Irma walked up to the table and placed her bag on the floor. “Hey!” She grinned. “You wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes, I did!” Smirked Rose as she gently ran her finger around the edge of her coffee cup. “I had a little job for you.”
“Oh.” Grimaced Irma. “My commission card is full up right now. My next open period is around June?”
“I don’t need art.” Chuckled Rose. “I would pay you for that.”
“Right.” Nodded Irma. “Sorry, muscle memory. So what did you want?”
“Well, first. I have something for you!” Rose smiled as she slid an envelope across the table.
Irma looked at the envelope with a confused look in her eyes. But, after a few seconds, she picked up the envelope and opened it.
A playing card fell out of the envelope and hit the table with a soft tap. “Huh?” Blinked Irma as she leaned over to see what the card was.
The second her eyes made contact with the card’s face she stopped moving. Her eyes glazed over as her mouth dropped open. It was like she had been frozen in time.
“Can you hear me?” Chuckled Rose.
“Yes. I hear you.” Replied Irma.
“Sit up. Don’t make a scene.” Smiled Rose.
“Yes.” Replied Irma as she sat up straight. Her blank eyes stared through Rose like she wasn’t there.
“Now,” continued Rose. “I have a simple job for you. It is explained in the package.” She said as she used her foot to slide a box towards Irma. “When you’re alone. Read the note. Then destroy it.”
“Read the note. Then destroy it.” echoed Irma.
“Excellent!” Nodded Rose. “As good as always,” she added as she reached across the table and replaced the playing card with a trading card before snapping her fingers.
Irma blinked and shook her head before gasping. “Wow! This card is so cool!” She grinned as she picked the trading card up. “Where did you find it?”
“I saw it in a local game store. I know you like that series. So I bought it for you!”
“But I’ve got to head off,” smiled Rose as she stood up. “So I’ll see you around, okay?”
“Sure!” Nodded Irma. “I’ll text you later!” She added as Rose left the coffee shop.
“Queen of Hearts, in play.” Whispered Rose as the door closed behind her.
Irma spent the next hour in the coffee shop. She alternated between checking her phone and drinking a latte. As she got up to leave she spotted the box sat under the table.
“Duh,” she muttered to herself. “Can’t forget my package.” Irma grabbed the box and put it under her arm before walking back to her apartment.
As she entered her apartment Irma felt her mind dissolve and swirl away. Her eyes went blank as she put the box down onto the table and ripped it open.
Inside the box, there was a sheet of paper that sat atop a wrapped object. Irma slowly opened the paper and looked over it as a sinister smirk formed on her face.
“Yes. I obey.” Mumbled Irma as she fished the item out of the box.
“Oh come on,” groaned Paula as she stomped towards her door. She couldn’t believe that she was being pulled away from her game because a random person was at her door.
Part of her had wanted to ignore it. But she couldn’t. Her brain kept worrying that it was someone trying to deliver bad news.
Paula threw the door open, only to find a playing card right in front of her face. Her mind instantly ground to a halt. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the card, all she could do was stare.
“Do you hear me?” Asked Rose as she stepped into the apartment.
“I hear. And I obey.” Replied Paula. Her eyes still staring at the location the card used to be.
“Sit on the couch,” said Rose firmly as she walked into the living room and put a box onto the table. Paula robotically marched across the room and sat down on the couch, her face blank and emotionless.
“I obey,” said Paula.
“I know,” chuckled Rose. “But I have a job for you to do.”
“So,” smiled Rose as she passed Paula a piece of paper. “Read it. Memorize it. Destroy it. Forget it.”
“Read. Memorize. Destroy. Forget,” echoed Paula as she firmly grasped the paper.
“Excellent.” Nodded Rose as she walked out of the apartment.
“Hurry up! God, what takes you so long!” Shouted Quinn as she threw the TV remote from hand to hand.
“We’re flavoring the popcorn!” Replied Irma as she carried a large bowl into the room.
“It took you forever,” interjected Tammy.
“Do you want it done well or not?” Smirked Irma as she put the bowl down on the table.
“I just wanted it,” sighed Quinn. “We’re not all housewives in training you know.”
“But you could do with the training,” giggled Paula as she put a second bowl on the table.
“Can we just start the movie?” Asked Tammy.
“Yeah,” replied the other three girls in unison. Quinn nodded and pressed the button on the remote.
The movie quickly started and the girls went silent. They had been waiting for months to see this movie and didn’t want to miss a second of it.
However, just as the film’s first act came to an end two phones started to ring. “Guys!” Moaned Quinn.
