The blackness of space was nearly complete, only faintly interrupted by the glimmer of brilliant stars and satellites shining in the distance. Metal-clad freighters and shuttlecraft of various configurations hovered patiently, waiting for docking authorization from traffic control, no doubt eager to dock in time for the evening’s festivities.
The day was special, but the evening held promise to be filled with far more excitement, as the annual celebration of the station’s sovereignty, or Founders Day, as the locals called it, was ahead. Light crowds of people ambled about the bazaar, aimless in their journey. Children carelessly splashed away in the large water fountain, central to Taloo Station’s grand shopping district.
The reverberating buzz of sitar music echoed out from The Celestial Teahouse as the complexity of Bergamot citrus blended with the scent of exotic Indian spices lingered in the air like a dense fog. An annoying creak echoed throughout the tea shop, reminding Martin once again to lubricate the hinges on the front door.
“Damn,” he said from high up on the storeroom ladder. It had been hours since his last customer, and he’d hoped to close early. Most people were either at a local pub or were already in the central promenade. Celebration hour was near and his regular tea drinking customers were notorious for overstaying their welcome. Sometimes hours past closing.
He shrugged his dissatisfaction away and shoved the bin of surplus tea back on the shelf. He gripped the sides of the ladder before slipping his feet off the rung. The station’s artificial gravity took over and he slid down three levels to the storeroom floor below.
Popping out onto the sales floor, he found it to be deserted. He was momentarily relieved that he still might be able to duck out early, but before he turned to head back into the storeroom, he sensed something—an instinct embedded in him, a link from his past. As he turned toward the intuition, a hood was draped over his head and a strong grip wrapped around his arms and chest, preventing movement. He felt the brutal strength of his captor and instinctively bent over at the waist, trying to throw him, or her, off balance. But it was futile, as the assailant appeared prepared for the maneuver.
Martin tried to free himself from the hold, but with each movement he made, the grasp became stronger.
Martin jerked his head backward, trying a different approach. The back of his head connected firmly with the assailant’s face, but the hold remained. He thrust his head back again, but with much more gusto, and a satisfying crack echoed throughout the store. Martin instantly felt a warm, wet sensation run down his neck. The assailant’s blood. The dominating hold lightened slightly, and before the assailant could regain his grip, Martin forced his biceps outward, causing the attacker to back away uncontrollably.
Martin yanked the hood from his head and ran toward the back room. As he passed through the doorway, he felt a fleeting hand grasp the back of his shirt. As the cloth stretched, Martin’s momentum slowed, allowing the attacker a stronger purchase on him. Martin’s only advantage was that he knew the layout of the storeroom, and hopefully the attacker did not.
He dashed to the left, toward his office, and as he did so, he caught a glint of light reflect off a blade in the assailant’s hand. Before he could react, the attacker lunged forward, leading with the six-inch push dagger.
Martin dropped to his knees just as the tip of the blade punctured the skin on his shoulder. The pain was excruciating, but his training had taught him to manage. With Martin’s downward momentum, the blade was only able to penetrate an inch or so before it dislodged from the assailant’s hand and went flying across the room.
Near the floor now, Martin rolled to his side and landed on his back. The first real sight of his attacker—he was dressed completely in black, including a matching face mask and gloves.
What the hell? Attack of the space ninjas? Martin mused.
The assailant peered at Martin through two slits on his mask, his eyes penetrating and dangerous. He lunged again, but Martin was ready for the assault. He brought his leg up directly into the groin of his attacker. Before the assailant could strike again, Martin shot out with his other foot, blasting the attacker’s knee sideways. The assailant screamed in agony as he crumpled to the floor, wrenching at his awkwardly bent leg.
Martin scampered into the office and scanned his desk for some kind of weapon, something that he could use to defend himself. Before he could locate anything, the assailant was back on the attack and was at his heels, wielding the T-knife once again. Martin tried to kick the blade from his hand, but his opponent’s reflexes were too quick. With each of Martin’s thrusts, the attacker drove the blade forward, causing numerous surgical cuts to Martin’s leg, blood instantly cascading to the floor.
