Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 12 - Jesus Walks / No Man's Land

When Jesus said "No man cometh unto the father but by me", he presumably had a good reason to do so, but his departure from our world left things in a somewhat hovering position, insofar as that there was no physical Jesus to ask for forgiveness. Churches made do with depictions and statues, but this had kicked off a twisted sort of arms race to build the most magnificent tribute to the Lord and His Son. Over the centuries, this had produced uncountable stunningly beautiful works of art and architecture, but artistic value is hard to judge in some cases. The Brazilians, ever crafty people, had decided that their commemoration of 100 years of Independence would settle the debate - if not in objective, universally-agreed on beauty (though they certainly aimed for that), then in sheer physical size. It was hard to fault them for their dedication, and for a roaring 80 years, Christ the Redeemer had watched over Rio de Janeiro, all in a glorious, 30 meters high display of oneupmanship.

From where Rowena was standing, it looked much less impressive.

Rocinha had once been a favela, that is, a shanty town section of Rio. As far as such things went, it had improved greatly with the years, but despite the brick buildings and asphalt-covered streets, Rowena could feel the tension around her in every step. She was making ripples in this pond, though admittedly things could've been worse; her uncertain ethnic character and re-purposed fatigues helped her blend in somewhat, and those that did pay attention to her also saw her handgun. She'd always been able to walk with confidence, and it showed here - the biggest challenge in not becoming a victim was to look like a hunter among many. She wondered with syndicate was in control of this area; she'd have to play nice with them, if only for the duration of her stay.

She was being tailed, no doubt about it; the bairro's protectors were watching her from the rooftops and shadows. She tapped the USP on her hip absentmindedly, ready to translate her tic into a quickdraw at a moment's notice. The truce was uneasy, more of a mutual commitment to being nice until it was time not to be nice. There was a payphone on the corner ahead, and for a brief second she contemplated stealing some money and using it - then thought better of it. No secure line, not enough useful intel, no assurance that she wasn't the setup for a new trap - and, perhaps above all, she didn't want help. The sun stood high over the ocean, casting Rio into harsh, orange light. It looked like Rocinha was burning.

Then, a moment later, it was.

Rowena dodged behind a telephone pole just in time to miss the bullet with her name on it; the guards on the rooftop were now firing at everyone that looked like a threat, and the sounds of more gunfire from the North settled it: she'd walked straight into a turf war. Darting from pole to parked car to behind a brick wall, Rowena took in the situation: three gunmen, about 40 meters out, armed with shotguns and one AK. She had enough cover to turn this into a shooting match, but not the gear for it - with only 13 bullets in the gun (and one reload), she had to make every shot count.

A still fighter is a dead fighter. She could almost hear Mark say it in her head.

She dashed out into the open on the other side, vaulting over a bicycle and onto the main street, then rushed over to the other side and into an entryway; more fire poured down the road from the north, and she pressed herself against the door to have some meager amount of cover. A close shot blew out a whole cloud of brick dust right next to her face, and the only saving grace was that she wasn't looking that way when it happened; instead, her eyes focussed on the door's lock, and she blew it out with a trio of shots.


Rushing inside the building, she put both hands on the gun and brought it up, quickly scanning the room for threats. Finding none, she slammed the door closed behind her, then grabbed a nearby cupboard and shoved it against the door to barricade the entrance. She could hear noise from above; with the door secured, she whipped around again and took off for the staircase. One of the guards came down, shotgun against his shoulder; Rowena double-tapped him once, dodged out of the way, then fired again when he tried to get up.


She tried going for his shotgun, but the wall above her tore up as the Kalashnikov opened up on her from above; she crouched down as low as she could, letting the plaster and wood splinters rain over her. She heard him come down the stairs; her eyes were still closed against the particles in the air, but she stuck her gun-arm around the corner and fired twice, bringing the Kalashnikov gunner tumbling down in the same manner as his friend. However, Rowena's newly opened eyes saw that she'd only grazed him; he turned around and opened fire on her while she darted into the next corner, snapping off three more shots to force him behind cover.


A whole rain of Jesus figures came down upon her as the gunman peppered the decorated wall above her; Rowena kicked off the wall in the corner and backflipped onto a table in the middle of the room, rolling off to the side to dodge the next burst. She came to a stop with her back against the entryway; too late, she realized that there was no more solid cover to dart for, and the downed gunman raised his AK with a grin.


"It's called reloading, asshole," Rowena said, then double-tapped him again. This time, her shots were true; the last of the trio was now hurrying downwards, but Rowena stayed cool. Without taking her eyes off the staircase, she dropped the magazine from her handgun, slipped in the spare and let the slide ride back forward, chambering a round.

The last of them was a woman, maybe 25; she wore a floral-patterned blouse and fatigue pants, with a small crucifix amulet dangling from a silver chain around her neck. She had an Ingram MAC-11, a tiny SMG fit for her tiny hands, but she didn't have much of a grasp of tactics - she'd walked right into Rowena's little ambush.

With a shuddering click, the USP's firing pin impacted the .40 S&W bullet's case, igniting the primer. The gun's chamber was flooded by the gasses - gunpowder undergoing oxidation - and pushed the bullet against the barrel's rifling until it dug in and began to spin. Still pressing against the bullet, the gas expanded yet further, finally forcing the projectile clear of the barrel. The gun's slide shuddered, then rolled back as the deflageration inside it dissipated; the mechanism unlocked and let the slide roll back, snapping open the ejection port and throwing the spent case across the room. In the air, the bullet clawed its own way through the mass of air in front of it; soon, it tasted something harder and wetter as it dug through the woman's skull.

Marie Cruz, it read from that red thing inside her skull; as it wandered, Marie Cruz felt, for the briefest moment, as if she was flying, then falling, ever faster and faster until she could no longer even feel the chilling wind whipping past her. She lost all control, then all feeling, existing for the briefest moment only as a mass of information and instructions that had nowhere to go. The bullet, however, had met her skull again, and forced its way out through the back, enjoying its brief freedom before coming to a rest inside the next wall. Inside Marie Cruz, things were not looking well; the impact had started a chain reaction, and like a tidal wave devouring all that crosses its path, the hydrostatic shockwave pinged through her head, disrupting most of her brain before liquefying it. Her heart still beat, for it was stubborn and strong, but there was nothing left to do or save; soon, everything in her body would grind to a stop.

It had taken half a second, and Marie Cruz dropped, as good as dead. Rowena lowered her gun, then went to search the trio of gunfighters. It was time to leave this place.

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