Sorry it took so long to get up. Work yesterday went later than expected. I'll try and get a second one up today to make up for it
The sniper sat at the cafe, carefully breaking the biscotti in half. It was like the ones he had used to make. He dipped it in his coffee, and took a bite. It did not taste anywhere as nice as his had.
It had been a long time since he had indulged in something like a biscotti or a coffee. It was not as good as he remembered it being. Maybe it was him who had changed, instead of the coffee.
He sighed, and sat back. He was supposed to be watching the building, but he had sat away from it. He did not feel like doing this job. Not today. He just felt tired. Killing those men, men who should have been on his side, that made him tired. He didn’t want to do this anymore.
He looked at the coffee and drained it. He did not have time to waste, not today. If he was going to make the trip here worthwhile then he had better get to it.
He stuffed the other half of the biscotti into his mouth and reached for his satchel.
It was gone.
He started to leap to his feet when a woman slid into the seat across from him. She had brown hair in a ponytail and slightly tilted eyes. She was average height.
And she was holding his rifle case.
“Hello” she said as she sat down “Don’t worry, I’m just here to talk. You can have your briefcase back when I am done”
The sniper looked at her, then settled back into his seat “I presume that you want me to keep my hands where you can see them. I assure you that that won’t save you if I deem that you need to die”
She laughed at him.
“Oh you silly man, I am long past the time where threats like that mattered to me. But you will want to know what I know. Thats why I sent you the tip”
The sniper raised an eyebrow “So I’m not here to investigate an allegation of treason?”
“Did I say that? But you are correct. You are here because of Sho”
“Thats right. You wouldn’t know her by that name. You’d likely call her the artist”
The woman sneered at the last word.
“You have information about the Butcher of Calton?”
“How do you know what her moniker is? And what was that you called her? Sho?”
“Yes. Sho is her name. Next time you see her, please call her that. It will help to bring back what little humanity she has left”
“Why should I be interested in preserving the Butcher’s humanity? I’m just supposed to take her in. And you haven't answered my question. How do you know this?”
“Thats simple. I was there when she first killed, when she became the artist, the monster that she is today. I was there when Old Earth marines shot her mother in the face and burned the only family she had ever known. That is how I know”
The sniper looked at this odd woman. How did she know these things about the artist? Who was she to have been there when the artist was created? And how could he use her to find the artist?
“Ma’am, you’ll have to come with me. I’ll need to ask you further questions but in a secure location”
“I am sorry agent, but I cannot agree to that. I need to stay right here”
“I cannot allow that ma’am. You cannot be allowed to go free when you have so much information on my target”
Oddly the woman smiled.
“No, I don’t think that that will happen like that. Here is how it will happen: you will listen to the three things I am about to tell you about Sho, and then you will leave, because I promise you that no matter what you do to me you will not get me to reveal what I know of Sho and of you”
“What do you know of me?”
“That the biscotti you are eating is not as good as the ones that you used to bake”
The sniper felt as if he was falling. How did this woman know about that? How did she know this about him? Who was she?
“Who are you?” he whispered.
“Someone who you need to listen to. These are the three things that I am going to tell you. I will only say them once, so listen well. Firstly Sho is unstable. She thinks that killing is art. I am trying to make her see how very wrong this is. I am trying to make her give this up”
The sniper bristled at first; how dare she try and take away art? But, as he thought about it, it was his art that had caused all the problems in his life.
“Secondly she is injured right now and is healing. I am going to see that she is fed drugs to keep her weak. Hopefully this can delay her recovery by a day or two. Use this time well.
“Finally, she is not your enemy. Your true enemies are the ones who make you do this, who force you to fight, to be someone who you are not”
“How do you know that this isn’t who I am?”
“Because I do. Now, that is my three pieces of information. I would like if you took these days to think about things, to try and realize that we are not your enemies. Please”
She stood up and passed his briefcase to him.
“I’ll talk to you again at some point Agent”
The woman walked away. The sniper knew that he should follow her, take her into custody, but for some reason he believed her. If he captured her she would not tell him anything more.
So now it was a question of figuring out what to do next.
He had killed three Arcernmnet agents, and was no closer to finding the artist than he had been. He had instead been fed a lot of confusing information all at once.
He got up and walked to the nearest restroom where he swallowed a pill and threw the meal up into a toilet. He flushed and walked away. It was far cheaper to make pills that made you throw up than non-specifics toxin remedies.
He stepped out of the restroom, and left the cafe, leaving the smell of fake coffee behind. He had had far better during his time with Naci.
Sometimes he wondered if she knew what had happened to him. he had been at several ceremonies celebrating the Arc being saved, but usually as an associate of Callion’s. He did know that some of them had been broadcast. So maybe she had seen him there, among the other assassins and cold hearted killers.
But he usually did not dwell on it. It caused only pain to think of that. He needed to think about what to do. He should take the woman’s advice. Take some time to think about things. But he could not. He needed to find the artist before the day was over, or else he would be shackled with a team of psychos who would try to kill him as soon as he stopped paying attention.
He turned back to the cafe and began to run. She had left going in the opposite direction from him. And if she could make sure that the artist was drugged then he could use her to find the artist. Now if he could just catch up to the woman in time...