“Sorry,” blushed Irma as she pulled her phone out of her pocket.
“Sorry! I thought I put it on silent,” added Paula as she grabbed her phone out of her bag.
Quinn let out a sigh as she grabbed the remote and paused the movie.
Irma and Paula’s eyes went blank as they looked at their phones. Both girls put their phones down before robotically reaching into their bags.
“What are you doing?” Asked Tammy as she watched the girls fiddle with their bags.
“Are you ready to restart?” Asked Quinn. Suddenly, Irma and Paula pulled foam dart guns out of their bags and jumped to their feet.
“What?” Questioned Tammy. However, before she could say another word Irma and Paula started to fire darts at Quinn.
Quinn squealed as the darts bounced off her body. She rolled off the couch to try and dodge the darts but it was in vain. Irma and Paula continued to shoot until Quinn was utterly covered in darts.
Once their dart guns were depleted, Irma and Paula grabbed their bags before running out of the apartment. Their eyes still blank and empty.
They dashed down the stairs and out of the building before quickly climbing into a waiting car.
Rose sipped her coffee and giggled as she watched the three girls talk.
“We were so drunk,” chuckled Irma. “I can’t remember anything about the movie night.”
“I’ve told you to never drink Quinn’s cocktails! She just empties liquor bottles into bowls, adds food dye, and calls it a cocktail.” Replied Paula as she sipped her tea.
“Right, but a blackout? Those are rare for me.” Sighed Irma.
“And Quinn’s cocktails are very rare.” Smirked Paula.
“Sounds like you girls had fun,” interjected Lucy.
“If you count a blackout as fun. Sure?” Smiled Irma.
“I mean Quinn said it was a great night,” added Paula. “She called me this morning to tell me about it. But the line was weird. The call kept cutting out.”
“Shame,” chuckled Rose. “It’s hard to get a good signal around here.”
“Tell me about it,” grumbled Lucy.
Rose quickly pulled a deck of cards from her pocket. Lucy spotted the deck and giggled.
“What do you have there?” She asked.
“You’ll see,” replied Rose as she flicked through the deck and pulled out three cards. Before any of the girls could react Rose slid a card towards each girl.
As they saw the cards the girls froze mid-movement. Their eyes glazed over as their mouths dropped open. They remained like that for a few minutes, staring deeply into the cards.
“Sit up,” said Rose as she grabbed the cards. The girls stiffly sat up, their blank eyes staring into infinity. Rose quickly put the cards away before smiling at the girls. “Do you hear me?”
“We hear you.” Replied the girls in unison.
“Now, Agent Irma. Agent Lucy and Agent Paula. I have a task for you.”
“Yes,” echoed the three girls as drool dripped down their chins.
“Irma, Paula. You kept your dart guns correct?”
“Yes.” Replied Irma and Paula.
“Good. Take the smaller boxes I have placed under the table when you leave. Lucy, take the larger box. There is a note in there. Read it. Memorize it. Destroy it.”
“Read. Memorize. Destroy.” Lucy repeated.
“Good. Good.” Chuckled Rose. “What must you all remember?”
“Commander Rose commands. Agents obey. Agents do not question.” Whispered the girls as a shudder ran down Rose’s spine.
“Perfect! Perfect!” Grinned Rose as she snapped her fingers.
All three girls shook their heads as the glaze slowly vanished from their eyes. “What is going on?” Mumbled Paula.
“Crap!” Gasped Irma. “I spilled something in my lap! It is all wet!” She grumbled as she tried to use her hand to wipe up her drool.
“Clumsy,” giggled Rose.
“I hope my water bottle isn’t leaking.” Mumbled Irma as she continued to mop up her drool.
“I’m sure it isn’t.”
“How would you know?” Asked Irma.
“I know a lot of things,” chuckled Rose as she tried to cover for herself.
“Right,” sighed Irma.
“I better head off,” smiled Lucy as she rose from her chair. “Got a load of stuff to do.”
“Later,” waved Paula as Lucy bent down and picked up the bigger box before walking out of the store.
“Queen of spades in play,” mumbled Rose.
“Huh?” Asked Irma.
“Nothing. Just talking to myself!” Grinned Rose.
Irma nodded and returned to her coffee.
“Come on! Hurry up!” Shouted Lilly as she sprinted through the forest.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” Groaned Becky as she did her best to catch up, the sound of her sneakers echoing around the forest trail. “I can’t believe you can run this fast in this heat.”
