Cate Archer did not bother to struggle. The stainless steel tablet she lay supine on had been impressed with a near-perfect silhouette of her spread-eagle body, even going so far as to bulge out slightly to accomodate the wide, low-slung belt she wore over her orange and white vinyl bodysuit. The indentation came only halfway up her body at any given point, so that it almost appeared she lay on her back in a silver pool. The hinged metal cuffs binding her wrists and ankles in place, and the similarly hinged extrustions which clapped a quarter of the way over the halves of her ribcage, destroyed the illusion. "Do you expect me to talk?" she asked. The agent felt a brief glow of pride in her own self-control; her voice had not quavered. Three inches below her crotch, the pin-thick beam of a ruby laser continued to draw its perfectly straight line up through the stainless steel table. Cate's head--the only part of her body that was in any way free to move--remained craned with her chin against her chest; she could not draw her eyes away from the sight. When she'd awakened here, it had been explained by the mysterious figure in the glassed-in control center that overlooked her that the laser was powered by Gorbochekovian compounds, and that therefore the laser imparted only force--not heat--to whatever it touched. That force was, clearly, enough to wholly atomize eight inches of stainless steel. "No, Ms. Archer," the mysterious figure replied in its oddly flat voice, after a moment. Cate imagined she could feel the laser whispering against her crotch. Her nostrils flared as she watched the laser cover the last few centimerers to the orange latex stretched between her thighs. I will not scream, I will not scream, I will not-- "I expect you to die." The mantra that had been circling Archer's brain flared and died as she felt the beam slice into soft flesh. Her breath--held until now, though she hadn't realized it--rushed out in a surprised hoot of pain, her lips drawn into an 'O' tight enough that she could have produced a sharp whistle. Her mouth and eyes both widened as the first burst of agony grew by orders of magnitude; air croaked in her throat as she inhaled, then returned as a helpless blat. Whatever the mysterious voice had told her, the laser burned its way through skin, muscle, blood, and bone; burned worse than any pain Cate had ever experienced. Her entire body clenched, straining against her bonds in an attempt she'd known would be fruitless from the moment she awoke, strapped to the table that would soon cup the sagging, leaking halves of her body. "Please!" she gasped, the plea a breathy burst between fast, deep pants, "I'll--talk--Godplease--Please!" The last word was a shriek; another followed, garbled by lips that couldn't be controlled enough to form proper words. As she watched the laser cut up through her belt in horrified fascination, blood welled up from the tiny space between her thighs and the metal shaped to hold them. Having passed all the way through her pelvis, the beam dug into her belly; Cate gave an "Ohhh!" as the pain flared to even greater levels. Her mouth froze in horror, but her lungs continued to heave, producing a further series of "Ohh! Ohh! Ohh! Ohh!" on slowly rising notes. Tears streamed down her upper cheeks, rounding her jaw to drip off the back of her neck; all thought of dying with dignity had fled, leaving the agent with only her terror and agony. Archer's cries continued to rise, until she was shrieking mindlessly at the top of her lungs as the beam approached her sternum. Below the laser, she felt nothing but a uniform, fiery ache; the ruby line was bisecting her spine on its way through her body. Cate's head fell back, eyes dilated and staring; she continued to scream, but her pain-addled mind had all but shut down. Suddenly, her hoarse cries shrank into a shaky whisper, then died completely as the beam cut the rest of the way through her diaphragm. Ripping agony jerked her chest as her heart split partway beneath the beam and shredded itself with convulsive beats; Cate's eyes fluttered, but she was too deep in shock to otherwise react. Hours of subjective time passed while the laser threaded its way between her collarbones and up her throat--hours of endless agony. Fresh tears leaked from the corners of her eyes as the beam sliced through her chin, shattering an incisor to shards with a tiny pop. Unable even to force a blink from her body, Cate's soul screamed and screamed and screamed... *** Cate would die before admitting it to anyone at U.N.I.T.Y., but she was thoroughly enjoying this assignment. There had been a lot of sniggering and whispering when she'd drawn the assignment to act as Jacque "Fleur de Tueur" Toures' nighttime liason. The expensive French assassin was notoriously paranoid--as U.N.I.T.Y. had discovered by losing no less than three trained agents in as many months, trying to bring Toures in for questioning concerning the death of an Indian diplomat half a year ago. Lulling the amorous assassin into inattentiveness by seducing him had already been tried once, though the agent's orders had been to subdue Toures as soon as she got him alone. Archer's approach--the approach she'd been ordered to take, that is--was somewhat more subtle. Or not, the tiny portion of her mind that was still rational commented as her right hand knocked a priceless crystal lamp over, then spasmodically grabbed the edge of the table it'd been sitting on as if the cherrywood were her own life. The fingers of her left hand were tangled in the short curles that topped Jacque Toures' head; Cate grunted, and the Frenchman wrapped one hairy forearm beneath her jaw and lifted. Her desperate grip on the table dragged it a few