Between stabs, the attacker’s free hand reached up and gripped Martin’s waistband. With incredible strength, he dragged Martin away from his desk. Martin lashed out with both hands in an attempt to grasp something, anything that could impede the attack. As his hands slid across his desk, he latched on to his vintage leather-bound journal—which was of no use—and a silver-tipped mechanical pencil. He threw the journal at his attacker, but he swatted away like a fly. Martin struck the attack’s chest with both feet, driving the breath from his lungs. As the attacker gasped for air, Martin lurched forward, fixing the mechanical pencil in the palm of his hand, and drove the sharp silver tip into the killer’s eye socket. The penetration was only minimal before it met resistance. But on Martin’s second attempt, he broke through the inner eye socket and into the attacker’s brain. Hot liquid gushed from the laceration as the assailant’s body twitched and convulsed uncontrollably on its way to the floor.
Martin shot back against his desk, panting heavily. It had been several years since he’d needed to use deadly force, and he was shocked at how quickly the ability returned to him.
As he sat on the floor, his breath slowly returning to normal, he contemplated his next move. A noise from the back of the storeroom interrupted his mental process. Someone was trying to jimmy the lock on the door to the service corridor.
Slipping the knife from the dead man’s hand, Martin bolted for the rear exit. As he reached the door, the lock clicked. Slowly, the door inched forward as Martin stood just out of sight—the T-knife gripped tightly in his hand. Then, the barrel of a gun slipped through the crack. Martin quickly realized that these were trained assassins, as possessing firearms on-station was a major offense. In the eight years that he’d been on Taloo, he’d not laid eyes on a single weapon of the sort. Even the station police were disallowed to carry a side arm. Something to do with having a stray bullet puncture the skin of an exterior wall.
Martin lunged forward, gripped the barrel of the gun, and ripped it from the assassin’s hand. The surprise was instant. He quickly tossed it to the floor behind him then looped his arm around the killer’s neck. As he did so, the killer, his body much smaller than the first one, attempted to free himself from Martin’s grip. Suddenly, he stopped his protest, as one of his hands disappeared into a trouser pocket. Before Martin could react, the compact killer produced a tactical switchblade in his left hand and began thrusting it backward, narrowly missing the side of Martin’s head.
“Enough!” Martin yelled, as his patience ran out. He drove the T-knife into the ribcage of the attacker, and a high-pitched scream blurted from the killer’s mouth.
Martin withdrew the knife and released the grip around the killer’s neck. As he did so, he latched onto the black face mask, ripping it free. What he saw would have never been cause for alarm or hesitation, but that was years ago. Now, so long removed from his previous life, seeing a female assassin was cause for him to take stock of the situation.
“Who sent you?” Martin demanded.
The killer didn’t answer. She widened her stance, awkwardly bouncing from foot to foot. She clearly was favoring her injured side but was still a force to be reckoned with.
“If you leave now, I won’t have to hurt you anymore,” Martin said.
Again, no reply. Instead, the killer feigned an attack to the left but then thrust to the right, most likely seeing the blood-soaked shirt that Martin wore. Unfortunately for the attacker, Martin was ready for the advance. As the killer’s blade got near, Martin swiped his T-knife across her hand, slicing through the glove and lacerating the skin beneath. She lunged again, stabbing quickly at Martin’s chest, just barely nicking the skin. Martin once again responded in like force, driving the T-knife into the killer’s side. The blade caught on a rib bone, and Martin lost his grip. The killer increased the intensity of her attack now that Martin was unarmed, but the pain she was suffering was taking over. She half-heartedly slashed her knife at Martin’s face, but he deftly caught her hand in midair. In a blinding quick movement, he disarmed the killer and drove the knife into the side of her temple. Her body dropped to the floor, lifeless.