“Practice!” Replied Lilly as she slowed down a little bit to allow Becky to catch up. She took a few deep breaths as she waited for her friend, taking a few minutes to look around the forest.
Once Becky caught up Lily slapped her on the back. “Oh god,” panted Becky. “This trail is harder than our usual one!”
“Yeah,” nodded Lily. “I knew it was steeper. But not to this extent.”
“Don’t worry about it,” gasped Becky. “It happens.”
“Last time I let Rose give me trail suggestions. That girl has no idea how to describe things,” sighed Lily as she stretched. “But it’s only a couple more kilometers and then we’ll be done.”
“Okay!” Smiled Becky as she rubbed the sweat off her forehead.
As the pair started to run again Becky did her best to regulate her breathing, keen to get to the end of this trail no matter how hard it was.
After a few minutes, Becky spotted something up ahead. At first, she presumed it was another group of runners heading towards them.
Becky presumed nothing of it. It wasn’t unusual to see other runners on popular trails. However, as she got closer she realized she recognized the three people.
“Hey! Girls!” Shouted Lilly as she started to wave at the girls. “Lucy! Irma! Paula! Don’t blank me! I know you can see me!” Added Lilly as she increased her pace.
Becky smiled to herself. What were the chances of running into three of her friends while on this run? Especially because Paula was not into jogging.
Lilly continued to shout as she got closer to the girls. “Hey come on! Don’t act like you can’t hear me! You’re looking right at me!”
The girls didn’t react or blink, even when Lilly waved her hand in front of their faces. Becky presumed this was some weird joke that she didn’t have the context for.
“Come on! Talk!” Shouted Lilly as she continued to wave her hand in front of the unblinking girls. The girls remained static, not moving a single muscle.
When Becky got within speaking distance she decided to join in. “Hey, guys, what’s up?” She asked.
The second the words left Becky’s lips the three girls stepped forward. They produced foam dart guns from behind their backs and started to fire them at Becky.
“Hey!” Shouted Becky as a load of darts hit her in the face. “No fair! No fair!” She continued as she stumbled and tried to swat the darts away. However, by the time she had recovered her footing, the three girls had already vanished into the forest.
“What the hell?!” Shouted Lilly as she ran over to Becky. “What was that about?”
“Long story.” Grumbled Becky as she dusted herself off.
Rose put her phone down and giggled to herself. She picked up a marker pen and used it to cross out a photograph of Becky. “One to go!” She grinned as she placed the pen down.
She gently ran her finger over the other picture and pondered for a few minutes.
“Now how to get you?” She said to herself as she continued to tap on the picture.
She pondered for a few more seconds before letting out a soft giggle. “With my three Queens in play, there is nothing she can do. Maybe it is time to go scorched Earth.” Chuckled Rose as she rose from her chair and walked into the kitchen.
Emily walked up to her door. “I’m coming! I’m coming!” She shouted as the person continued to knock. She pressed her eye to the peephole and looked outside.
To her surprise, Rose was standing outside of her apartment. Emily pulled the door and smiled. “Hey! Everything okay?” Asked Emily as she looked around in confusion. “You usually text before you turn up.”
“I felt like being spontaneous!” Grinned Rose.
“Right.” Nodded Emily, utterly confused by the situation. “Want to come in? I guess?”
However, before Rose could reply, the elevator opened and Lucy, Irma, and Paula stepped out.
“Hey!” Giggled Irma as she dashed over. “You wanted to see me?” She asked Emily.
“Huh?” Blinked Emily.
“Rose said you invited me over? You wanted to talk about something?” Asked Lucy.
“Same!” Nodded Irma as she stood next to Lucy. “What’s going on?”
“You better not be moving again,” laughed Paula. “I’m not taking your rickety mess of a bed apart again.”
Emily ran her fingers through her hair. A look of awkward confusion on her face. “I didn’t.” She mumbled.
An awkward silence hung in the air as the girls all looked at each other for several minutes. “Like, Rose. I didn’t ask you anything?” Added Emily, doing her best to end the silence.
“But you did!” Grinned Rose as she pulled her phone out of her pocket. “Look I’ll show you the text!” She said as she opened her phone cover.
To Emily, it looked like Rose had opened her phone case, but Lucy, Irma, and Paula could see something else. On the inside of the cover sat three playing cards.
The three girls felt their minds grind to a halt as their programming took over. They reached into their bags and produced three foam dart guns. The three girls quickly aimed at Emily and started to fire.
“Hey! Hey!” Shouted Emily as she fell backward. “No fair! No fair!” She shouted as the girls stopped firing and put their guns back into their bags.
