Monday, January 01, 2007

Childhood's End - Chapter 14

After a tense hour of substituting a conversation of substance for an undying supply of hot cocoa, heavy footsteps echoed in the hallway of the pier's administrative building, followed by a series of knocks on the metal door. Molly - having leaned against the wall for the better part of fifteen minutes with impatient feet - shifted her center of gravity forward, walked towards the door and opened it to let Mark in; the Enforcer nodded by way of greeting, then set down one of his trademark duffel bags on the room's spartan table.

"The bad news is," he began, "I couldn't get the body. The cops were swarming all over the place when I got there."
"But he's dead?" Rowena asked, her voice even.
"100% organic fertilizer. I heard some whispers from the CSI guys, looks like the dive alone would've killed him twice over. Hit the ground head first, snapped his neck and cracked his skull."
"What happens now?"
"They'll scour the places for clues and witnesses. Do you remember leaving any?"
"I tried not to touch anything...and I don't think anybody near me saw my face. Except the girl."
"Rowena met up with another girl in the chase," Molly explained, sparing Rowena the effort of repeating the tale. "She helped her escape."
"And she saw your face?" Mark asked, taking mental notes.
"Yes. But she...she was incredibly strong, she jumped over an intersection and she threw me onto the roof from three stories below."
"Sounds like an Adept to me," Molly said.
"Well, fuck me. Psions. You sure about that, kid?"
"I know what I saw."

Withholding his comment for now, Mark opened the duffel.

"I got your gun, and I brought some fresh clothes. I reckon you want to shower I, er, well, I grabbed a towel, and the shampoo and the shower gel - vanilla? - oh, and some fresh underwear. And makeup. I, well, I couldn't find the perfume bottle..."
"Underwear?" Rowena asked, the hint of a smile on her face.
"'re probably all sweaty. From the running and the jumping and the fighting and..."
"Jesus, Simmons," Molly said, rolling her eyes. "Shut the hell up."
"Yes Ma'am," Mark added with a non-negleglible amount of sarcasm.
"There's a shower at the end of the hallway," Molly said, still glancing at Mark. "It might take a minute before the water's hot."
"Gotcha," Rowena said, then grabbed the duffel and stalked off in search of cleanliness.

With Rowena gone, Molly leveled a withering gaze at Mark.

"I swear I'll kill you if you have me playing babysitter again."
"Look, I can't be everywhere at once, okay? I needed somebody to pick her up and you were the closest."
"Don't you have your flunkies for that?"
"They wouldn't be my flunkies if they weren't busy with other shit." He weathered her gaze a bit more, then met it. "You think I wanted this to happen?"
"It's certainly convenient. At that range, a decent sniper shouldn't have missed. And correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't she the 'Waahhh I'm all torn up about killing' girl?"
"Do you honestly think I could hire someone to deliberately miss her, then set him up to fail so she can kill him? How the hell is that supposed to work?"
"I don't know, you're the hitman."
"Plots need to make sense," Mark said. "This one doesn't. Someone gave her that kill, but it wasn't whoever hired the sniper."
"So what's your theory?"
"The girl was a Physical Adept, right? Who do you know who's got Adepts?"
"The Shop, some Archer guys...Fade."
"Bingo. Just like the old man to have a shadow on the kid." He took a deep breath. "Look, Molly..."
"...Miss Hendricks..."
"...Miss Hendricks. What the hell do you want? All I ever hear from you is this trust bullshit, but everything that goes South is supposed to be my fault?"
"You're a sneak, Simmons. I know what you do to the people who forget that."
"Okay. Let's play your game. What can I do so you'll trust me?"

Mark had to laugh at that, which didn't earn him any sympathy points from Molly.

"Come on. You wouldn't be here if you didn't have problems. The Company wants to come in from the cold, they told me. You fucking called me. The only reason you've got this place is that I bought it for you. So where's this cooperation thing I saw in the ads?"
"Okay, okay. You want to prove yourself? I've got something for you. Almost as good as dying."

She showed him the file. Mark took a very long time to nod.


The Rowena who stepped out of the building thirty minutes later didn't resemble a little girl anymore; she was now wearing Doc Martens, work jeans and a dark gray commando sweater under her leather coat. The Five-seveN was back in it's shoulder holster, and her eyes were seated behind mirror shades with a cold, blueish tint.

This was turning out to be rather easier than she'd thought, and she wasn't sure yet whether that was a good thing.

"I need more guns," she said after she got into Mark's car. "We'll have to junk this one, right?"

Mark yanked the ignition and slowly pulled the car from it's parking position.