Paying no mind to this second dead body in his tea shop, Martin raced to the back door, re-secured the latch, and propped the security bar across the door just to be sure. Then, he rushed back out onto the sales floor to lock the front door as well. He dimmed the lights and activated the obscure glass filter on the storefront.
“What the hell was that all about?” he murmured as he retreated to the back room. Halfway through the sales floor, he stopped and grabbed a few items off of the retail display rack: a pair of sweatpants, size extra-large; a hooded shirt with the saying The Celestial Teahouse Is Out Of This World printed across the front; and a charcoal-colored messenger bag.
Once in the back, he stepped over the first attacker’s body and into his office. He quickly changed from his blood-soaked shirt, wincing from the pain with each movement. He noticed the blood had already begun to clot and was thankful that his injury wasn’t too severe. He did his best to clear off as much of the blood as he could before slipping on the new clothes.
Suddenly, he heard the back door of the shop rattle again. So, there are more, Martin thought as he calculated his next move. He was confident that whoever was out back would not be able to get through the security measures he now had in place, so he focused his attention on the two attackers’ bodies.
Starting with the man, he quickly turned out his pockets to see if there was any sort of ID. There was no wallet or passport. All he found was an energy gun and an assault knife similar to the one currently protruding from the second killer’s head. Before he moved to the second body, Martin pulled the mask off the man to see if he recognized the face. Beneath, Martin found a face around his same age. He was clean shaven and was relatively nondescript.
Martin stuffed the knife and gun in his messenger bag before turning toward the female. Just like before, he found no ID or travel permits. He had already disarmed her of all weapons, so there was nothing left to discover on her body.
The rattling at the back door finally ceased, and Martin knew that whoever it was out there, they were probably on their way around to gain entry through the front door. It was time to leave.
Martin dropped the shoulder bag across his chest and made for the front door. As he walked past the sales counter and through the main aisle of the store, he had a sinking feeling that he would never see the place again. After eight years of hiding out there, he was saddened by the sudden loss of this part of his life.
Before regret seeped too far into his mindset, he unlatched the front door and stepped into the bustling foot traffic of the pavilion.
Despite the vast differences between living on a space station and living on earth, the environments were not all that different. Besides the obvious—no openable windows or clean, natural air—the surroundings were very similar. There were streets and avenues, for example, but there were no cars, as the streets were more like enlarged sidewalks, complete with curbs and gutters that were most likely in place to remind the people on board where they all came from: earth.
As Martin moved into the street crowd, the undeniable flow of traffic took him toward the center of the pavilion. Without a solid plan in mind, he felt it best just to blend in to his surroundings for the time being. He realized that being in the middle of all these people gave him a great cover, but it also made it difficult to spot more of the assassins. Regardless, this was his best bet at staying alive.
As he merged toward the center of the crowd, he continued to analyze those around him. Most of the people were smiling and being jovial. But Martin noticed some men and women at the perimeter who appeared more rigid. They weren’t necessarily just standing around, not enjoying themselves, but they weren’t exactly celebrating expectedly. That’s when he noticed the next assassin.
Stepping out from a service corridor, a man wearing black pants and a black ribbed sweater stood and scanned the crowd. He’d obviously ditched the black gloves and mask and even rolled his sleeves up in an attempt to blend in with the crowd. The sharply formed bulge at his waistband gave him away though, and it was clear that the assassin was looking for somebody in particular: Martin. Or more precisely, he was looking for the man Martin used to be: Jaxon Rasner.
Martin fished an elastic band from a side pocket and quickly cinched up his shoulder-length hair into a ponytail. He cursed himself for not thinking of grabbing a hat as well, but he did the best with what he had.
Wanting to stay away from the killer, Martin began to drift in the opposite direction until he nearly came face-to-face with yet another man dressed in black.
“Shit,” Martin muttered before he discreetly turned his head away and attempted to disguise his height by bending slightly at the knees and shrugging his shoulders over. After he’d moved along several paces past the second assassin, Martin gradually turned his head to see if he was being followed. Thankfully, it appeared that neither of the men had recognized him as they continued to scan the crowd.
