Reflexes honed by repetition, Sanction breathed normally when she woke. Eyes closed, she listened. Nothing. Opening her eyes the barest bit, Sanction verified she was alone, so she sat up and inspected her quarters. Fresh water and food sat on the table. A hot bath awaited her and clean clothes were on the foot of the bed. Nice.

Locking the door, she dropped into the bath and sighed. Sanction couldn’t remember the last time she felt so indulged. Still, she finished bathing and dressed quickly. The clothes were comfortable and would serve her well in the battle to come. She opened the door and went in search of her benefactors. She found a family, a normal family with parents, children, and even a grandparent, sitting in front of the fire.

“Did you sleep well?” the grandfather asked.

“What’s the job?” Sanction had learned long ago to skip unnecessary conversation. While these people seemed nicer than most, when she was awakened, she had a job to do and a limited amount of time to complete the mission. After all, sleep was a biological imperative.

The grandfather smiled. “I wish a conversation with you.”

“What?” Sanction was the most successful assassin in the Collective. Her services came at a high price, although she never saw any coin. Trained from birth by the Collective to kill on any world, in any environment, Sanction was the property of the Collective. No one would spend the coin to have her delivered to their world without a strategic kill scheduled.

“The grandfather stood and revealed his green assassin’s tattoo. Red was the color of an active assassin. Green marked a retired assassin, something Sanction had never seen. Most assassins attained a green tattoo only in death.

“Nice ink. If the Collective finds out you have that, you’re dead.” Sanction sighed. Bought by a fool with too much money and not enough sense.

The blow came out of nowhere and she connected with the brick on the fireplace. Sanction had never seen any non-assassin move so quickly. She jumped up and dropped into a fighting stance.

The grandfather laughed. “My name is Gyn, but for many years I answered to Retribution. You’re young and strong, but you don’t know the lay of my land or the tricks up my sleeves.”

Sanction tightened her stance. Retribution was the most powerful and revered of the assassins. Even the Collective feared him. “Okay, Gyn, why did you pay for my services?” Sanction couldn’t bring herself to call him Retribution. The fear his name invoked was too great.

“I know what the Collective knows. You are… impressive. You deserve a chance to become something other than an assassin.”

Sanction stood and crossed her arms in front of her. “Like what?”

“That’s for you to decide,” Gyn replied.

Eighty-eight hours later, Sanction knew she would sleep soon. She had learned much from Gyn and believed him. There was a way out of the Collective but it was dangerous. So be it. She was ready to fight for her life. It would make a nice change.

“Don’t go to sleep,” Gyn’s granddaughter said. When Gyn was otherwise occupied, she had introduced Sanction to fun.

“I must.” Sanction smiled and lay down on the bed. When she woke she would be on a new world with a new assignment, but this time she wouldn’t be working for the Collective.

More Flash Fiction by N. R. Tucker.