"I said, I need more guns."
"Heard you," he replied. "Also, file."
"What, did I break a nail?"

Mark rolled his eyes.

"No, kid. You could fix the ballistic profile problem with a metal file. Fine line between fucking the FBI and fucking yourself, though. Plays hell with accuracy. Also, it's a goddamn Five-seveN, the dial on those doesn't go all the way up to 'Incognito'. MedEx dig those bullets from a corpse, they think 'Man, we gotta do something about those street shootings involving millionaires.'"
"...yes, yes, I get your point. Hence, more guns."
"As you command, milady."


Rowena realized that she'd never been in the Umbrella's armory before, and felt somewhat cheated by the sheer utilitarian look - she expected showcases, custom stands and those neat plastic cutouts. It was just another storage room filled with heaps upon heaps of metal cases stacked in shelves, all wearing a small tag; there was a computer near the entrance, its cooling fan whirring to provide some background sound while Mark and Rowena walked through the place. Mark led her to a small corner with a table and a sandbox; Rowena guessed his intent and unloaded her gun. Mark nodded, then placed it in a nearby metal box; Rowena checked the label, which read "Dirty".

After that came the browsing.

The system made sense, she realized, after a fashion. Each case contained a single weapon "system" - guns, accessories, magazines -, together with a removeable barcode tag on the front. The inventory system was semi-automatic; after handling the contents on one case, the barcode was swept past a reader on the PC, which would then open the database to the right page - all the user had to do was enter what he'd taken from or added to the case, and the inventory would be updated. Mark explained with a lot of big words that this would soon be fully automatic, stumbling over terms like "RFID", but Rowena was understandably more concerned with getting the weapons she wanted - although Mark threatened that if he ever found her nabbing more stuff from the place without checking it out properly, he'd have her do a full audit of the place.

That said, Rowena soon had the whole thing laid out on a blanket: Two Five-seveN pistols (Mark professed ignorance of how they got into "his" stockpile), two USP Tacticals (9mm; Rowena wasn't feeling up to the .45s just yet), a handful of grenades, a G36K (derided by Mark as the "bastard child" of that particular weapon system) and, - by Mark's urging - a knife set distinctly unoptimized for cutting tomatoes. The piéce de résistance, however, came from the Other box; Rowena had a few seconds to admire the sheathed katana before Mark grabbed it by the scabbard and gave her that look.

"You could really hurt someone with that, kid." He cocked his wrist to the side, twisting it from her grip. "This one stays in the box," he said, and put it back where it came from.
"Uh, question. Why do you have a sword in the armory?"
"Plural, kid. Swords." With a quick grab, Mark hauled another scabbard from the container and handed it to Rowena. "Try this one. Damascus steel, one-and-a-half length, it's got two edges and a point."
"Yes, but why?"
"Swords are scary, if you know how to handle one. You come in with a sword, you're broadcasting a message - 'I'm crazy and lovin' it.' That one's a proper one. Then you get shit like this -" he grabbed a fencing foil - "great for theater productions. Not that scary. Comprende?"
"Si," she replied, unsheathed the bastard sword and assumed a defensive stance. "Daddy got me a Fechtbuch for my seventh birthday, I've been working on it since. Also, pattern welding doesn't make it Damascus. But it looks nice, Pendray-style superplastic steel?"
"Uh, right," Mark said, with the facial expression of someone who really hadn't expected to be outdone in swordsmanship expertise by a teenager. "You know, sharp end goes in the other guy and all that."
"I'm familiar. Is that it?"
"You'll need this."

Rowena's first encounter with a ballistic vest wasn't the most amiable, because she had to take off her sweater and let Mark fumble around with it for half an hour to get the thing properly fitted. At the end of that, it felt almost like cheating when he simply undid two buckles and slipped the heavy, sweaty thing off.

"Armor basics," he began while she dressed up again. "Don't fuck with the adjustable straps. I'll sew them in place later."
"You sew?"
"Shut up. Next, wear it. Get comfortable with it. Armor doesn't help if you don't have it on, and you won't wear it if you're not comfortable in it. You have to get familiar with it, how it moves with you, how much you should wear with it so you don't sweat your ass off. Wear something underneath, this shit chafes. Keep it dry. If you get hit with it, keep it on, it's better than nothing, but dump it and replace it as soon as you're away from the firefight. This is Level 3A, heaviest I'd recommend for regular carry. If you need the heavy stuff, we'll get you properly measured and order it custom, but...well, this'll do."
"...he could've killed me, right?"
"Moody. If he hadn't missed."

Mark shrugged.

"A still fighter is a dead fighter," he said. Rowena understood.

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