Martin realized that, short of a complete disguise, there would be no concealing his appearance and avoiding further assassination attempts. But until he got to his apartment, there wasn’t much he could do.
Then, suddenly, Martin noticed that the crowd of people were converging toward the primary station lift. He realized that if he continued with the flow, he would be enclosed in a space with no escape route. Until he was positive that he was clear of any of the pursuing killers, he needed to stay out in the open or in an environment he had more control over. He glanced around the promenade and spotted his target. Superlative.
As casually as possible, he parted through the crowd to the entrance of the classical 1980s-era dive bar and stepped inside. Surprisingly, there were far more patrons in the establishment than he’d expected, considering the station’s big celebration that was about to take place.
Once out of view, he stood for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkened environment. Suddenly, he heard his name being called out.
“Hey, Marty! You’re here early? Decide to exercise your liver like the rest of us?” Zed, the bartender, asked.
“Crap,” Martin said in a low voice. He’d hoped to be able to duck into the bar and not be recognized so quickly. So much for staying low profile.
Martin moved up to the bar and smiled at Zed. “Um, yeah. It’s been slow over at the shop today, so I figured what the heck.”
“Well, buddy. The first one’s on the house. We’re celebratin’ today!” Zed said.
“Hey, thanks. Can you send it down to the end of the bar? I need to take a piss,” Martin said as he started toward the back service hall.
“Will do, boss.”
As soon as Martin stepped into the hallway, he planted himself against the side wall and peered around the corner toward the front entry. From his vantage point, he could see the light of the pavilion shine in and dance off of the walls of the bar. Nobody came through the door.
Could I have gotten so lucky? he wondered. He stood silently, scrutinizing the entryway for several minutes until the bad news walked in. The killer with the sleeves rolled up boldly stepped in from the pavilion, followed closely by another assailant. They conversed briefly before splitting up and moving deeper into the bar.
Without hesitation, Martin bolted toward the bathroom doors, first popping into the women’s room, looking for any sort of access to the service corridors. Having run into a dead end, he stepped out and then into the men’s room looking for the same.
“Shit,” Martin exclaimed as he stepped back into the hallway. He knew that returning to the bar would be certain suicide, but he couldn’t very well just disappear down one of the toilets. He was contemplating his next move when the wall next to the bathrooms suddenly moved to the side, revealing a hidden passageway. As the disguised door opened fully, one of the establishment’s barmaids stepped through, carrying a plate of fried bar food, the door closing automatically.
“Hey, sugar. Haven’t seen you around for a while,” she said as she passed Martin.
Martin smiled and winked at her as she continued her stride out into the bar. As soon as she was out of sight, he pushed on the wall where she had just come from and it gave way again with a click.
Once inside the kitchen, Martin moved past the stainless steel cooktops and prep tables. He was looking for the access point that he knew existed. He was looking for his escape. There, next to a walk-in freezer was a door very much like the one in his tea house. It had the same metal security latch dropped across the face of the door, preventing any unauthorized access.
Martin removed the security bar, and just as he was about to step into the service corridor a beam of greenish-blue energy blasted the wall next to him. He dropped to his knees and turned in the direction of the blast. One of the assassins stood on the far side of the kitchen, waiting for his weapon to recharge. Without hesitation, Martin ducked through the door and slammed it shut.
Martin instantly broke out in a sprint, fleeing down the corridor at top speed. The service hallways were generally unoccupied by people but were large enough to accommodate bidirectional delivery-drone traffic. Because of the service nature of the thoroughfare, the walls were lined with sheet metal for protection and the ceiling was highly illuminated. Unfortunately, that spelled for a difficult attempt at seclusion. Martin could run, but there was no place for him to hide.
As he ran past half a dozen closed shop doors, the service-way came to a T. To the right, the corridor continued on for another ten meters before it terminated at a door, most likely leading back out into the pavilion. To the left, the passageway sloped down and away before curving out of sight. Without wasting a single moment, Martin turned left and began the descent into the unknown.
