Martial Arts: superior (rank 2)
In her defense, she teaches you things. Things you are expected to learn. Things which she expects you to use. She has plenty of prostitutes, escorts, and servants. You were not chosen to be one, you were chosen to kill.
You learn everything or you die. Karate and Muay Thai for striking. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Sambo for grappling. Capoeira, Krav Maga, and Jeet Kune Do for everything else.
We are not allowed weapons training. It is not because she is afraid we might use it on her; she is afraid we’d use it on ourselves.
I like Capoeira the most. It was as close as I would come to happiness, it was like dancing. I missed dancing. I would have smiled if I still had the ability.
I was not the most gifted martial artist at first, but her training method is unbeatable. Out of our lot of fifty-two, only thirty would pass training. We were informed of this on the first day. They didn’t have to weed out the weak ones, we’d do it ourselves. I was not the most gifted martial artist at first, but I learned quickly.
Reaction Speed: superior (rank 2)
I was thrown into the room blindfolded. I was instructed not to take it off. At this point, I don’t think the thought would have even occurred to me.
There was a loud crack behind me. I felt the burst of a bullwhip as it hit me in the back. I would have screamed if I could. She told me to stand back up. I did.
The crack came again; I tried to dodge it this time, and I fail. Again I fall in pain, only to struggle back to my feet. This went on for days. Sometimes they’d use bats, or cattleprods, but the idea was the same.
One day I heard the snap as if it was a mile away. I turned and threw myself in it’s direction; I collided with someone, I couldn’t be sure who or what through the blindfold. I started beating them, whoever they were. A minute later I was pulled off and instructed to stop.
The blindfold was removed and I saw A-26. She was like my sister. She was limp and bloody on the floor; I was rewarded with her food ration for exceeding expectations.
Acrobat: superior (rank 2)
Despite how well they train you, you are not invulnerable. But that’s the point, you are expendable. You adapt and learn, or you die. This is not always a clear-cut decision, and it is rarely one that would be left up to you to make.
On my second job I shorted the landing trying to get off the roof. I fell two stories and hit a fire escape on the way down. As I lay there motionless on the street, I didn’t bother trying to move, I could feel my leg searing with pain. I prayed to whatever sick and twisted God that might exist, that he let my leg be broken. That he let me die of shock and blood loss in this alley.
When I awoke I was back in the Kennel. My foot was bandaged, it had only been sprained; if it had been broken they might have wrote me off as damaged goods and let me die. God was still playing with me. I was given two days to heal my ankle before I began a special program devised by her own design.
I would repeat the maneuver that I had failed before, and hundreds of others. I repeated them endless times, with endless variations. Long Jump across a bed of coals. Climb a sheer surface with ten pound weights tied to each arm. Now do it blindfolded. Now do it with one hand. She wanted me to learn from my mistake. I did, acrobatically I never made any mistakes again. But I made other ones that would cost me dearly…
Iron Will: standard (rank 1)
-Contraband: Ten lashes.
-Failure to execute a command: Fifteen lashes
-Speech: Twenty lashes.
-Displays of emotion: Twenty lashes.
-Suicide attempt: Thirty lashes
-Passing out during a punishment session: An Adrenaline needle to the heart, followed by another ten lashes on top of the first set.
At any point in my training I had incurred all of these. But attempting to escape, that one was different. The first girl to try to escape was made an example of. I remember it well. It was me.
They wouldn’t kill me, I couldn’t get off that easy.
You can’t sleep in the Breaking Room, you can’t move a muscle. It was the same drug cocktail from the boat, but they had added another drug this time. They hooked it up with a drip to your brainstem, and every time a single drop fell, every nerve in your body would be racked with pain.
Your eyes are pulled open all the way; images of the Kennel, of the handlers, of her, played before your burning eyes. Intermittently, photos of the outside world, of people with faces would flash by. It was on these images that the drip would activate. Everything outside was associated with pain, or at least that was the idea anyway. Eventually you can get used to anything.
Combat Supremacy: superior (rank 2)
The first time I met Grey Widow, I won. I kicked her ass. I don’t recall it that much.
I remember I was on loan, body guarding and ‘entertaining’ a Somali warlord.
The fight didn’t seem that out of the ordinary to me, but she said I did things which she couldn’t believe. Things which shouldn’t be possible. She later showed me the mark in her chest where I punched so fast it briefly stopped her heart. She had to buy new brass knuckles because I broke the pair she had on.
I would learn later that even though I won, she managed to place a tracking chip on me without my knowledge. Later that week, the Kennel was raided by Sentinels. She found me in my cell and tried to free me. I broke her wrist in the struggle; then some big guy came in and blasted me across the chest with an energy beam.
When I woke up I was in her home, in the countryside of England. I didn’t speak any English, at least I didn’t think I did. I certainly understood it somehow from some vague recess of my mind, but I hadn’t spoken any language in so long I couldn’t remember which one I spoke. The Lady Serpent spoke Cantonese, I had just picked up on the commands over time, and English was lost to me. I spent the first few months reacclimating, attempting to follow Widow’s commands as if she was the new puppet-master. She was patient with me, and to her credit never abused her position.
The other numbers were sent back to their countries of origin, to meet up with lost families, or more likely fill up space at a mental health facility of some sort. I could not be identified. My name was A-13, I had no nationality, no clue how old I was, and my face had been so altered by the paint that it was no longer recognizable to what it was when I came in.
Zen later told me that he did know of all the facts about my life, the same way he always somehow knows everything. My name was Suki, I was Japanese-American, and I was 23 years old when I was rescued. However he would not see fit to release this information till much later, so I had nowhere to go. Widow felt pity for me, I stayed with her for over two years. Eventually she came to trust me enough to take me on Sentinels assignments with her. I went from top assassin to sidekick. I was well worth her trouble. We made quite the team in fact.
