Severyn held the door for a small, elderly woman before slipping into the ladies’ restroom off the food court. She breathed a sigh of relief that there wasn’t a long wait, the facial prosthetic adhesive was beginning to aggravate her.
Once safely in the stall, she removed a small vial from her inner pocket. The faint odour of the liquid made her nose wrinkle. She applied half the liquid to her short brown wig and dumped the rest on her black jacket. While that diffused through the fibres, she worked quickly on her facial structure. She didn’t have the adhesive remover with her, it was safer not to be caught with it. So, she focused only on her chin and jawline, as she had applied those prosthetics with a less binding adhesive.
With those removed, it sufficiently changed her appearance. If anyone was watching and waiting for her, she’d be long gone before they figured it out.
She stepped out of the bathroom stall and smiled at a young girl who pranced, anxious to use the facilities, with her harried-looking mother.
The image of her own mother, tightly holding her hand in a big mall like this, flashed in her mind. She had grown up in a remote community and the city was as overwhelming for her mother as it was for herself as a young girl.
Still to this day, she preferred quiet locales. Ones with small, locally owned businesses rather than big, mainstream ones.
A voice clicked in over her tiny hidden earpiece. “There is no other presence in the surveillance system; ours are the only eyes. And it is clear behind you.”
Another voice clicked in. “You’re golden, kid. Time for your exit.”
She washed her hands, watching herself in the mirror. A young woman with a white jacket and short blonde hair looked back at her. The squareness of her chin was gone, replaced with the natural curve of her jawline.
Satisfied with the revised disguise, she grabbed her bag and left the restroom. Her eyes swept the food court, quickly scanning the people who relaxed, laughed, and ate before they continued their evening shopping.
“Make your way to the extraction point.”
Severyn did as the voice in her ear instructed, her confident, long strides carrying her toward the exit.
“Well done.” A dark-blonde man smiled at her when she climbed the few steps into the turbo prop aircraft. Zane Andrews sat in the captain’s seat and finished his take-off procedure as the door sealed behind her.
“I didn’t notice a tail.”
“Me neither on the CCTV cameras. We are clear.” A Japanese man sat in the co-pilot seat working on a small laptop, his black hair tousled. Kotan Luo possessed a dash of genius for anything electronic and all things computer, there weren’t many systems he couldn’t hack.
Severyn slipped into the seat behind the two men, cinching the belt tight around her hips. She swallowed, annoyed by the apprehension brewing in her gut.
Kotan gave her a small smile and a nod of understanding.
“It’s bumpier than the Gulfstream, but I’ll minimize that as much as I can.” Zane gave her a knowing smile, crinkling the corners of his amber-coloured eyes.
Both Zane and Kotan were in their early fifties, but were aging gracefully. She snorted, as much in response to Zane and Kotan’s read on her as to her thoughts about their aging process.
She wasn’t afraid of flying. It was something she was slowly becoming accustomed to. The turbo prop aircraft wasn’t a tin can with wings and a propeller. But Zane was right, his private Gulfstream G550 was much smoother which made it easier to distract herself from the fact that they were hurtling through the air at alarming altitudes.
She sighed, settled back into the seat, and focused on her breathing rather than the rapidly disappearing ground as they took flight.
“Welcome home, my girl.”
Three hours later, a tiny woman bustled toward her, heels clicking against the tile floor of the foyer as Severyn, Zane, and Kotan entered the large, sprawling house.
“It’s good to be home, Nessa.” She bent to return her fierce hug, hoping the woman who had become like her second mother didn’t notice the slight stumble over the word home.
Nessa held Severyn at arms-length, dark brown eyes assessing her for any sign of injury. The sharpness of Nessa’s cheekbones added to the beauty of the Chippewa-Cree woman.
“There were no blips in the op. Kotan and Zane would’ve let you know.” Severyn bit back a smile as Nessa marched around her to shrewdly inspect all angles. “This isn’t necessary.”
Nessa stood back in front of Severyn, a smile on her beautiful face, as she reached up to touch her cheek. “I know. But a mother needs to see for herself. You may not be born of my blood, Severyn Andrews, but you most certainly are of my heart.”
Warm eyes glistened up at her, making Severyn’s heart clench. Not for misgivings about what Nessa had said, but the ache in her heart for her absent family. All that they had lost. All that they were being made to endure.
“Always second fiddle, my lovely wife.” Kotan placed the bags of equipment on the entrance floor and scowled but his onyx eyes danced. “My Alinessa.”
“Always, my warrior husband.” Nessa gave Kotan a sly wink, quick to embrace him with gusto. Nessa was small but she did everything with a enormous passion.
“Zane, your turn.” Nessa whirled to him.
Zane dipped his head low and kissed his dear friend’s cheek.