“Assassination completed Commander.” Droned Irma, Paula, and Lucy as they stared blankly forward.
“Good girls!” Grinned Rose as she clapped her hands. Instantly the three assassin girls blinked and shook their heads.
“What happened?” Mumbled Lucy. “I zoned out.”
“Me too,” nodded Irma. “Why are you on the floor? Why are you covered in darts?” Gasped Irma as she ran up to Emily and helped her up off the floor.
“You shot me!” Shouted Emily as she pulled the sticky darts off of her face.
“I did not!” Shouted Irma.
“You did!” Insisted Emily. “You have a dart gun!”
“I do not! I’ve never been into them!” Huffed Irma.
Emily grabbed Irma’s shoulder and turned her around before reaching into her bag and fishing out the dart gun. “Look!” She shouted as she held the gun in front of Irma’s face.
“I’ve never seen that in my life!” Replied Irma.
“Paula! Lucy! Go into your bags! You’ll have one as well!”
“I mean. Sure.” Mumbled Lucy as she and Paula reached into their bags, only to pull out two dart guns.
“What the hell?!” Shouted Paula. “I. This isn’t mine!”
“This isn’t mine! I didn’t pack this!” Added Lucy.
“What is going on?” Said Irma as she looked around in confusion.
As the girls started to panic, the elevator doors slid open and Quinn and Becky stepped out.
“Well,” asked Quinn. “Did you do it?”
“I did!” Grinned Rose as she waved for the girls to follow her inside. Becky opened her mouth to speak, but before she could say anything, Emily gave her an approving nod.
The girls quickly made their way inside and sat down in the living room. Irma, Lucy, and Paula grew more confused with every step. None of them were able to make heads or tales of the situation.
Once everyone sat down, Emily broke the silence. “So, we’ve been playing assassin.”
“The party game, you know the one,” interjected Quinn.
“Yeah,” nodded Irma. “But I don’t remember playing that game?”
“Because Rose broke the rules!” Sighed Becky.
“There isn’t a rule banning sleeper agents,” replied Rose smugly.
“I think it is sort of implied.” Grumbled Becky. “We didn’t say no nuclear weapons either. But that doesn’t mean launching a warhead is okay.”
“Not against the rules.” Giggled Rose.
“Where do we come in?” Asked Lucy.
“Rose hypnotized you.” Sighed Quinn.
“She’s been making you shoot us when we least expect it. Hence why you’re all carrying dart guns.” Added Becky.
“Oh,” mumbled Lucy. “But when did this happen.”
“I’ve been visiting you or triggering you during our coffee dates.” Explained Rose.
“How?” Blinked Paula.
“Playing cards.” Said Rose as she produced the deck from her pocket, making sure to not show the girls the front of the cards. “One for each Queen. Irma is the queen of hearts. Lucy is the queen of spades and Paula is the queen of diamonds.”
“Right. I’m confused,” groaned Lucy as she rubbed her forehead.
“She shows you the card. You zone out and do what she tells you to do.” Said Becky firmly.
“That makes it clearer and way more complicated at the same time,” sighed Paula.
“So yeah.” Interjected Quinn. “Rose won by hitting all four of us with her darts. Even if she didn’t pull the trigger herself.”
“Wait.” Mumbled Paula as she looked at the girls. “Four of you? There are three of you and Rose?”
“I presumed that Yim is late?” Shrugged Quinn.
“Yim?” Asked Rose.
“Yeah?” Replied Emily. “You had to get rid of all four other girls. Me, Quinn, Becky, and Yim?”
“Wait!” Said Becky. “You did take out Yim right?”
“No? Was she even playing?” Mumbled Rose. “I don’t remember her joining in?”
“She was with us at the bar when we agreed to this game! You went home with her! Remember?”
“No. Stop lying!” Shouted Rose. “I won fair and square!”
“She isn’t lying! Yim was in the game.” Sighed Quinn. “She had the.” She started only to spot a stray dart on the floor. “What color darts were you using?”
“Red?” Replied Rose. “Red for Rose?”
“No?” Replied Quinn. “Yim had red darts. You had yellow.”
“Why?” Huffed Rose.
“Because we didn’t have Red ones. But Yim had some at home. So we gave you the yellow darts and let Yim use her ones from home.”
“You must have accidentally swapped at some point,” groaned Becky. “Well. We might have to throw this game out.”
“We should write the rules down next time.” Nodded Emily.
“I don’t think so.” Came a voice from the doorway.
