First Chapter of "Chameleon Assassin" by BR Kingsolver
Book 1 of the Chameleon Assassin Series
By BR Kingsolver
Copyright 2017 BR Kingsolver
Chameleon Assassin by BR Kingsolver is a finalist for 2017 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Award! Please vote for Libby here! Or just click on the picture on the right. Scroll down to "Best Fantasy (Contemporary/Urban Fantasy)" category to vote. Thank you!
I crouched in the shadows as the watchmen strolled past. If they’d patrolled the way they were supposed to, most of the perimeter would have always been covered. But even watchmen got lonely. It was more companionable for them to walk together, covering both of their territories.
The watchmen turned the corner. I counted to twenty, then walked across the open street to the wall surrounding the Carpenter estate. My grappling hook caught the top of the ten-foot wall. I scampered up the rope and clamped two devices on the electrified barbed wire, then cut the wire between the devices.
I slithered over the wall, not sure whether to laugh or snarl at the broken glass embedded in its top. It didn’t bother me because the Kevlar woven into my sweater kept it from penetrating. It was just the idea of it. The leap past the pressure plates in the ground near the wall made for a rough landing. Tuck and roll.
Someone as rich as Khalil Carpenter should have spent the money to upgrade his systems, not to mention hiring additional guards. No guards inside the wall, not even dogs. I guess he thought he was saving money. It would have been cheaper to hire someone like me to fix it all. Instead, he took a chance that could land him in bankruptcy.
I adjusted my filter mask to make sure it still had a tight fit. Even that far out of the city, the air pollution was still toxic and hazardous on the lungs. You had to get hundreds of miles from civilization to find anything you could call clean air.
Bypassing the door alarm on the second floor balcony took less than a minute. The air inside was far better and I took off my filter mask.
Hacking into the computer in the study took five minutes, and installing the chip I brought with me took another minute.
Out of curiosity, I cracked the safe behind the small Picasso, scanned the dozen or so chips inside, and attached their contents to the data stream uploading to offsite from Carpenter’s computer.
I slipped out of the study and headed toward the upstairs bedroom. The contract paid well, but the potential for a lot bigger payday was too tempting.
The sound of footsteps sent me scooting into the shadows. I stood next to a wall and used my chameleon mutation to blend into my surroundings. A woman walked past carrying an armload of towels and went up the stairs. I assumed she was one of the maids. She wore a black dress with a white belt, and shoes. Maybe that was a uniform, but it was difficult to tell. I studied her closely until she was out of sight, then followed her.
The maid took the towels into a room, the master bedroom, according to the plans I had studied. Lousy timing. If she had taken too long, I would’ve had to abandon my plan. Lady luck favored me. The maid came out after only a couple of minutes carrying a bundle that I guessed were used towels. I had watched the Carpenters leave for dinner and the theater an hour before I climbed the wall. Of course, they would need fresh towels when they returned home. It would be yucky to use the same towel twice without washing it.
Rich people. In parts of the city, people were lucky if they had water clean enough to drink, let alone wasting it to wash.
I entered the bedroom and looked around. More a suite than a room. Sitting room, bedroom, two bathrooms, two dressing rooms, and a morning porch-slash-balcony, where the lord and lady of the manor might have breakfast. The bedroom was as large as my entire townhouse. Big enough to invite forty of their closest friends over for an orgy. Paintings on the walls, expensive rugs on the floors. Where would they hide a safe?
I searched the suite and checked Mrs. Carpenter’s dressing room but didn’t find anything. I finally found what I was searching for in what I assumed was Khalil’s dressing room, behind a framed photograph of him on some tropical beach. The safe was ridiculously easy to crack, and the jewelry inside it was simply ridiculous. I might soon be able to buy my own country.
In five minutes, the servants would get off work and go home. I recalled the features and dress of the woman I’d seen, then stood in front of a mirror and imagined that I looked like her. Even after twenty years of doing it, it still amazed me to watch myself morph into someone else. I donned my filter mask, walked out of the bedroom, down the stairs, out the front door, and through the front gate toward the small parking lot where the servants rode a private bus into town. The guards barely glanced at me. I blurred my image as I walked by the bus and kept going until I reached my motorcycle.
Most mutations are small or innocuous. Scientists think that blond hair, red hair, and blue eyes originated as mutations. Major mutations are often fatal.
Beginning in the twentieth century, scientists began seeing an increase in mutations and developmental abnormalities. As the ozone layer depleted and worldwide radiation levels skyrocketed after the series of wars in the twenty-first century, such incidents increased.
By the time I was born, two out of ten babies had ambiguous sexual identities, two out of ten were born sterile, and two out of ten had identifiable mutations. Obviously, some of these categories overlapped, but that didn’t take into account people like me and Mom, who had fairly radical mutations that no one could see. Dad estimated that more than half of all mutations were never documented.
