Saturday, April 14, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 14 - Out of Control

There was no peace left in Rocinha, all sold out, spent and wasted. The air around Rowena was acrid with smoke and death. As she worked over the bodies of her newest victims, she felt filthy. This was no way to fight - you brought your own guns, your own gear. You didn't loot.

She didn't have time for that bit of dignity.

She rooted through the pockets of the dead guards, desperate to scavenge as much ammunition as she could find. The USP had 11 shots left, so she couldn't dump it quite yet, but there were two banged-up Taurus PT92 - Beretta knockoffs - with several spare magazines, an equipment choice which was more in line with her fighting style. The AK was dry as a bone, but she'd heard the distinctive rattle of Father Kalashnikov elsewhere on this battlefield and slung it over her back. A small stiletto bootknife completed the list.

Still - there was something else bothering her. Out of habit, she tapped the sweet spot of her cochlear implant, hoping against all sense that someone would pick up. All she got was the sweet synthesized voice of the implant, telling her with perfect calm that it was operating in low-power mode. Before Rowena could make sense of it, it also cheerfully explained that the offending feature - active Bluetooth communication - had been automatically disabled two hours ago.

Rowena wanted to shout out her frustration, then discovered that she didn't have the strength to spare. She was beat, from the fight, the long march before that, the fight before that and a variety of other things. It was past noon already, and her last meal had been the goddamn peaches from Krueger's reception. She sat down for a moment, with the steady gunfire in the distance almost lulling her to sleep. It was in her joints and muscles, a strange cold fire drawing the strength out of her very blood - the hunger, the pain, the exhaustion.

She rested her eyes for a moment.


Three men and a cell phone.

Well, two men, to be exact; with Done off to pass the waiting time with some training, it was all Mark and Gray sitting in their suite at the Hotel Glória. Mark was well on the way to finishing his second beer - the thought of having Shop agents of all people looking for Rowena didn't leave him with that fuzzy, reassuring feeling he'd hoped for. Truth be told, he was beat, and the last time anyone had known about Rowena's location was two hours past. It was worse because this one was, very much, Mark's fault - they had tagged the truck with Rowena from above, but he had insisted on being there for the assault - and the round trip with the chopper had given Rowena the time to break out and get away, fading into Rio's hills and complicating the search massively.

And of course, he'd taught her everything he knew about disappearing. That was the terrible beauty of the Typhoid Mary protocol - after escaping enemy custody, an agent really didn't have any idea who was following him or what he might've taken along for the ride. The only option was to go to ground and pray that the first ones through the door would be the rescue team.

"I wonder," Gray began. "If this search stretches on, it might take a few days. The trouble is, we can't sleep."
"There's a reason we strip-searched you..." Mark said.
"And yet you can't be sure. As for me, I'm certain you're armed, but I don't know if you'd try to kill me."
"What, because we're the good guys?"

Gray laughed bitterly.

"You killed me and forced me to watch the ticking bomb. I don't know if you're supposed to be the good guys, but I do know that you're not a nice man. No, the variable is whether my help is worth anything to you."
"Not if it comes with more strings than the New York Philharmonic."

After saying that, Mark raised the bottle for another gulp, but stopped and cocked his head back towards Gray.

"Killed 'me'?"

Gray shrugged. Mark emptied the bottle.


The gunfire was closing in on Rowena; she snapped awake - yes, awake, for she realized at once that she'd been asleep for a bit. She was still hungry and hurting, but at least her body had had time to mobilize its reserves. Still shaky on her feet, she made her way onto the roof and watched over Rocinha. There were fires in the distance, muzzle flashes on distant rooftops and cries in the streets. From up here, she could barely make out the main road leading into Rio - and the flashing police lights parked there, no doubt several riot units standing by to clean up the mess.

If she stayed here, they'd find her and arrest her. Rowena crouched down for a moment and considered that - it was a way out, definitely, but that would make it easy for the Hand to collect her again. She needed backup, not rescue - and the only place where she could find a local Archer safe house and the requisite agents was in downtown Rio.

Rowena started running, jumped to the next roof, rolled to land and continued, heading for the police lights. Below her, the streets of Rocinha seemed uncannily like the arteries of a diseased heart. Running with blood, too.


Carlos Pantoja had a problem.

Let us first consider who Pantoja was, and let that begin by saying how he looked: sweaty. Although he was a native of South America, he'd never gotten used to the heat. He also had a habit of sweating when he was nervous, sweating when he was scared, sweating all through the day. It made him look like he was constantly trying to come up with an excuse to defend himself; every sideways glance of his was interpreted as Pantoja having "shifty" eyes. The only thing that had gotten him into the Hand of Glory officer corps was his childhood friendship with some rich white boys in Chile - the only thing that kept him there was his flawless operational record. His brown hair was dirty, if short enough for military service, but it seemed like the well-tailored fatigues with 2nd Lieutenant bars on the shoulder were the only thing that fit him, haggard as he was. He wore the sunk face of a desperate man. He couldn't fail.

But his plan was falling apart. The escapee had entered Rocinha as planned, opening up another front for the Hand takeover of the dwelling. But the denizens of this...this shantytown...had proven more resilient than anticipated, and with his cautious commanding style, Pantoja wasn't making any progress. And now the escapee was headed for the highway, looking like a Hand soldier running away from the fight. Pantoja understood morale. This was bad.

