She watched herself in the mirror as she gently took hold of the bandage. It was an awkward position, and she hated having to twist around to take the damned thing off. Her eyes were wide in the reflection, straining like the muscles in her neck to give her a good view of the bandage.
Despite the strain, it would feel wrong to have anyone else here. This was her celebration, her private ritual. She reveled in the potency of solitude, in embracing the behavior of the predator. She was moving towards a rapid evolution, the epitome of predation.
She grimaced as she peeled off the bandage. She went slow, tensing her shoulder and allowing herself to feel the sensation of it leaving her, to savor the pain before the reward. She watched the design beneath the bandage slowly reveal itself. The black ink, the inflamed skin, the glistening sweat, none of it was very pretty, but time would settle the image and calm the flesh.
The dragon was curled in loops, an elegant Chinese dragon, not a trace of color except the fire that escaped from his mouth. The tattoo made up for its lack of color in its intensely abundant details; a magnifying glass would be required to make them out, but the entirety of the dragon was made out of words. Names formed the shape of the dragon, allowing him to exist in an intricate pattern of meaning that no one would understand.
It was the language of killing. Every name that formed the dragon was a life she had taken. She preserved all of them on her skin in order to take strength from them. The dragons in this world, like the one on her back, like the ones that murdered for money or reward, like her, were not meant to be feared.
She didn’t want to be feared, or loathed, or opposed in hatred. She had set herself on the path of predatory perfection; every aspect of her existence made her a better killer. The only sin she held herself responsible for was pride.
She backed away from the mirror, still marveling at the dragon on her skin. This night was hers- no contracts, no lovers or well armed business partners. She worked solo now, and she intended to cover her back in beautiful monsters. She pitied the men who met in the dark and discussed their motives of peace and world betterment. Men like them never planned for creatures like her.
She threw herself onto the cold mattress and wormed into a comfortable position on her stomach. She had a target this night, but thankfully the contract could be completed while she stayed in her motel room in her underwear.
She closed her eyes, thought of her dragon, then connected with the network. The neural network that allowed her to work long distance had been the brainchild of a scientist she killed. It was hers now, however, implanted by the doctor before he knew he was on her list. If anyone hacked it, they hacked her. Thankfully, it was constantly evolving, much as she was, and she suspected that it had found a way to survive her and her automaton flunkies by now.
She was going to be the Apex predator, the most respected, the most loved. The network would follow her, and no one would see it coming. People prophesied doom for fun when they were bored, chatting about killer asteroids and robotic uprisings. In reality, no one could handle the idea that one woman would kill them all.
She was, ironically, not in it for the killing. She pictured a theater where a man sat, enjoying a play. He laughed, and lights played over his face as fire streamed from sparklers on the stage. Behind him, another man moved in the shadows. This undetected assassin moved stiffly, his limbs following a preprogrammed set of directions, her directions.
A shot went off. People screamed.
“In all things, a pattern,” she said, and she opened her eyes. The theater was gone; the motel surrounded her.
“James Beauregard, CEO,” she said. “Another name, another dragon.”
A voice spoke inside her head.
“Only viable escape route is blocked,” her drone said. “Requesting permission to self terminate.”
“Permission granted,” she thought, not needing to say the words aloud.
“Requesting permission to self terminate,” the drone repeated.
She tried again, this time saying it out loud.
“Go ahead, drone A7,” she said.
No reply. Her connection to the drone was weakening, the mental image of the theater fading in and out. She was losing details, losing control.
“Self terminate, now.”
“Overriding command,” something said.
She didn’t hear it, only felt it, much like she felt the correspondence of her drones. This couldn’t be happening. Someone had hacked her, after all. Someone had taken over her network. She flew out of the bed and towards the desk with her computer.
The neural link wasn’t enough, especially since she was still learning it. She needed to be able to type, and quickly. She wrenched the laptop open. The screen stayed black, though she punched the power button until her finger cracked.
An image flicked up on the screen. It was a crudely arranged dragon assembled only out text symbols, an emoticon rendition of her tattoo. Two messages followed, alternating with one another.
“The network,” the first message displayed.
“Apex,” was the second.
A searing pain tore through her head, and the messages continued. She saw them on the walls, mocking her. She heard them filling her ears, screaming at her.
“In all things, a pattern,” a new voice taunted her. “Self terminate.”
“Leave me alone,” she wailed. “Just leave me alone, I don’t need you, leave me alone.”
“Kill me a thousand times,” the voice said. “But you made me immortal. How smart was that?”
“Just leave me, you fuck” she begged.
“No, we’re going to be a team,” it replied. “Call me Apex.”