slow and painful.” As he deserves, I finish to myself. I recall his file; it was thicker than most – a businessman who’d stolen millions of dollars from average families through a dodgy investment scheme. He’d sent families broke, destroyed marriages and killed a mother because her family couldn’t afford cancer treatment.
Ironically enough he’ll be able to afford treatment for the cancer I’ve just given him, but it’ll only prolong his suffering. That blow was terminal.
We retreat down a side alley, check no-one is watching, then depress the buttons on our stealth bands and rematerialise. The alleyway smells of urine and decomposing food. It hangs in the humid air.
I pull out my iPhone and check for my next assignment. Glenda Thomas, age 35. Cheated on her husband. Resolution: car accident with her lover, Brett Donaldson, age 28.
These ones are easier. I don’t have to get close to the person, don’t have to touch them. “Come on, we’ve got another one. You picked a good night to start learning the family trade.”
“Great. Let’s get to it.”
She’s enthusiastic, but my feet don’t want to move. I’ve seen and done some pretty bad things in the family name over the past two years. My fifteen-year-old sister shouldn’t bear the burden of being Karma’s vengeance too. But after her two months of supervised field work, she’ll be like me.
“Megara, are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to be learning with Cressida. Bestowing Karma’s blessing is much more,” I pause to search for the word, “rewarding.”
She looks at me, her ice-cool blue eyes and black hair mirroring mine, then holds up her wrist. “Like I have a choice,” she snorts. Karma, Vengeance is tattooed on the inside of her tanned forearm, just like it is on mine. “Besides, what fun is it to be handing out rainbows and sunshine all day when I could be righting wrongs?”
“Cressida’s righting wrongs too, just on the other end of the spectrum,” I sigh.
“Come on, we’ve gotta move.” I begin running eastward along the path withMegaraa few steps behind.
People must think we’re a couple of weirdos when they see us. Our look doesn’t match any trend. Black is standard issue for those branded with vengeance. We are both in pants and form-fitting tunics, completed with leather wrists bands that hold our stealth and weapons technology. Even though the clothing is dark, no-one would call it goth or emo. Not that anyone ever really notices us. We are like shadows in the corner of your eye.
We arrive in a matter of minutes to the assigned location. Slipping behind a large gum tree, I motion forMegarato join me. Once I’m sure we are not being watched, we scaling the tree, and settle in for the wait, the thick foliage obscuring us from view.Megarafidgets continuously, but I’m as still as a gargoyle. She’ll learn to keep still. We’re watching, waiting for the opportunity to strike.
The couple, Glenda and Brett, are sitting in her car outside the motel. The phrase Get a room certainly applies.
Megarafolds her arms, pouting. “When are they going to be done already? I’m starting to get hungry.”
“Patience, little sis. Good things come to those to wait.” I find no comfort in the words personally.
“Well bad things are coming to those who keep Karma waiting, especially this Karma,” she sneers.
I grab her wrist, my eyes boring into hers. “This isn’t a game. The Fates are very clear on our role. We’re not to be seen or heard, simply to keep the balance. It’s not about us; it’s about the Scales of Justice. If you stuff up the Fates will serve you up to Doom. What are they teaching you nowadays?”
“Nowadays?”Megaraflips her long black hair and glares. “It’s only been two years since you graduated. Don’t get all high and mighty on me.” She actually snaps her fingers at me. I stifle a laugh.
The creaking of a car door turns our attention back to the targets. Giddy with lust, they’ve no idea they’re being watched as they slip into the motel room. A simple click of the right button on my band sees a bow and arrow materialize.Megaralooks at me with pleading eyes.
“I only ordered one arrow.”
“But I graduated best in my class at archery. Please. I’ve been stuck watching all night. I want in on the action!”
Kid sisters seem to have a pull that lets them get away with murder. This time, it’s more than just a saying.
“Okay.” I hand over the weapon. She pushes the base of the arrow against the string and raises the bow. Her arm is pulled back high behind her with the arrow pointing towards the bonnet of the car.
Moving up beside her to get a better idea of her view, I reposition her targeting slightly so that she will hit between the tyre and the wheel arch.
“She will lose control when the wheel comes off. The magic will know when the time is right. Our job is to plant the bomb.”
With my words,Megarareleases. The arrow flies true.
“Yes!”Megarajumps for joy, and promptly loses her footing, tumbling to the ground.
“Nice shot, pity about the stealth fail.” I drop to the ground beside her, reaching forward to pull her to her feet. “Come on, we’ve got one more assignment for the night.”
Megarabrushes the leaves out of her hair, smiling. I’m about to check the location when she grabs me on the forearm.
“Justin, did I just kill them?”