My mutations were mild compared to those of the pseudo-vampires and lycanthropes, though evidence existed that the lycans’ and similar mutations were enhanced through genetic engineering. Some of the psychic mutations were downright scary. And then there were the induced mutations, such as people with gills, who lived in the Pacific Ocean. I always thought it would be neat to live underwater.
I really wanted to show the jewelry to Dad, but I needed to stop by Mom’s place first, since she set up the contract for the Carpenter job. I rode my motorcycle back to the city and into the business district.
Mom’s hotel was on the edge of where the business district met the entertainment district. To the east were the mutant ghettos. People tended to congregate with their own kind. Vampires lived with other vampires; lycanthropes lived with others who shared their mutations. Most vamps and some lycans could blend into normal society. The further east, the more noticeable and debilitating the mutations and the poorer the people.
I loved my mother, and I would never want anyone to think I was passing any kind of judgement on her or was ashamed of her. But I also never wanted anyone to think that I worked in her business.
A block from Mom’s place of business, I ducked into an alley. A tall, slender blonde girl dressed all in black morphed into a voluptuous redhead in a low-cut white blouse and a black miniskirt. Most of Mom’s employees thought that was how I really looked, like she did when she was my age.
Lilith’s Palace was similar to a luxury boutique hotel, the kind of place where corporate types met their mistresses. The restaurant was exquisite, and I worshipped the chef as a god. The difference between her place and a normal hotel was that Lilith’s provided a girl or two, or a boy, or both if you liked, along with the room.
Mike, the bouncer at the main entrance, showed his fangs in a grin when he saw me.
“Hey, Lizzie. How ya been? Ain’t seen ya round here much lately.”
“I was here yesterday, Mike,” I told him as I took off my filter mask. “I just haven’t been around on your shift. A girl needs her beauty sleep.”
“Daylight’s bad for ya,” he said. “Causes cancer.”
I didn’t know about cancer, but sunlight was bad for people with his particular mutation. The sun didn’t destroy vampires as in the legends, but they were extremely photosensitive.
“Life causes cancer, Mike. Lilith around?”
“Back in the office.”
I wandered through the parlor and the bar, trying to ignore the men who hit on me. I hadn’t entered the Palace in my own form since one of Mom’s customers approached me on the street when I was twelve.
Mom’s “Yes?” came when I knocked.
She opened the door and frowned. “I wish you wouldn’t use that form,” she said as she stepped aside and let me into the room.
I think seeing me as a younger version of her made her feel old. She was still beautiful at forty-five, with thick red hair, sparkling blue eyes and the kind of body women paid money for. Everything about her was natural, though, except her name. It was really Letitia, not Lilith, and Dad called her Lettie.
I shrugged. “All your employees know me like this. It’s easier.”
“I suppose,” she said, motioning me to a chair. She settled into the chair behind the desk. “Would you like a drink?”
I shook my head.
“The data feed is working fine. What was that extra data bundle you sent?”
“Chips I found in his office safe. I didn’t look at the data on the chips, just copied it and put the chips back where I found them.”
She nodded. “I’ll evaluate the data in the morning. That wasn’t included in the contract, but if it’s worth anything, I’ll offer them to our customer first. And if they don’t want them, I’ll auction them off.”
Mom leaned across the desk and handed me a payment card. I pressed it against my phone, waited for the money to transfer, then handed it back. One hundred thousand credits for hacking Carpenter’s computer and installing a Trojan chip that transmitted everything he did to a rival corporation. I didn’t know how much Mom made on the deal, and I didn’t care. I had asked for a hundred grand and they paid it. I didn’t know or care who the customer was, and they didn’t know who I was or how we tapped into the data feed. They paid for results and we delivered.
Mom had been a corporate cyber security expert—defender and hacker. She was good enough at it, and gorgeous enough, that people were willing to overlook the inconvenient daughter she insisted on taking everywhere she went. I started learning computers when I was three. By the time I got to university, I could have taught some of my courses.
One day she decided she was tired of being a kept woman, quit her corporate job, left her executive vice president sugar daddy, and bought an old hotel on the edge of the business district. What she did with it raised a few eyebrows. I hadn’t seen my grandparents since.
I had two mutations. From my mother, I inherited the ability to disrupt electrical currents, and electric shocks didn’t affect me. Some mutants could deliver a shock, like an electric eel. I wasn’t one of them, but they couldn’t hurt me. If I stuck my finger in a light socket, the light shorted out. I was grateful that neither of my parents drowned me when I was young. Before I learned to control myself, anything electrical that I touched turned into a disaster. By the time I reached puberty, I learned to turn “it” on and off when I wanted to. “It” meaning totally screwing up any electrical current or device.
My other mutation was extremely rare. I was a chameleon. Not only could I blend into any background, I could also mimic other people or animals. I didn’t physically change into their form, and I didn’t feel any different. I just thought about looking different, and I appeared to take on another form. Once, Dad put sensors on my body, and they didn’t report any changes when I morphed, but he and Mom said they could actually feel the differences in my size and shape, not just see them.
