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"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
--Henry David Thoreau
Jaden Michaels splashed the last of her best Merlot into the only clean glass in the kitchen. Presentation didn't matter when a woman only needed to rinse the taste of a poor lover from her lips.
And poor he'd been. She'd almost been able to catch up on her sleep as he bounced rhythmically. But the indulgence would've cost her a source of invaluable information.
Bouncy-boy reported to another in the criminal food chain, this one with enough clout to bring her closer to her target.
She swirled the wine in the glass and her mind flashed with timeless, bloody memories. She tossed it back and imagined the day when she could rest. She prayed this life would break the cycle.
The wine at last relieved her of the stale taste of her informant. He needed advice in the sex department, but Jaden wouldn't waste her time. She'd probably serve him better by teaching him to defend himself against the wrath of dissatisfied women. On the off chance one of them would care.
She stripped the sheets from her bed, unwilling to sleep amidst the smells of a sweaty bar fly. Cocooning herself into a clean blanket she closed her eyes, willing her elusive quarry to behave himself tonight.
Then the crying began. The frightened, jittery tears of an innocent child pushed into a new world of horrors. Naturally, he couldn't be less than the demon he was.
Jaden had tried for years to tune out the echoes of pain and terror that sounded in her mindeach time he struck. She'd even grown cold enough to sleep through the attacks occasionally, if the new victim happened to be too shocked to do more than whimper. But she knew anyway.
Her body harbored the same residual grief in the morning. It's what fueled her to keep slugging her way through the bottom dwellers, the middlemen, the lieutenants and bodyguards until she could take the head off the beast-permanently.
The cries escalated as the current victim panicked. "No sleep tonight."
She rolled from bed and crossed her apartment to work off her useless fury.
This unbreakable connection between the demonic entity living as the Honorable Stewart Albertson and her would only cease when he did. And he wouldn't cease his perverse brand of torture without her help. Her violent, fatal brand of help.
Jaden punctuated each thought with a kick or punch into the bag. Not a fan of the technical marvel of today's electronic sparring partners, she kept an antique, sand-filled bag of 120 kilos. She liked the challenge it gave her body, the technology would've spoiled her. Besides, if she needed a sparring partner, she could just hit the streets.
She lunged into an uppercut, sending the bag swinging. Then the girl shrieked and Jaden froze. But the bag finished its arc and knocked her to the floor.
"Damn you," she hissed, rubbing her head where the weighted canvas connected. "You'll pay for this Albertson. The moment I find you, this time you'll pay with your soul."
Wasn't that the same thing she'd been vowing for centuries? To make him pay for all the evil he'd committed against her and countless others. The same evil she'd failed to dispatch for all these centuries.
In every life she'd come up against him. Never really knowing him until it was too late. Until she was the girl screaming for mercy. Until she was the woman too terrified to whisper. Until in the lacy light of predawn she recognized an ageless predator; recognized her greater purpose and vowed to expose him. To exact justice.
"For all the good that's done."
Here she sat, a martial artist bested by a sandbag, while he continued to wreak havoc on innocence and purity. Nearby, if the volume in her head was any indicator.
She'd searched the neighboring warehouses and failed to find his current house of horrors. She knew his home address. She'd snuck into his chambers at the courthouse more than once. She'd even had opportunity to cut him down, but had hesitated.
Jaden stood, knowing the lie for what it was. Frustration and fatigue. Moving her body through a soothing yoga routine she reviewed the facts.
Her hesitation had not stemmed from cowardice. Sure, an armed deputy had accompanied him, but death wasn't a scary unknown to her. She'd aborted her rash attack at the sight of his daughter. How much should one child suffer?
"Dunno? How much?"
Jaden whirled, furious that she'd spoken aloud, more so that she hadn't heard the 'friendly' intruder.
"Cleveland." Her heart slowed at the sight of the pale, narrow face. "How'd you get in here?"
"I used the key you gave me."
"I didn't give you a key," Jaden said, glaring at her not-so-reformed burglar friend.
"Does it really matter? I'd never rip from you, kid."
"Thanks. I think."
His bark of laughter made her jump.
"So how much should one child suffer? And why do we wanna know?"
Jaden ground her teeth. "Children shouldn't suffer at all." Innocence should be guarded, especially in this wide-open, free-for-all time.
Cleveland gave her a wide berth as he walked through the kitchen toward the wall with a fire escape to the alley. "A little late for that, don't ya think?" He jerked his thumb to indicate all the societal injustices within easy view.
"Whatever. It's late, what d'you want?"
"Got a live one here, Jade."
She shrugged and filled a glass with water, trying not to notice the murky color. She'd lived how many lives? A little pollution wouldn't hurt. Not much anyway.
"C'mon, babe. Show a little interest?"
"Fine. Spoil my fun. But he's got cold cash and a bunch of frightened mules."
Cleveland knew just what button to push. Regardless of the Common Era's perceptions, Jaden acted from a view of right and wrong molded by centuries of experience. Anyone less fortunate deserved her help, but especially the female side of a population. She'd witnessed countless sacrifices made by women determined to survive and protect the next generation.
This era 'juiced' its men with a human growth hormone cocktail for war's sake and women from all walks of life suffered from the physical iniquity. Jaden gave her time and expertise in an effort to balance the scales.
Employing the combat conditioning she'd originally learned at the turn of the twenty-first century, she taught women how to protect themselves regardless of physical differentials.
"What are they afraid of?"
Cleveland barked another laugh. "Him, probably." He walked over and tucked the business card into the strap of her tank top. "Nah, more like the rivals. Someone's making a move and all the little people are worrying."
"Like that'd help."
"Look, if you want more money to stuff your mattress, make the call."
Cleveland left as quietly as he'd come, only this time via the fire escape.
Jaden shook her head. She wanted more money all right. But not to squirrel away. She wanted money to fund her research into the perfect weapon to dispatch one particular evil entity. And paying the rent on time wouldn't hurt, either.