"Do you need assistance?" Freyr asked; Pantoja turned around and regarded the Hand child soldier with a mixture of fear and disgust. The boy was unnaturally calm and courteous, even though he technically outranked Pantoja as a Major.
"We are still probing their defenses, Herr Major."
"And not getting anywhere," Freyja said. As Freyr's sister, she looked uncannily like him, but she was a bit more...aggressive. "It looks like we have a Deserteur."
"You cannot desert from an Army you're not part of, Sister," Freyr said.
"Like I said, it looks like. Proper appearance is paramount, Brother."

Freyr nodded.

"What shall we do about it, Sister?"
"The only way to deal with a Deserteur is to shoot him, of course," Freyja answered. "And I think it's time somebody lead this battle by example."

The pair reached for their weapons - a Benelli M4 for Freyja, a G36 for Freyr.

"You may stay here, Leutnant," Freyr said, then the two took off to intercept Rowena.

Pantoja sat down and used his cap to fan some fresh air into his face. So much for the promotion, then.


She saw it coming, of course - there was nothing to hide about two figures in Hand fatigues leaping from rooftop to rooftop on an intercept vector. She counted the closing distance in streets, insofar as one could make them out in a favela. When they were three streets away, she raised her Taurus pistols in mid-jump and dove forward, favoring the two with lead. They scrambled, opening up their parallel paths into a funnel and flanking Rowena on both sides. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw them skid to a halt in synchronous terror and ready their guns; Rowena sprinted for the next edge of her roof, shots trailing her, then stepped over the edge in mid-turn, crashing through a plastic-sheet roof feet-first. The landing was harsh and painful, but she rolled to her feet and darted away, barely two steps ahead of the next shots. The boy was behind her, moving with a grace and speed unknown to anyone but physical adepts.

Well, physical adepts - or Children of Eve. Rowena cursed her rotten luck and sprayed some 9mm back around the corner, but there was no scream of pain - no hits. Worse, the shots added a ringing prick of discomfort to her ears. She stumbled backwards, feeding the shadows more lead, trying to purge Mark's nagging voice - Ear protection, kiddo! - in favor of running.

It was futile - he was upon her like greased lightning, trying to wrestle her to the ground. Rowena didn't have the room for her usual, kick-based close-combat style; instead she went dirty and fed him an elbow to the face, which - at least - startled him enough for her to get a clean shot.

It was a glancing hit, and Rowena knew that this was as good a result as she could hope for - he was slowed down now, burning his burst of power for showing off. All she had to do was hold him off for that time. He attacked again, this time with a knife, but she had enough time to snap her leg up and hit his face with a flashkick; for the briefest of moments, she considered dropping the pistols to get her hands onto the floor, but then held on tight and rested her weight on the muzzles, completing the rotation on her feet with her guns ready to fire.

10.0 on the E-score, Rowena thought, and nobody saw it.

To Freyr's credit, he had already started evasive maneuvers, but he still caught a stray bullet from Rowena's latest barrage when he tried to roll below it. He brought up his G36, but the gun had momentum. Rowena had enough time to flip around on her heel and gave him a solid back kick to the assault rifle, sending him and the gun flying. She squeezed the trigger again, but her PT92s were spent; she released the mags and sped backwards, watching Freyr reel in the rifle with an Archer-issue dummy line.


She ducked under Freyja's shotgun blast and whipped her pistols around, but the girl had seen her guns run dry; Rowena sprang up, uncoiling the potential energy in her muscles, and wrapped her pistols around an overhead pipe, then used the momentum to send one foot toward Freyja and another one towards a hole in the roof. Fired up from the adrenaline, she swung herself on top of the pipe and jumped off just as it gave under her weight, backflipping onto the roof. Trusting her legs to do the detail work, she sprinted off again, slipping fresh magazines into her pistols. She could feel the shotgun blast that almost hit her, but there was a gaping nothingness ahead - just a small vertical pipe a few meters ahead, a possible stepping stone on her way to the next roof - if, through some freak accident, Freyja would miss the next shot, too. She turned around on her heel at the edge, fired a few more shots to throw off the Children's aim and backflipped away from the building.

10 is land. The rest is sharks.

That said, it wasn't quite a 10; Rowena had to make a million little adjustments to her weight distribution in the blink of an eye to stay on top of the pipe. She saw Freyja appear on the edge and jump the distance to the next building effortlessly. In response, Rowena sprung up lightly, skipping off the pipe's top and sliding downwards to the ground. Once there, she took off again, heading for what looked like a dead end - and wallwalking over the fence in it, leaving the confines of Rocinha for a straight shot at the police blockade. This posed a significant problem for the cops stationed there. Although Rowena was clearly armed and fleeing the scene, she also wore Hand fatigues and wasn't attacking them straight on, so they didn't open fire. The Hand didn't want them to interfere. So they didn't. They ignored Rowena.

Well, until she jumped into a police car, yanked the ignition and sped off. Then they opened fire, but that was a bit too late to have any real effect. The twins wisely decided that it wasn't worth tangling with the now-firing cops and changed their course to rendevous with Leutnant Pantoja's jeep. The Leutnant gave them a nice little grin when they came to him, shot up and fired up.

"Do you need assistance?" he asked, without a trace of irony.

Freyr glared at him, grabbed his collar and threw him out. The Leutnant landed in the dirt and heard the jeep drive off in hot pursuit.

Yeah. Definately no promotion.

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