inches, then slipped and left her completely helpless in Toures' grip. Grinning in triumph, Toures twisted his torso, dragging Cate around as he prepared to finish her. The spy could sense the end was near; flailing, she wriggled to pull away from the assassin in a desperate play to delay the inevitable for a few moments more. It did not help; she was utterly without means to resist the French killer. "Ah!" she gasped, bowing to fate and allowing the orgasm to flood through her. Archer's initial plan had been to allow Jacque one quickie, let the contact poison secreted into her vagina to do its work--she'd taken the antidote to the knockout drug--and call for her backup. That had been two hours ago, as Toures was kissing her throat and slipping her evening gown off her shoulders. Their first real kiss had woken the spy's normally latent sex drive; five--no, six--orgasms later, she was chewing on the idea of leaving U.N.I.T.Y. and simply living the rest of her life as Jacque's mistress. She was also chewing the couch cusions; Jacque had slid his thigh beneath her hips, and was thrusting into her from behind at an angle that woke sensations in portions of her lower belly that she hadn't even known existed. Gasping again, she placed her hand on Jacque's and guided his fingers as they kneaded her breasts, turning her head so that her burning lips could taste his. Smiling, the Frenchman dragged his mouth across her cheek and neck, stopping to swallow a dangling pearl earring and the lobe it pierced. Cate inhaled and exhaled in breathy moans, trembling at the edge of another orgasm as Jacque's hand dipped between the couch cushions and came back up. Gripping the back of his neck with the hand that wasn't trapped beneath her, she began to rock her body harder against her lover's; she needed to feel another sweet ocean wash up from between her legs, buzz through the nipples that Jacque teased and pinched, and cool her fiery lips. Closing her eyes, she focused on the feeling of holding him inside her, of the strangely hard/soft length of flesh slipping around within her body. Jacque raised his arm for a moment; the slapping sound of his next stroke had an odd quality to it, almost like an echo. Cate's body continued to tremble against his, and he spent himself inside her in two more hard pushes. Her fingers gripped and released the couch cushions in uncontrolled reaction to what had happened to her, while her feet twisted against each other and a small tic spasmed the skin of her cheek. Pulling out of his latest trophy, Jacque stood naked, and crossed the room to pick he phe phone. Behind him, Cate's face still held the expression of slack ecstacy it'd assumed nearly a minute before, as the night's final petite mort approached. A small trickle of crimson blood rolled down across her face, pooling for a moment before crossing the bridge of her nose; its source was the dime-sized hole just above her ear. Behind her drying eyes, her skull was almost completely empty; the frangible bullet had punched the majority of the colloid matter out through the fist-sized hole that was concealed by the fact that her head lay on the couch. Small quivers continued to roll thorugh her body, and the toes of her left foot clenched and unclenched in regular rhythm. "She is dead," Jacque said into the phone, setting his silenced pistol on the table beside him. Listening to the reply, he laughed. "Enjoy it? Not really. She was barely an adequate lover--out of practice, I'd say," he said, popping another of the pills that rendered him immune to the poison Cate had used. "I was going to kill her with my love-seed all over her face, but I wouldn't trust her with my dick in her mouth!" He paused, frowning as he heard what the other end said. "Yes, I said 'love-seed'! Just because you are too insensitive to understand the language of lovers--!" He exchanged a few more short words with his contact, then dressed and left the room without once glancing at the cooling, naked body of Cate Archer. *** Agent Archer's high-heeled sandles clacked as she walked down the damp cobblestones of Brindisi. The ocean currents had just carried away the storm which had been drowning the Italian port city for the past three days; in its place, the air was cooler than it had been--though it was by no means cold, or even chilly. Cate's longsleeve, paisely silk blouse was almost too much, even with only the two buttons that closed it over her breasts clasped. The occasional streetlight reflected brightly from her low-slung white capri pants, as well as the ruby jewel winking from her belly button. With the thick, silver frame of her mod sunglasses perched at the end of her nose, and the orange plastic purse bumping her hip, her ensemble was possibly the least appropriate outfit for sneaking into secret Russian submarine bases that had ever been assembled. Which was, of course, why the spy had picked it out. It was, at best, a difficult propostion to play the innocent, helpless woman when your body is covered in a night-black body stocking hung with all sorts of spy equipment; very few people would take a woman dressed for a gas at one of the local nightspots as a serious threat. That would be their mistake. The next street up paralleled the Svevo Castle's southern wall as it led toward the sea; the street lamps had all gone out--had all been shot out, as Cate had seen when she'd strolled through the area this morning. Through the thickening evening fog, she could hear the low rumble of a truck engine at idle somewhere ahead of her. With a small smile, she headed towards the edge of the street, where the castle walls shadowed her from the waning moon. If her hunch--her research and groundwork--were correct, the truck