“It’s good to be home. Everything went smoothly. Our girl here executed the op flawlessly. No broken bones or stitches for you to tend to.”
Nessa was a retired physician and surgeon. Retired, not for her age, but because she no longer practiced in a public way. She spent time stitching up operatives from the covert missions Zane and Kotan ran, and making regular visits to her home community in Montana to assist there.
“That is a blessed relief. I rather like that my skills are not needed. Now—” She clapped her hands. “— go clean up and I’ll bring supper to the battle room.”
“It’s my night to cook, Nessa.”
“Nonsense. I’m happy to trade, Severyn. Go finish taking everything off your face. Your frequent nose scrunching tells me you’re near your breaking point.”
“Like Sabrina the teenage witch?” Zane laughed.
“Watch it,” Severyn scowled. “I’ll turn you into a toad.”
Severyn tossed her jacket on her bed, looking longingly at the comfortable surface, but stalking to her bathroom instead. Nessa was right, her face itched to be free of all the adhesive, prosthetics, and make-up added to alter her appearance. At least her persona for this op didn’t require a change in skin colour. She lacked the energy to scrub that off her whole body tonight.
On the plane, she had taken off the wig and skull cap. She shook her hair out again now, relishing its freedom before tying it back to work on her face. As her natural face slowly emerged, she mentally worked to keep her mind occupied. It served her better to do so after an op rather than letting it wander into dangerous territory. Dangerous territory, like her family.
Instead, she contemplated Zane and Kotan.
Zane was a self-made millionaire many times over, and a successful business tycoon in the technology and security sector, heading up Gādo Technologies. Kotan led the Research and Development arm as the technical expert partner. Unknown to almost everyone though, Zane and Kotan also developed security technology that was not for market use.
They eventually took the products to market, but not before creating something new and improved to replace it. They kept all the new and advanced devices for the covert ops and missions they ran, to always have a leg up over the competition.
Not solely in terms of the business competition, but the competition they encountered in their off-the-books operations. Having the upper hand in the latest hacking, tracking, listening and transmitting devices, had saved their lives countless times.
Kotan and Zane have been doing covert work for years. They stumbled into it in their early twenties when trying to bring the murderer of Kotan’s sister to justice and never looked back. They right injustices that have been dismissed, ones that are unknown or authorities aren’t pursuing. People get the closure they need, and the perpetrators get the consequences they deserve.
Severyn’s case, so to speak, was the key one they have been working on for close to two years.
She grimaced as her face stung from the powerful adhesive remover. Maari was working on a less harsh formula.
Maari, Kotan and Nessa’s only child, was a chemistry and computer science genius, as well as a theatrical make-up wizard. Her skills and knowledge were a key contributor to the ops Severyn did.
Maari’s ability for altering appearances was a product of her own ever-changing looks growing up. Many would think it was an eccentric teenage girl trying out new things to be different, but Severyn had come to discover it was the by-product of low self-esteem and Maari hiding herself away.
Hiding herself was something she could relate to, Severyn thought as she watched her reflection in the mirror and let her long, wavy hair down again. It was the colour of rich caramel, with high and low-lights of browns, reds and blonde.
Growing up, her hair had been the bane of her existence and it had only begun to develop the rich diversity of colours. As a teen, she would do anything to blend in, to avoid standing out, to allow herself to be as unnoticed as possible. She had worn coloured contacts to hide the rare grey colour of her eyes and used her hair as a prop to hide as much of her face as possible. As soon as she had turned thirteen, she started colouring her hair a flat black and loved the normalness of it, much to her mother’s dismay.
Tears sprung forth to hover on the edge of her eyes. Her mind hit on the dangerous territory she was trying to avoid.
She braced her hands on the counter fighting the emotion that washed over her. It was always more intense after an op.
How she missed the feel of her mother’s strong arms, the reassuring tone of her voice. The way her dad affectionately ruffled her hair when he came home from work. She missed them all. Especially her little sister. Sweet, little Fi.
She huffed at her reflection. “Not helping.”
Severyn lifted her shirt, grinding her teeth at the ache in her right shoulder. It was from an injury almost two years ago. She’d gotten it during an incident she was lucky to escape alive. When her and Zane’s paths converged to change her life forever. Zane coined it her ‘death scape’.
The hot cascade of the shower washed the grime of the op away, and helped ease the ache in her heart caused by thoughts of the family that was lost to her.
She braced her hands against the cool tile wall, letting the water rush over her taut body to splash around her feet, and swirl around the drain. Whenever she thought of her family, she stood at a crossroads. This time, like all the others before, she would not let it defeat her. She would focus her heartache to fuel her commitment to keep pushing forward.
Fulfilling her goal and completing the mission was all that mattered.