Clink, clink, clink, echoed all around him. It was the familiar sound of metallic bullets hitting the thin sheet metal. Within seconds, the weapons discharge alarm began to blare.
“Jesus, these guys never give up,” Martin said as he leaped the final three meters and into a large open warehouse. Scattered about the enormous stockroom stood numerous shipping containers, no doubt filled with supplies for the various shops in the pavilion. Martin darted between two of the containers and hid along the back edge of the warehouse.
As Martin checked himself, he realized that his breath had nearly returned to normal, and his heart rate had stayed at a constant ninety beats per second. He grinned, thankful for the training that he’d endured all those years ago. Training for situations just like this. He also realized that there was only so much running that he could do before the killers caught up with him. He was on a space station, for shit’s sake—a proverbial island in the sky. He’d have to face them head on sooner or later.
He removed his shoulder bag and pulled out the energy pistol. A quick study of the default settings and he noticed the intensity was set at its lowest level. He contemplated the reasoning behind it, and concluded that the recharge rate would be quicker that way, and the killers would be more than happy to finish the job with a combat knife once the target was incapacitated from the energy blast.
Martin increased the firing intensity to full power before unlocking the safety. It was a calculated decision; he was confident with his aim and he wanted to ensure that he took the assassin down on the first shot.
With the pistol at the ready, Martin pulled the combat knife from the bag and gave it a quick polish with his shirt sleeve. He then angled the blade around the edge of the container to see the reflection of the service ramp. From his vantage point, he could see anyone approaching.
Within seconds, the first assassin came into view and was side-stepping down the far edge of the wall. He slowed his pace as he took in the surroundings, almost certainly assessing Martin’s location.
Martin withdrew the blade and stowed it back in his bag. Then, he rolled onto the floor and crawled slowly into the space between the containers. With his position low to the ground, the assassin wouldn’t see him right away. Martin gripped the pistol with both hands and leveled it straight out in front of him. He pointed it directly at the killer. Still, the killer didn’t notice his position.
The killer fully moved into the warehouse, eyes darting all around. Finally, his eyes looked down and saw Martin behind the sight of the pistol.
Martin pulled the trigger.
The discharge was nearly instant, a solid burst of energy, though the pistol had almost no recoil. A splash of greenish-blue light spat from the barrel of the gun, leaving a faint tracer line through the air. But the blast did not have the anticipated effect for Martin. The energy blast struck the assailant directly in the middle of his chest, but it only caused him to stumble back slightly. These killers were well funded, judging by their top of the line gear. To obtain anti-phasor armor was not a cheap requisition.
Martin looked at the recharge meter on the side of the pistol, and it moved painfully slow. At that rate, the killer would be on top of him long before he could even think about getting off another shot.
Martin sprang to his feet as the assassin continued advancing, a menacing grin crossing his face.
One last glance at his pistol’s meter, and he realized it was futile. Without thinking, Martin hurled the pistol directly at the assailant, striking him in the middle of the forehead. The force caused him to drop to a knee, probably more out of surprise than injury.
Before the killer could regain his composure, Martin lunged directly at him, his fist striking the killer’s left temple with such force that he heard his own knuckle crack.
Again, the assassin was too stunned to retaliate, giving Martin the upper hand. He continued to pummel the killer until he dropped his firearm in protest.
Martin saw his chance and went for the gun. But the moment he stopped throwing haymakers, the assassin tackled Martin from behind. With catlike reflexes, he had Martin in a chokehold—starving him of oxygen. Martin twisted his torso fiercely and swung his legs to the side, causing both him and the killer to lose their footing.
As they fell to the ground, Martin reached for the gun again, but the killer’s momentum knocked it away before he could grasp the handle. Feeling his lungs burn, Martin rolled to his left and onto his back just as the assassin came down on top of him. He brought his knee up sharply into the killer’s groin, producing a satisfying yelp.