Then I left.
Detective: standard (rank 1)
In the raid, she was never found. The Sentinels had been tracking her for years but she had always managed to slither away. The moment I started looking for her, her days were numbered.
I had nothing else to live for. The people who turned out to be my parents assumed I ran away, they stopped looking after a few years. I couldn’t remember them anyway. The only thing I remembered was that day and everything after it. There was a party, candles on a cake, then she took me.
The first thing I learned was that Lady Serpent was not her real name. This had never occurred to me before, I was still going by the number thirteen so it made just as much sense. I knew she spoke Cantonese, so I started in Shanghai and scoured every Triad house I could find. After seducing, bribing, or beating answers out of anyone who would talk, I learned what it all meant.
‘Serpent’ was Syndicate code. The Serpent was the sixth symbol of the Chinese Zodiac. The sixth symbol of the Greek Zodiac was Virgo, the virgin. In the Syndicate, the Zodiac or Upper House is made of the leaders of major crime rings, Virgo being in charge of producing prostitutes, escorts, and bodyguards. She accomplished this through the Kennel, making extra cash through the special 13’s.
After that, it didn’t take long to find the new place she had set up shop. You don’t get that high up without making enemies who’d like to see you replaced.
We fought on top of a Hong Kong bathhouse. In the basement I would find where she had begun building the new Kennel. I regret having to fight the new lot she had managed to bring in. They didn’t deserve it. They had only been training for a year, they didn’t stand a chance. I left them alive as best I could, a habit I had picked up from Widow.
I didn’t leave Virgo so lucky. As we fought she tried to order me to stop, I didn’t. I asked her if she remembered me, if she remembered my face. She couldn’t, my face wasn’t special to her, it was the same as all the others. To her I was just a faceless phantom, returned to haunt her. It was good enough for me.
She was a challenge. She had taught me nearly everything I know. She taught me too well. I ended up breaking a few bones before I knocked her unconscious.
I had no intention of killing her. It wasn’t a matter of morality, I just couldn’t let her get off that easy. I couldn’t send her to jail. At her level she would either buy or blast her way out, or at the very least get silenced by another Syndicate hand. I brought her to the basement where she had everything set up, even a new Breaking Room. I inserted the IV of ‘formula’ drug cocktail into her and left her there. I have no idea how long she lied immobile on the floor, the supply could have lasted months. After I got the last of the girls out I never told a soul about what was in the basement. I learned later that someone found her eventually; the new Virgo turned her into a living trophy. I don’t pity her.
When I returned to the place that I called home I heard the news. Grey Widow was dead, struck down by an assassin, an assassin almost like me. I didn’t even have to change gears, revenge was revenge. I found this one even quicker, but she put up a fight. She could absorb blows and redirect the energy, it was how she beat Widow. Eventually I found a way around that. I would have drowned her in the scum-stained toilet if Zen hadn’t shown up. But that’s another story.
Induced Sleep: standard (rank 1)
Since that night he stepped in and stopped me, I’ve never killed anyone. I moved out of Widow’s country home, it reminded me too much of her. Zen and I share an apartment in the Port of Kings.
I think it was inevitable. The Sentinels saved me from inhuman slavery, my lone savior mother figure lived and died for the Sentinels, and Zen works for them as some sort of human master computer. I was eventually going to end up joining them.
The hardest part was coming up with a name. At first I’d thought I’d try Grey Maiden, in honor of Widow. It didn’t fit. Zen told me to come up with something unique to me, something that would allow me to take ownership of my life and what happened to me. He made the suggestion knowing in advance that I would eventually do it.
Kabuki was born when I decided to repaint my face.
Because of what the paint had done to my facial muscles, I couldn’t cry, laugh, or frown, only politely smile. After seven years of applying it daily, the nerve damage was irreversible, there was no harm to be done by putting it back on.
I hadn’t seen my old uniform in years. It was still in perfect condition. The black kimono slid on perfectly, my body hadn’t grown an inch. I kept the choker on at only comfortable tightness, no need to relive the whole experience. I even made a slight change to the lipstick; the color matched as before, but the chemical make-up was special. A trick compound I came across after looking through Virgo’s confiscated research notes. As a hobby she experimented with new narcotic compounds, occasionally testing a few out on us to see if they’d work. One of her successful attempts was copied from a lady botanist from the 1890’s. It utilized a special plant that could leave anyone who breathed in its pollen unconscious…“The Midnight Orchid”.
I call it “The Goodnight Kiss”. Most guys don’t see it coming, and if they do, they aren’t sure if they should run away or embrace it. The lipstick doesn’t do anything to me, my lips have been numb for years. But when I leave it on his lips, its good night darling, sweet dreams. It’s not as impressive as shoving his nose cartilage into his brain with my palm, but its far less lethal, an unusual sticking point for this group.
Before I went out with the paint, the kimono, the choker, and the special lipstick, I made sure to make one more change. In all the years they held me, no one ever struck me in the face; it was simple reasoning, you don’t damage the product. If a girl was caught desecrating her body or forgot to put on the paint, it was considered an act of defiance; she was sent to the Breaking Room and came back willing to look like the rest of us.
I pierced both my eyebrows, my tongue, and again just below my lip. I dyed strips of my bangs every neon color I could find. I shaved off two sections of hair in a sloppy number 13 across the side of my head.
I was still wearing their uniform, but I was going to own it, it was going to be my decision to put on the mask, not theirs. It was a final F-U to the woman I had left motionless in the basement of the Hong Kong bathhouse.
Zen once said that we are all puppets, and that all he does is see the strings. With all due respect, this is the one time he’s wrong. I am nobody’s puppet, nobody’s doll, I pull my own strings.