The mimicry could be face and body, but it could only be my clothes. I didn’t have to brush my hair and put on makeup in the morning, I could just imagine I did and that was what people saw. Mom and Dad said it was a psychic thing, that I was projecting an illusion. They couldn’t explain why cameras saw the same thing people did. If it were an illusion, you’d think the camera would still see me as me.
I didn’t understand how it worked, but it was a very handy thing for a thief.
“You’re awfully quiet tonight,” she said.
“Tired, Mom. It takes a little more effort to break into an armed compound than simply doing a cyber attack.”
“Yes, but it pays better,” she said with a grin.
I grinned back. “That it does. The security on Carpenter’s place is garbage. It would be easy to murder him in his bed. Why are people with that much money so cheap?”
“Greedy. Don’t get greedy, Libby. All you have to do is look at your father. He could have walked away from his last job. He told me he knew he should walk away, but he got greedy.”
She had probably told me that a thousand times. So had he. It was the most parental thing either of them ever did.
I left through the kitchen and swiped something to eat on my way out. The quality of the food Mom served was a lot better than I could find in the markets, low on toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and radiation. She had good connections.
Of course, the fact that I had the money to shop for fresh food in the markets spoke to my privileged place in society. Crime paid very well. Many people had never tasted a crisp, fresh apple.
A girl walking around alone at night wasn’t safe, although I did it a lot. I changed back to my real form, but blurred into the shadows. I grabbed my motorcycle and rode through the business district, on through the entertainment district, and west into an upscale residential part of town. It was after midnight, but Dad’s house was on my way home, and his light was on. I pressed my hand against the security pad, set my eye to the retinal scan, and keyed in the password. After a voice scan, the door opened and I let myself into the foyer.
“Dad? Are you awake?”
“Libby! Sure, I’m awake. Come on in.” He came into sight, his power chair hovering over the floor. His house was customized and tailored to that chair. No rugs or carpet, no walls separating rooms, just a wide-open space past the foyer. One side of the wide staircase was a ramp. “You’re out late. What’s going on? Drink? Something to eat?”
“I’ll take some fruit juice if you have it,” I said. Like Mom, he had connections, plus he was fairly wealthy from his time as a corporate executive and his back-alley businesses. He had fallen six years before, while pulling a side job. The three-story drop left him a paraplegic and ended both of his careers.
If you saw me and Mom walking down the street, you’d never guess we were related. I looked even less like Dad. He was built like a fireplug and didn’t fit anyone’s stereotype of either an assassin or a cat burglar. Even before his accident, he was only five-foot-five, but carried a two hundred twenty pounds of solid muscle, compared to my slender six-foot-two. He had dark brown hair and his face often reminded people of a hound, with a large nose and heavy jowls.
I pulled the jewelry out of my bag and laid it on the table while he poured me a glass of juice. He came over and handed it to me, then whistled.
“Oh, my. You’ve been naughty, haven’t you?” He picked up the emerald necklace. “Such a pity. Far too recognizable to leave intact. It will have to be broken up.” He lifted his eyes to mine. “How did you stumble across this?”
“Stumble is right,” I said. “I did a B and E to plant a cyber bug, and this was in the bedroom safe.”
My dad, Jason Bouchard, was the former Chief of Security with MegaTech Corporation. He taught me martial arts, weapons, wall climbing, and how to crack a safe. He’d retired six years earlier, but he still had his contacts. Sometimes he brokered contracts for me and fenced anything I might need to sell.
“Do you mind my asking who the mark was?” he asked.
He lifted an eyebrow. “Yes, it definitely needs to be broken up and probably sold on a different continent. I’ll do some research to find where he bought it.” He sorted through the other pieces—rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces—mostly diamonds, but a couple of nice rubies. “The rest of this shouldn’t be too difficult.”
He fixed me with his patented you’ve-disappointed-me expression and held up the emerald necklace. “Why did you take it? Surely you could see how difficult it would be to move.”
“Because it’s so incredible. How many times in your life do you have a chance at something like that?”
He hadn’t put the necklace down, stroking it, letting it slide through his fingers.
“Well, that’s true. I probably wouldn’t have passed it up, either. I hope you don’t expect a quick payoff.”
I shook my head. “I already got paid for the B and E. This is all gravy.”
“Good. Come here.” He had unclasped the necklace and was holding the ends apart. I walked over to him and crouched. He put his arms around my neck, and the weight of the necklace fell on my breastbone. “There,” he said as he finished clasping it. “Stand up and turn around. Ohhh, yes. My God, Libby. It’s too bad you can’t keep it.”
I walked into the foyer and scrutinized myself in the mirror. The necklace was large, but I was very tall. The white gold and emeralds were stunning against my black turtleneck. And if I wore it anywhere in public, Carpenter would bury me. I took it off and carried it back to the table.
“I don’t need twenty million around my neck,” I told him. “I might as well paint a target on my shirt.”
Chameleon Assassin was released on December 13, 2016, and is available for purchase on Amazon.com. Happy reading!
- Updated: 17 February 2019