Martin once again went for the gun just as he saw a garrote pass over his head. Within seconds, he felt the metallic wire cinch tight. He thrust his head backward sharply, connecting it with the killer’s chin, giving him just enough time to get his hand between the skin on his neck and the wire. The assailant grunted and tightened the garrote once again. The man had enormous strength—far more than Martin was used to. He knew his time was limited. He had to make a move now … or else.
With all his might, Martin thrust himself backward, driving them out into the open. He continued to drive his feet backward, unaware of their direction, but with each step backward, the garrote loosened a little more. As their momentum increased, Martin thrust his head back once again but missed the killer entirely. The movement, however, was beneficial, as the killer finally lost his footing and they both plummeted to the ground.
The impact happened suddenly, causing the killer to scream into Martin’s ear. A split second later, Martin discovered the reason for his pain as a sharp object drove into his own lower back. Then, just as suddenly, the killer’s grip on the garrote dwindled and his body went limp.
Martin thrust the wire cord away from his body and cautiously rolled off of the dead assassin. He looked back and noticed that they had landed on a pile of surplus metal fittings, many of them jutting out at sharp angles. One had impaled the killer through the chest and then punctured Martin’s back. Thankfully, the killer’s torso was thick enough that Martin’s own injury was minor.
Martin scampered back to the shipping containers and grabbed the killer’s pistol. He retook his position back behind the container and waited for the second assassin. After nearly thirty minutes of silence, Martin concluded that he was safe. The final assassin had either called off the hunt or was searching in a different part of the space station entirely.
Martin repacked his satchel with all the weapons that he’d scavenged from the assassins before doing a final pass through of the warehouse, hoping to pilfer any additional items he might need. Unfortunately, every container was secured with a bio-lock, programmed to unlock at the touch of the owner. And the owner only. In his past, Martin had tried numerous times to trick similar locks into opening, and that was when he was in possession of a random body part of the unfortunately dead owner. The lock was intelligent enough to include a pulse sensor as well as a DNA scanner and fingerprint reader.
Resolved to retrace his steps empty handed, he turned and headed for the ramp. As he got to the edge of the inclined path, Martin found a floor plan plastered on the wall, outlining the entire service pathway system of the space station.
Hurray, he thought, as he pried the plastic shield away from the wall, allowing the map to slip from behind. Analyzing it, he noted the location of his tea shop in relation to his next stop. Then, he found where he was currently at, and determined his path. He was happy to find that the service tunnels led almost the entire way to McKinner’s, but the final sector would have to be traversed out in the public thoroughfare.
Martin folded up the map and slipped it into his shoulder bag then bounded up the ramp.
When Martin slipped out of the service door, the surrounding area was much different than that on his side of the station. He so infrequently visited the seedy part of Taloo, he’d almost forgotten how contrasting such a small space station could actually be.
Moving through the grungy neighborhood, he could see the sign of McKinner’s ahead, half of the neon light letters burned out long ago. The vicinity was practically empty, most everyone having already joined the celebration at the Promenade. That suited Martin perfectly, as it gave him the ability to see any approaching attackers more easily.
As Martin stepped up to McKinner’s entry door, he paused briefly, hoping that this forced reunion would pass by amicably. Then, Martin stepped through and into his past.
The inside of the bar was dark and hazy, even though smoking was prohibited on the station. Martin recalled the owner mentioning long ago that he wanted the ambiance of an old biker bar and had installed the smoke machine for effect.
Martin walked further into the bar and discovered that the place was completely deserted. There wasn’t a customer in sight, and the only person besides himself that was present was the bartender. The very person he was there to see. Sonja.
He sat down at the bar and looked across the dark mahogany top and into the most brilliant hazel eyes he’d ever seen. “Hi,” he said, lowering his gaze slightly.
“Wow, you look like shit,” Sonja said, staring at the scrapes and bruises scattered across his face and neck.
“And you haven’t changed a bit, my dear.”
“First off, I’m not your dear anymore. You lost the right to call me that four years ago when you walked out on me … without even an explanation.”
