An excerpt from The Pointless Hero, A Novella.
He could be on time, but he chose not to be.
The habit was a flex of power, because he demanded punctuality in his agents. This demand had been drilled into Imogen Roycroft, who was answering his summons to the Waypoint Hotel, and sat down at a bistro table across from Junius a few minutes early. This was her habit—obedience.
Her boss acknowledged Imogen’s presence with a quick look up from his copy of today’s Epoch Gazette, a flash of cobalt irises behind the black and white type, but continued to read. Making her wait, giving her time to peruse the headline—30th Century UN Council Opens Inquiry on Time Manipulation—and guess which era the hotel paid homage to today.
She guessed easily, for the era was Imogen’s own—Victorian London. Had Junius requested the decor to make her more comfortable? If he had, he’d failed. Imogen had only ever seen the inside of an orphanage, so she still felt out of place. She much preferred the Aztec-inspired room, with its riotous color and ominous sculptures.
She’d visited the Waypoint in its many different incarnations countless times, to relax or convalesce from injuries sustained on duty. It was a place that existed outside time and thus nowhere at all, where everything both happened all at once and had not yet come to pass. But today—or tomorrow, or never, depending on how you looked at it—she was there to get a new assignment.
Junius needed her to erase someone.
Or rather, someone had hired the Syndicate to erase someone. Imogen only knew two things about the Syndicate: Junius was one of only a few members, and she did what they told her, without question. These two facts had governed her life since the age of fifteen. So where would she be going this time? Ancient Greece? Twenty-seventh-century Singapore? Or some place and time mind-numbingly dull?
A waitress floated over, and Imogen ordered a cup of lemon herbal tea. As the woman’s heels clicked across the wooden floor, Junius finally slapped the paper down on the table with a roll of his eyes.
“The first thing you need to know: Our client is a thoroughly reprehensible creature. Greedy, vengeful, irrational. I’ve never met a man so enamored with his own misfortune.” Junius ran a hand across his black, pomaded hair. He was a dandy, with a narrow mustache to match his coiffure and an expensive pin-striped suit. He enjoined his hands in pretend prayer, candlelight flickering off a garnet pinky ring. “I beg of you, dear Imogen, follow this one through, because I cannot stand the thought of speaking to him again.”
The waitress reappeared, this time with Imogen’s tea, and swiftly retreated. Junius studied the movement of her hips with a predatory smile, then slurped whatever was in his own cup.
“This is a rather unorthodox arrangement. At the moment, our client is a pauper, but he will be a rich man. If you’re successful.” Junius snapped his tongue against his palate, angrily studying the front page of the Gazette. “The sum is… potentially handsome. More than enough to…”
His eyes glittered as his voice faded away. Imogen scowled, though she wasn’t supposed to scowl or react in any way, and Junius wasn’t supposed to give her so much detail. It was against policy and, more importantly, she didn’t care. She rearranged her face and sipped her tea, but it was too late. Junius had noticed her reaction.
“You’re hesitant, understandably. The circumstances are unusual. We’ve taken collateral in lieu of payment. When the job is finished, his inheritance will simultaneously be restored. Only then do we get paid.” Junius smoothed his already-smooth mustache. “I have no doubt you will do well. You always do.”
Junius laid his soft hand across Imogen’s on the table. She didn’t think of taking it away, for Imogen was trained not to think. He leaned in. More details were forthcoming, which she didn’t need to hear. She often wondered if Junius thought they were friends.
“Our client has pinpointed the origin of his unhappiness to the year 2018 and one young man. Geordie Dittoe. Apparently, Dittoe revealed a secret about our client’s ancestor in a news article. A shameful, wretched matter. This ancestor’s company capsized as a result, and he lost his fortune, and thus so did our client—his descendant.”
These details were superfluous. Dead was dead. Why it needed to happen didn’t matter. Still, Imogen responded crisply, “I understand.” A film of sweat formed on the back of her hand, where Junius’s palm touched her skin.
“Since the client has not paid us yet, your orders are as follows: if Mr. Dittoe alters his own timeline and chooses not to write the story, you are to leave him alone.”
Naturally. Money was the Syndicate’s sole interest in every case, and they never heeded the lessons her master had taught her: that time was a circle and everything happened at the same time, not one after the other, which meant past, present, and future could all be manipulated. But that was twenty-five years ago. Imogen’s master was dead, and they did things differently at the academy now. She kept her face placid, the memory of her master’s lessons hidden, wondering why they rang so loudly today.
“If, however, Mr. Dittoe moves forward with his scandalous story…”
Junius mimed a knife slashing a throat, though Imogen would use a far more subtle method of execution. He peeled his hand from hers, leaving a moist spot on her skin. She fought the urge to wipe it away as he stretched luxuriously in his chair.
“As usual, your cut is one percent. But this is one percent of a very large pie. Enough to retire on, dear Imogen.”
Against Imogen’s better judgment, she entertained an old, worn-out fantasy of a home and a family. For years, she’d been training herself to be the perfect housewife—which meals to make her husband, how to nurture her children’s bodies and minds, how to decorate her house—down to every last detail, even though those skills would never be used. But hope now bloomed in her chest. One percent was more than enough to buy a house. The husband would follow, and then, of course the children. Was it possible? Assassins were usually erased after a botched job, or when they’d seen too much, or if they forgot the rules and expressed an opinion. Maybe Imogen could be the exception.
“What would you do?” Junius asked, sensing that she was entertaining possibilities. “Return to London, 1858? Or another time altogether…”
Junius smiled, and it was the most genuine smile she’d ever seen him wear. Imogen owned only one thing in this world—her mind—and she wouldn’t let him in. She shrugged in answer.
“You’re right. Best not think of it too soon. We’ll pause our celebrations until the job is done. Until Geordie Dittoe is dead.”