would be unloading supplies into some sort of hidden cargo entrance to the underground submarine base the Soviets had built beneath the city. Peering through the grey night as she slunk forward, Cate thought she could make out the silhouette of-- A millimeter-thin strand of woven steel wire looped around her throat from behind and drew tight. The beginning of a surprised squawk was cut violently short as the garrote squeezed her larynx closed. Eyes bugged wide, Cate clawed in panic at her neck; her legs, however, remembered the grueling hours of combat training she'd undergone, and stomped at her attacker's instep. Her heel slammed into the pavement as the assailant easily avoided the countermove, and forced Cate to kneel on the grimy cobblestones. The spy's fingernails opened long scratches in her own neck as she dug at the wire; thrashing, she slammed her attacker against an electrical transformer bolted to the castle wall, springing the access door open. At the impact, a feminine grunt forced itself from her attacker's throat; the woman planted a knee in Archer's back and pulled on the garrote with redoubled fury. Archer began to panic in earnest. She wasn't in any danger of suffocation, yet--though it felt like an eternity, the attack had only begun thirty seconds ago--but her brain wasn't recieving enough new blood; the end result would be the same as if she were only cut off from breathing, and would actually take place much faster. Blackness was edging in at the corner of her vision; she could feel her tongue poking from between her lips, but her entire body felt as if it were made of lead. Desperate inspiration struck; one of Cate's hand fumbled for her purse while the other continued pawing weakly at her throat. By now, the agent's upper body was supported wholly by the wire cutting into her neck; she was too weak to hold herself up. In another few seconds, she would pass out, and then she would die and the polizia would find her in the morning with her face distorted and purple and oh god she couldn't breathe oh god oh god! With the last of her waning strength, Cate brought up her perfume bottle and tried to point it behind her. She couldn't see anymore, and her arms were numb; finding the nozzle with her finger, she managed to depress the pump once before everything went black. She woke a few seconds later, face stinging from smacking into the pavement when her assailant dropped her. Behind her, Cate could hear her attacker coughing and retching; stun gas was a decidedly unpleasant experience. For tens of seconds, perhaps half a minute, Cate simply lay on the street and breathed. Blearily, she got her hands under herself and pushed, managing to get to her knees after a bit of effort. In her struggles, she'd burst the buttons of her blouse; it hung open, exposing her bare breasts to a night which had suddenly grown quite cold. Still gasping for breath, Cate rolled over onto her buttocks and looked up just in time to catch the toe of a classy woman's boot in her mouth. The impact tossed her back and split her lip; blinded by tears of pain, she lashed out with a kick of her own and felt a satisfying impact against someone's shin. Rolling over as her attacker cried out in pain, she again regained her knees. Before she could climb to her feet, however, a gloved hand grabbed her hair and jerked her head back. Another clamped on the waistband of her muddied capri pants, and then Cate found herself flying through the air. The edge of the open transformer door filled her vision. The mysterious woman reached down and lifted Cate's head again. Archer's face was a bloody mess; blotched purple from strangulation, nose swollen and probably broken, upper lip bleeding from a rip two centimeters long which exposed the sticky gaps where several of her teeth had been knocked out. One pupil had contracted more than the other; she was concussed and likely unconscious. The agent's breath came slowly and deeply, completely filling her lungs before exhaling as the woman holding her up watched. With a sneer of disgust, she dragged Cate back into the street a foot or so by her pants, pulling them down around her thighs in the process, then rolled her over onto her front. Awareness began to slowly return to the spy as the woman once again grasped a handful of her hair. That and strong grip on the back of Cate's blouse was enough to heft her an inch or so off the street, though her breasts still pressed against the cobblestones. Grogglily, the British agent blinked her eyes--and gasped in breath for a scream as she felt herself thrown forward again, breasts scraping painfully on the pavement. Cate slammed facefirst into the guts of the open transformer, hard enough to crack the plate of bone behind her nose. She felt it as a searing chasm of pain; the ten thousand volts that poured into her body, she felt as a supernova of agony for the split second it took to kill her. Her lungs spasmed around their full load of air; Cate Archer's corpse screamed for over thirty seconds while her face charred black and her hair burned with a greasy sullenness. Her body kicked and flopped on the cobblestones, hands punching the cobblestones hard enough to splinter her fingers while her hips humped and slammed. The woman who had murdered her turned and walked calmly away, raising one wrist to her lips so that she could speak into the tiny one-way radio built into her large bracelet. "Mission accomplished," she said flatly. "Need--" she paused as aftereffects of the stun gas drew an irritated cough from her throat. "Need medical attention. Foxhound out." Cate Archer, agent of U.N.I.T.Y., turned to offer her own smoking body a disapproving glance before disappearing into the Italian night.