Martin retraced the memories from his past. He’d been living above McKinner’s at the time. And having such close proximity to the place, he was quite the regular. That was until he began to recognize various deviations from the norm that caused him discomfort. He’d only been on station for a few years at that point and was still unsure about his new life as Martin Wheeler.
“Yeah, about that—”
To Martin’s surprise, Sonja’s eyes began to well up. “No. Stop. I don’t want your excuses. That’s water under the bridge. I’m over it just as much as I think you are,” she said.
Martin nodded slowly. “Yeah … that’s probably best,” he said, wishing that he hadn’t waited so long before seeing her again. He did feel terrible for just walking away. And now, here he was, showing up out of the blue, about to ask for something more.
“So. Tell me, Martin, why are you here?”
Martin winced as he adjusted his legs dangling from the barstool. “Do you still have my crate down in storage?”
“That’s it? You walk in here after four years and you just want your crate … and then you’re on your way again? You sonofabitch.”
“No, it’s not like that,” Martin said, realizing that his words were lies. “I wanted to … come here so many times, but I just couldn’t …”
“Yeah, I know,” she said sympathetically. “You just couldn’t find your balls long enough to give you motivation … I’ve heard it all. The crate’s down where you left it, high up on that shelf that you know I can’t reach.”
“Sonja, please. Don’t be like that. I’ve had it rough every day since I left, and you don’t know how much I regret doing it. But there’s more to it than what you realize. And maybe someday, you’ll understand everything.”
Sonja was about to walk away but stopped. There was something in Martin’s words that made her turn back, noticing the blood-soaked shirt for the first time. “My God, Martin, what happened to you? It looks like you haven’t shaved in years and your hair is … don’t even get me started on the long hair. And it looks like you’ve just run into the back of a star freighter, and you’re bleeding,” she said, motioning to his shoulder.
“Long story short, I got jumped,” Martin lied.
Sonja’s expression changed instantly as she moved to the side of the bar and up to Martin. “And it’s not just your shoulder, hon. It looks like they got your back too,” she said as she lightly touched the wound.
To Martin, her gentle touch felt more like the stinging spike of needles, and he instinctively pulled away.
“Don’t be a baby,” Sonja said, lifting the shirt up for a better look. “You can at least let me clean this up.”
Martin agreed and followed Sonja into the women’s room, where she took over as if she were a triage nurse.
“Let’s see just how bad it is,” she said as she washed her hands in the sink.
Martin nodded silently and carefully removed the blood-stained shirt before tossing it into the sink. Then, he loosened the drawstrings on his sweatpants and dropped them to the ground.
“Hey, buddy, don’t get any ideas,” Sonja said, seeing his reflection in the mirror. “I just wanted to tend to your injuries.”
“But what about the cuts down here?” Martin said, motioning to his lower leg.
“Jesus, Martin, what did you do to piss these guys off?”
Martin shrugged. He was concerned about disclosing too much information, on the off chance that the assassins followed him here.
Sonja wet a rag under the faucet then turned to him. “Okay, let’s see where it hurts. Turn around.”
Martin did so and placed his hand on the edge of the counter for support. Sonja slowly and methodically cleaned all of the dried blood from Martin’s skin. She had a motherly touch.
After nearly fifteen minutes of cleaning the wounds, she walked out of the bathroom without a word. Moments later, she returned with a first-aid kit and an arm full of folded-up clothing. As Martin eyed the clothes, Sonja rummaged through the first-aid kit, fishing out the ointment, gauze pads, and surgical tape. Within minutes, she had all of Martin’s injuries bandaged up neatly.
“Well, that should do until you get it looked at. Here are some clothes that might fit. Bruno always kept a change of clothes in his locker, and he hasn’t been around for a couple of months. He was about your size,” Sonja said, surveying Martin’s physique.
“Hey, Sonja. Thanks for everything. I mean truly, deeply.”
Sonja nodded and smiled. “You get dressed, and I’ll go grab the key for the storage room.” She walked out, leaving Martin standing in the women’s room, wearing more bandages than underwear.