“Yim! Thank heavens!” Smiled Quinn. “You can sort this out.”
“Wait.” Said Becky as she watched Yim walk into the room. “How did you know to be here if Rose had forgotten you were taking part?”
“A little flower told me!” Winked Yim. “But I’ll admit, I’m slightly disappointed.”
“Why?” Asked Quinn.
“Well, you all remember that Rose likes to hypnotize people. But you all forgot who taught her!” Smiled Yim as she leaned up against a wall.
“You didn’t!” Gasped Becky.
“What?” Mumbled Lucy as she looked at Paula and Irma. “I’m so confused.”
“Don’t worry. Me too.” Nodded Irma.
“What are you saying?” Asked Rose.
“We all know Rose has a taste for the theatrical. She loves good metaphors. So isn’t it weird that she used cards as the trigger, but yet only has three queens?”
“I didn’t find someone to act as the fourth one!” Huffed Rose. “I just opted to not use one card.”
“Check your deck.” Smirked Yim. Rose grabbed the deck out of her pocket and started to flip through the other cards. After a few seconds, she put the deck back in her pocket and opened her phone case, quickly looking around inside it.
“It. It isn’t there?” Blinked Rose.
“Of course!” Smiled Yim as she reached into her bra and pulled out a card. “Rose wouldn’t be so forgetful. But the queen of clubs,” continued Yim as she turned the card to face Rose.
Instantly Rose froze in place. Her eyes went wide as she let out a soft groan. A shudder ran across all of her muscles as she stared at the playing card.
“Can you hear me, Rose?” Giggled Yim.
“I hear you. Commander.” Replied Rose in monotone.
“Is this what we looked like?” Gasped Irma.
“Pretty much,” nodded Becky.
“But you were different. You blacked out. Not my little flower.” Interjected Yim as she strutted towards Rose. “She is in there. Aware. I’ve just taken her hands off the wheel.”
“And what is your plan?” Asked Quinn.
“Well, I need to win.” Chuckled Yim. “Rose get the dart gun.”
“Yes Commander,” said Rose as she grabbed Irma’s bag and pulled the dart gun out.
“You know what to do.” Nodded Yim as she snapped her fingers.
Rose slowly turned the dart gun towards her own head as she started to tremble. “No fair! I won’t! Do it!” She groaned as the barrel of the dart gun moved closer and closer to her forehead.
“Oh, you will.” Smiled Yim as she sat down and ruffled Irma’s hair. “I’ve been training you for this for weeks. Every time I planted the idea of having sleepers do your dirty work. I’ve hammered home the idea that the final queen will give herself to me. That she will hand me victory.”
Rose continued to shudder. Her eyes crossed slightly as they focused on the barrel of the gun. “No!” She grunted. “I won’t. I’m not a puppet!” She moaned as she used her free hand to grab her arm, hoping to keep the gun away from her forehead.
“An agent. A puppet does without thinking. An agent uses all of their intelligence and creativity to fulfill the whims of another. Like how your brain has been justifying the suggestions I’ve given you. How it has created a lie for you to believe.”
“I won’t!” Growled Rose as the barrel moved closer and closer to her forehead. Her muscles were straining, it was obvious she was trying to channel all of her strength into keeping the dart gun at bay.
“It was decided days ago.” Laughed Yim. “It will be quicker and easier to submit to my whims.”
“Won’t.” Grunted Rose as her arm jerked closer. The barrel sat within a few millimeters of her forehead. “I can do this. I will win! I will win!” She chanted, almost like she was trying to motivate herself.
“You can’t win. You’ve lost.” Replied Yim.
Instantly Rose’s eyes rolled up into her head. Her arm jerked forward, pressing the gun to Rose’s forehead before pulling the trigger. The dart bounced off Rose’s head with a soft thunk as Rose crumpled to the floor.
“See? Wasn’t that fun?” Chuckled Yim.
“Is. Is she okay?” Asked Paula.
“She’ll be fine. She’ll wake up right as rain in a few seconds.” Nodded Yim.
“Remind me to never play poker with you,” chuckled Lucy awkwardly.
“Oh, you’ll love me at poker.” Smiled Yim. “I’ve got a legendary poker face.”
“You do?” Asked Quinn, obviously setting up for a sarcastic retort. But before she could get her words out Yim cut her off.
“I’ll show you it, but you’ll have to focus on the eyes.” Giggled Yim as she stared at Quinn.
“No!” Shouted the other girls as they all looked away from Yim and burst into giggles.