CHAPTER FIVE – Magenta’s Deal
Ziro wasted no time rushing across the room in pursuit of the perfect recruit. He was at a full run by the time he reached topside from the tunnel. The girl had clearly moved faster than he first anticipated. Puffs of his breath hung in cool night air as he scanned the empty cavern before him. There was no trace of the mysterious fighter.
The ground between he feet shuddered suddenly. Ziro froze as he looked down at the knife buried just a whisker from his tail.
“Get lost, creep,” commanded the female voice behind him.
Ziro raised his paws and turned slowly face the mouse standing in the shadows. He didn’t need any light to know he’d found who he was after. Or, rather, she had found him.
The slender, slightly taller, red mouse stepped out from the shadows, a second knife held at the ready. Though you could hardly call it knife; it was practically a small sword. Either way, it was a dangerous weapon even in unskilled paws and this doe knew what she was doing. She glared at Ziro, then snorted when she recognized him from the pit. “Nevermind. You’re already lost. You and your buddies don’t belong out here. Unless you came out here to find trouble.”
She eyed Ziro suspiciously like he might have been some ill-informed idiot thinking he’d like to ask her out on a date. Ziro took a step back from the advancing mouse.
“No. No need for trouble here.”
“Then scram, kid. I don’t like being stalked.” She kicked at the knife she’d lodged in the ground, caught it, and re-holstered it to her belt in one smooth motion.
When Ziro didn’t move, she glared, clearly annoyed that he hadn’t gotten the message.
“My name is Commander Ziro.”
Ziro tried to deliver the words with all the authority he could muster. His potential recruit didn’t look impressed. But at least the introduction helped drop her guard a bit. She smirked and leaned in close.
“That’s cute. Listen, ‘kid commando’, keep at it and maybe someday you’ll earn a real command.” She mockingly straightened his academy jacket and patted it’s rank patch.
Ziro could feel his ears burning now. “Thanks… but I’ve already got one.”
That actually got a laugh from her.
“Right. I don’t think so. Believe me, kid. I know Elites when I see ‘em. And you are not one of them.”
She laughed to herself some more and turned to leave.
“Neither are you, last I checked,” Ziro called out before he could think better of it.
His challenge stopped the volatile soldier in her tracks. Ziro gulped as he watched her tighten her fists and found his mind was suddenly preoccupied with any and all escape routes he might have to take. He jumped when she snapped her head back toward him to shoot him down with an icy stare.
“You don’t know anything about me.”
“I know you were an Elite…once. Lieutenant Magenta. Alpha Squad.”
Magenta narrowed her eyes. Sensing he was treading on a virtual mine field, Ziro chose his next words carefully.
“You were one of the best shots. Set the academy record for marksmanship. It wasn’t your fault that Alpha dropped you. After your injury you were replaced -”
“Kicked off, you mean,” She interrupted.
Ziro was surprised at the emotion Magenta allowed herself to show in that moment. It was clear from the look on her face that she had been hurt – deep.
“Listen,” Ziro continued, “Nitro was an idiot. You don’t leave a squad member behind like that.”
Magenta’s expression hardened again and the large knife arrived at Ziro’s throat quicker than he knew to react.
“You sure know a lot for a mouse I don’t know. How long have you been following me?”
“No! It’s not like that, honest! I’m just looking for a new lieutenant for my squad, that’s all! We ship out tomorrow on Colonel Black’s orders! You can see for yourself. See?”
Ziro’s trembling hands moved only enough to point her to the paper orders he had tucked inside his jacket. Without lowering her knife or menacing stare, Magenta snatched the papers out. Her intense eyes only left Ziro’s long enough for a cursory glance over the orders.
She frowned as she read over the details. “Liwa… Platform 99… Recon…” she muttered. She paused slightly before saying “Commander Ziro Federink”
Suddenly the realization came to her.
“Federink? You’re Nitro’s little brother, aren’t you?”
“Yes… I mean - ”
The knife pushed closer, cutting him off. He could actually feel the cold blade on his skin now.
“So he put you up to this little joke, did he?”
“What?! No! Nitro’s not my brother… I mean, yes, he’s my half-brother. Less if I had my choice. The orders are from Black. You can see that yourself.”
That last part seemed to talk some sense back into Magenta. Her crazed look seemed to fade a bit. Slowly the blade lowered. But the irritated soldier made a point not to put it away just yet. Jabbing it towards Ziro, she drilled him further.
“Tell me, Ziro. Besides the chance to babysit your long-shot squad on this pansy patrol hike you’re being sent on, what could possibly motivate me to join you?”
Ziro looked straight into Magenta’s eyes.
Though outwardly Magenta did well to maintain her tough exterior, her silence that followed gave Ziro hope that he wasn’t far off the mark with his answer.
Magenta finally managed to clear her throat. “Redemption is overrated, kid. Thanks, but I think I’ll wait for a better offer.”
Ziro was glad to see her sheath her knife once again, but he didn’t want to see her walk away. Not like this. Everything inside him told him that landing Magenta was his squad’s only chance.
“10,000 marks,” he said hastily.
“The mission is worth 10,000 marks… each.”
“Yeah, like I said, kid, good price for a babysitting mission. I’m not interested in that.”
“Then you can have my cut too. Complete the mission with us and I’ll transfer my marks to you – double payment.”
Magenta folded her arms and gave the offer some thought.
Ziro knew he had her.
“And,” he added, “You get a chance to prove you still have what it takes on the field – it’s a chance to get recognized.”
Magenta let herself smile.
“Blah blah blah. Let’s just skip to the good part, kid.”
Ziro looked confused. “Which is…?”
Flashing a mischievous grin, Magenta shaped a gun with her paw and took an imaginary shot somewhere out beyond Ziro.
“I finally get to shoot something real again for a change.”
“Well, I don’t know… orders didn’t say anything about–”
Magenta laughed at Ziro’s obvious discomfort with her remark and waved over her shoulder as she walked away.
“Consider your lieutenant position filled. See you in the morning, Commander.