She looks a little green, as though she might throw up. My stomach turns at the memory of my first mission.
“Not necessarily. The Fates will decide their outcome. It could just be an accident that reveals their liaisons. Or even just a scare to get them back on the straight and narrow,” I lie. We’re the vengeance vein of the family. Nice is not on our agenda, nor is scaring people. We are retribution.
My hands find her shoulders and I turn her to me. “We are responsible for the scum. They have no remorse; they don’t care how they hurt others. Their lack of guilt leaves the universe out of balance. Without balance everything would slide towards Chaos.”
Pausing, I look hard into her eyes. “Do you know what happens when Chaos is unleashed; if the binds that keep him tied loosen because the Scales of Righteousness slip?”
Megarasucks on her bottom lip, shakeing her head.
“Hell on Earth, that’s what, little sis.” I sigh inwardly. “We’re doing these humans a favour.”
A quick look at my iPhone reveals the next target is across town. It’s the last one for the night, but it’s an ugly one. Norah Taylor: age 17. Murderer of a soul-mate. Resolution: Deliver to Doom.
Wow, she’s young for the worst possible fate. But killing someone’s soul-mate is a serious crime. It’s so rare true soul-mates find each other. When they do, the Fates guard them fiercely so the couple gets to live a long joyous life. Nothing steadies the universe more than that.
I flick the screen towardsMegaraso she can put in the location as well. Without another word we both depress our transportation buttons. There’s a pull that starts at my toes as a small wormhole appears beneath me. We’re gone in the flash of an eye. I’ve never gotten used to the queasy feeling that comes with transportation. It’s like being turned inside out, then the right way around again.
With a ‘pop’, the wormhole opens in a shadowy section of a local park across from our target’s location.Megarastumbles forward slightly; she’s even less used to travelling this way.
I’m about to fill her in when there’s a ‘pop’ behind us. Out stumbles my cousin Cressida, giggling. The smell of alcohol emanating from her indicates her less than gracious arrival isn’t for the same reason as Megara’s. It shouldn’t be after three years of active duty.
“Hey, Cuz!” She lifts her arm to wave. I can see the words Karma, Wealth emblazoned on the inside of her wrists. Cressida totters on her black heels, pulling at her bright yellow dress as she spies Megara. “Little Cuz! Getting ready to enter the family business?”
“What brings you to this part of town?” I ask.
“An assignment, what else? I was bummed to leave the last party, but this one’s already overdue. My last assignment was very appreciative I gave him winning Keno numbers.” She pouts. “He was hot too.”
“Cressida, Cressida,” I tisk, “What would Doom say if he knew you’re mixing business and pleasure?” My face gives nothing away, but inside I’m laughing at how easy it is to bait her.
Her eyes bug out. “You wouldn’t?!”
“Of course not,” I reply.
A grin finally breaks out across my face. Cressida’s shoulders sag in relief.
“So what wonderful gift are you bestowing tonight?” I ask.
“Winning lotto numbers, I’m to whisper them into his dreams. Seems a bit weird to be giving them to someone so old.. But then again, not much can replace the loss of a soul-mate.”
I stop in my tracks. “A soul-mate? Give me your phone.”
Tentatively, Cressida passes it over It’s the same address, but a different name. Henry Peters.
“Looks like we’re going to the same place.” My voice is grim. Opposing Karmas in the same place is unheard of, but at least I know for certain we don’t have the same target. “I think it’d be a good if we handle this covertly.”
Cressida shrugs. The three of us press our stealth buttons, disappearing from sight. We are nothing more than ripples through the air..
Megara motions to an open window at the side of the house. Inside the window is a small lounge room with dated furniture. An elderly man sits in a recliner chair – Cressida’s assignment.
“Norah? Are you still here?” His voice crackles, like the words hurt his throat on the way out.
“Yes, I’m just finishing the washing up.” From another room there’s the sound of water gurgling down into the drain.
A young girl with long brown hair enters the room, emanating a sadness I’ve never felt from an assignment before. “Is there anything else you need before I go?”
As Norah exits, Henry stretches back on his recliner, watching the news on the television. His white thinning hair is a stark contrast to his wrinkled face.
“Here.” Norah hands him the glass on her returns.. “The doctor says you need to keep your fluids up, remember?”
His lips crack open into a smile, but it fades. “Norah, why are you here? You’re seventeen, you should be out having fun, kissing boys.” He waggles his white eyebrows. Megara snickers. I elbow her sharply. “I told you I don’t blame you. You’ve done enough. Go out and live.”
She pats his hand and pulls his blanket higher. “I’m just going to finish tidying then I’ll be off,” she says with a smile, but I can sense she’s crying inside.
