Aurora violently jiggled the joystick and swore at the television. Some wench had raped and robbed her while she was reloading. She checked her map. There were too many hostiles approaching for her to pursue the destitute whore without her head getting blown off in the process.
Tugging the blanket wrapped around her tighter, she entrenched herself deeper into the couch’s cushioning. She popped another Spearmint-flavored snack tablet into her mouth, chewing it aggressively with an uninviting grimace plastered on her face.
Jabbing the controller’s shoulder button, her character injected herself with a questionable fluid, and her health bar began slowly refilling. Waiting for the bar to reach maximum, she headed towards a cluster of smashed vehicles, intending to use them as refuge against the incoming artillery siege that was about to befall her.
A cheerful tune interrupted the life-or-death predicament. Aurora glanced at the corner of the television where a bouncing green icon was notifying her that she was receiving a call.
Aurora rolled her eyes in exasperation and let out a frustrated sigh. She threw down the controller as the tune kept playing, annoying her all the while. “Yes! Yes!! Answer the damn call!”
The television chimed in response and the game she’d been playing went away. The image was replaced by the tired, blue-eyed stare of Commander Isaac Blackheart. His short copper hair was as prim and proper as it always was, but his sunken, baggy eyes gave the impression of someone much older than their late thirties. He spoke pointedly, and without hesitation in his voice.
“Good evening, Aurora,” he began.
Aurora stood up and straightened herself out before her superior officer, promptly saluting as she rose.
Commander Blackheart looked around the room, noticing the slightly disheveled state of it, with dirty clothes strewn as far as the eye could see. “Getting a bit lax with your cleaning habits, I see.”
“What?” Aurora asked, looking behind her. “Oh, well… when you live alone, these things happen… sir.”
Commander Blackheart let out a relaxed laugh. “It’s okay, I didn’t call you to criticize your domestic habits.”
Aurora smiled in return. “That’s good, because I really don’t have any.”
“I did call for a reason, though. We have an assignment for you.”
“Well, Darius and I. Though, to be honest, it was mostly his idea.”
“Wonderful,” Aurora uttered with a hint of sarcasm.
“Hey, that’s your Emperor, young lady.”
“Yeah, but his last ‘assignment’ nearly killed me. I’m not exactly looking forward to a repeat.”
“I think this time will be much more straightforward.”
“I hope so… Are you going to put him on then?”
“No, he’s already pre-recorded instructions, which I’ve uploaded to you as we’ve been speaking.”
Subtly recovering the abandoned controller on the floor, Aurora checked her file directory, which contained a brand new holographic message file.
“I have it.”
“Good. Watch it and let me know if you’ll be needing anything.”
“I will… and thank you.”
“No problem. Goodnight, Aurora.”
“Goodnight, sir,” Aurora saluted as his image faded from the screen.
Looking forlornly at her ransacked corpse that had reappeared on the television, she shut the game down with a heavy sigh. She stood up from the couch and ran her fingers through her hair, processing the information she’d been given.
A moment passed, and she walked over to her kitchen. Expertly dodging the empty food cartons that were littered all around, she made her way to the far end of the room. She bent down and wrapped her fingers around the handles of the large cooler on the floor, bringing it up to the counter. Edging the cooler so that the tip of the box hung over the sink, she popped open the cap near the bottom of the crate.
As she let the melted ice drain out of the bottom of the box, she pried her freezer door open, and seized one of the many oversized bags of ice that were crammed in there, dropping it next to the cooler.
Reaching into her pocket, she fished out a key, then straddled the thick steel lock looped around the cooler lid. Popping it open with a clang, she removed it and opened the box.
Cocking her head to the side, Aurora ran her eyes over the cryogenically preserved dead body stuffed inside. Everything seemed intact. For now.
The sound of water leaving the the cooler had dwindled down. She popped the cap back in and reached for a knife from the rack. Slicing open the bag of ice, she lifted it up and tipped the contents over the lifeless woman, completely smothering her.
Shaking the bag, she poured the last remaining chunks of ice into the cooler, leaving only the upper half of the dead woman’s head visible. For a second, Aurora stared despondently at the corpse, then closed the lid.
Back to work.
Returning to the living room, she flopped back onto the couch and smacked her hand against the controller, starting the unheard message file. She twisted her body to look at the holographic image rendering on the floor in front of the television.
A full-body model of Darius emerged from the static. He was tall, with an almost boyish face, topped with rich black hair. His bright green eyes suggested a sense of tranquility, while his baritone voice commanded obedience above all else.
“Hello, Vipera Aspis,” Darius began, “as Commander Blackheart has no doubt informed you by now, I have a new assignment ready for you.”
Darius’ voice almost seemed to deepen as he continued, “In approximately 24 hours, a Vanguard unit will storm Aurora’s apartment, and she will be taken in for interrogation. She will act as if she knows nothing about why she’s being held, no matter what questions are asked of her. She will then be transferred to Wrigleyville, here in the Capital, where she will be further interrogated alongside a criminal we recently apprehended overseas. His name is Ruben, and I believe he has information on the whereabouts of another man I’ve been trying to find for quite a while now. That man’s name is Jarrod, and he has knowledge that the Empire must acquire if it is to survive. It is vital that he be recovered and brought back to the Empire alive.”
Aurora leaned in closer to the projection before her, hanging on every word coming from it. “While Aurora and Ruben are interred together at Wrigleyville, she will orchestrate a prison break and have Ruben lead her to Jarrod. I’ll leave it to Aurora’s own judgement as to the cover story she conveys to Ruben. The important thing is that she gains his trust, and that she gets him to tell her or take her to Jarrod’s location. There will be shadows accompanying Aurora throughout the duration of the assignment. Any questions should, as always, be directed at Commander Blackheart on the standard secure frequency.”
There was a short pause before the projection concluded, “Vipera Aspis, you know what I expect of all of you. Imperium sine fine.”
With that, the projection of Darius flashed out of existence.
Aurora leaned back on the couch and stared up to the ceiling for a time. She let out a weary puff of air, standing again.
She walked slowly back over to the cooler she’d refilled with ice and put her hands over the top. A bleak smile glazed across her face as she looked at the clock on the wall.
She looked down at the cooler, eyes beaming.
“Should be fun, shouldn’t it?”