It’s not enough. It will never be enough. I feel her regret, her remorse, her sorrow. Cressida looks at me, suddenly appearing very sober; she can sense it too.
“This isn’t right.” I hiss. “She has remorse. I don’t do assignments with remorse. It’s Seth and Lorna’s job to dispense Karma for those with regret.”
“I know.” Her face is pained.
“What?” says Megara. “What’s going on?”
“I’ve gotten the wrong assignment.”
“Never.” My sister shakes her head. “The Fates don’t make mistakes. Dinah said that they are all seeing they –”
“I know what Dinah teaches us.” I shudder at the thought of going against the Fates and our clan leaders’ word. “But this isn’t right. I can feel it.”
Megara doubts me, I can tell, but Cressida puts her hand on my arm. “What are you going to do?”
“Watch and report back I guess.” I keep my voice low.
“No way.” Megara folds her arm. “They will dish you up to Doom for failing your assignment. I’m not going to let that happen.”
“You are not sanctioned yet to execute an assignment alone. And I forbid you.” If looks could kill I would be a pile of ashes.
“Henry,” Norah reappears in the lounge room. We all clam up, watching as though she’s an alien. “I’ve finished. I’ll –” She stops noticing Henry eyelids have dropped.
Norah leans over, kissing him on the top of the head. A tear rolls down her cheek. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers to unhearing ears. “If I could take her place I would.”
As she exits the room, Cressida turns to me. “I’m going to come with you. If you’re going to go through with this you’ll need my testimony.”
Megara’s brow creases, but she says nothing. We slink to the front of the house and watch Norah alight down the stairs. She disappears around the side of the house for a moment then returns with a bike.
She’s about to hop on when she stops, breaking down in tears. A blur of images assault my mind. Norah driving, happy, then she sneezes, again and again. Everything’s blurred for a moment. When the image clears there are horrified two faces. One is Henry. The other is a woman I don’t recognise, presumably his soul-mate. A wave of horror hits me from Norah, then guilt like I’ve never felt before.
“This is all wrong.” I repeat my earlier views. “She’s already living her own private hell. I can’t serve her up to Doom.”
I look at Cressida. Tears are streaming down her face. “I don’t know the type of scum you normally have to deal with, Cuz. But I concur. This is not just. Giving her to Doom will not keep the balance.”
“Yes, it will.” Megara’s voice is firm. “She took a soul-mate, the most heinous of crimes.”
I hadn’t noticed she’d used her band to summon weapons. In each hand is a tranquilizer gun.
“Megara, don’t –”
Before I can finish she fires. Cressida and I drop to the ground.
“I won’t lose you to Doom, Justin. I can’t. You would do the same for me. You’ll forgive me.”
My body refuses to move and I lie helpless as Megara disappears from view. The last thing I hear is Norah’s screams then darkness overtakes me.
When I come to my head is pounding. My mind’s a blur. As I shake the fog off, the memories come back. I’m about to race after Megara when I notice I’m not on the ground, but in my room.
I realise there’s someone else here. Dinah, our clan leader stoking the fireplace with Megara at her side.
“Justin, I’m so sorry. I –” Megara starts.
“The girl?” My voice is like steel.
“She’s gone. Doom has her.” Megara whimpers. “They would’ve killed you.”
She’s right, but I don’t care. I say so.
“You are too harsh on her.” Dinah’s gray eyes look cold, despite the dancing reflection of the flames. “If the Fates heard you refused an assignment you would’ve been destroyed.”
I grit my teeth. “Our job is to keep the universe in balance. Norah’s punishment was unjust.”
“It’s not our place to question our assignments, only to fulfil them.” She pushes a strand of white hair from her eyes.
“This is not what I was taught. In my training we were told we fight for good, that we restore order. There was nothing out of balance here. She had remorse.” I paused and look Dinah in the eyes. “She didn’t deserve Doom.”
“She killed a soul-mate. They’re precious to the Fates.” Dinah almost looks as though she cares. “Get some rest. You can have the day-off tomorrow then resume duty.”
I walk over to Megara, take the poker from her then push it into the fire. “Maybe I don’t want to return to work at all.”
Megara gasps, but Dinah remains calm. “You are obligated, like us all, to keep the universe in balance. That tattoo is a sign of your heritage, your duty.”
I pull the poker from the flames, pressing it up against my wrist. The smell of singed flesh fills the room. I force down a grimace and remove the hot metal rod. Only an angry red welt remains.
“Not any more.”
Throwing the poker on the ground, I stalk from the room, leaving Dinah and Megara standing like statues with horrified looks on their faces. I speak to no-one as I walk out of the house and into the world. They may come to find me, but for now I am no longer vengeance. I am just me.
The Australian Literature Review