He pulled to a stop just before the cafe and threw himself into the cover of a nearby doorway. She was going back inside! He moved forwards until he could see inside. He risked a look and saw her walking through the ‘employees only’ door at the back of room. As it swung closed he saw her going through another door on the right.
He needed to get in there without alerting her, but how? He pulled out his portscreen and queried the computer system.
It refused until he slotted his identity card into the portscreen and typed another of the codes. Finally it relented with a sad sounding beep. A moment later the fire alarm began to blare in the cafe.
People rushed out, staring back at it in consternation. He waited, but the woman did not come out, even after all the kitchen staff.
He turned and ran to intercept the fire crew.
The red and white aircar flew by overhead and settled to the ground. As it settled he ran up and jumped in through the opening door.
“This is an Arcernment operation. I am taking charge of this situation. Someone get me some firegear” he said, flashing his card at the stunned firecrew.
The chief shouldered his way forwards.
“Listen here Agent. This may be an Arcernment operation but there are people in danger in there. If we don’t get in there now to help them and put out the fire they will die and half the city may burn. You are not taking control”
The sniper rounded on the chief “Listen to me chief. There is now fire. I apologize for misappropriating public service individuals. I am trying to catch a murderer and I needed everyone out of the building. Now, if you will please lend me the gear then you can drop three of us here and the rest of you can get back to productive work. Understood?”
He started to shrug his coat off revealing his weapons. The man paled, and nodded.
“Thank you sir. Now get me the fire gear” he stuck out his arms as two of the firemen hastened to help him into the heavy coat. He would have to ignore the special pants for now; he didn't have time. He pulled on the mask next, and then the combination air tank and fire extinguisher backpack. He rolled his coat up and put it in his satchel and tucked that underneath the tanks.
“Lets go” he said, voice faintly muffled by the mask. He leapt out of the aircar, hose in one hand, other ready to grab a pistol as he ran into the building. Three others followed after him while the remaining firemen began to calm the crowd and set up the large hose in case things should get out of hand.
He dashed through the door and ran straight to the back of the room. He kicked the employees door open and motioned the firemen after him “I’ll go downstairs; you two putter around up here.If its clear follow me downstairs”
They nodded, but did not look happy.
Maybe I do need a real team. That would make this far easier.
But he banished the thought and kicked the door that the woman had gone through. It flew off the hinges. He started forwards, then threw himself back as he had a moment of precognition. As he fell backwards a brilliant light appeared at the top of the doorway and blossomed into an explosion.
He was thrown across the room and landed by the two firemen who were also stunned. Fires began to burn around the room as gas lines broke and got caught in the flames. There would be a second explosion soon.
He staggered to his feet and nudged the firemen. They were out cold. He looked at the stairway and then back at the firemen. They had just been doing their job. They had been brought into this by him. Hut the longer he delayed here the more likely that the woman would get away, especially after hearing that explosion.
He growled in frustration and picked one up in each arm. He ran out the door and threw them onto a table “Chief! Get your men in here! Its gotten out of control”
With that he turned and barreled down the stairs. The firemen would survive or not; he had done his job.
Lian walked down the stairs. She had planted the seeds. Hopefully they would bring something useful. The sniper was an interesting man. What she had found was intriguing. Very intriguing.
As for what she had said hopefully she had bought herself a few days. But she couldn't be sure. That was why she had set the trap.
She took another step and fire alarm started to blare, the lights flashing in the empty stairwell.
“Damn” she took off down the stairs at a run. She had drugged Sho. She would not be able to get up on her own.
She hit the bottom of the stairs running. She barely took the time to punch in the correct code on the keypad before yanking the door open and dashing through. She needed to grab Sho and a few other things before she could leave. Hopefully the fire would give her that much time.
She grabbed the emergency gear that she always kept ready and threw the gasmask on. If smoke started to fill the air the vents would close and it would start using the air supply. But she couldn’t take the time then.
She strapped on her weapons belt and moved to wake Sho. As she reached out Sho spun and snapped her arm down, pulled a dagger from her sleeve and flipped over Lian. As she landed she brought her dagger to Lian’s throat.
But the effect was ruined moments later when she collapsed with a groan of pain and fell to her knees.
“Its ok Sho, its me, Lian”
“You drugged me!”
Sho had been able to tell that she had been drugged? That was different.
“I wanted to make sure that you healed properly. If you were asleep you would heal better” she lied. She hoped that Sho was still horrible at determining lines. After a moment she was rewarded as Sho looked at her, shrugged, and slipped the knife back up her sleeve.
“Never do that again, or I will kill you. Now where are we going? And what's that noise?” she added with a glare for the ceiling.
“Fire alarm. We’ll take the back exit. C’mon, grab your stuff”
As Sho bent down to retrieve her bag there was an echoing boom from back towards the front of the basement.
Sho was instantly alert, instantly fully awake “What was that?”
“Damn. Its the door trap. I forgot to disarm it when the fire alarm went. We’ll definitely have to leave out the back now”
She helped Sho to her feet and led her back to the front of the basement.
“But this is where the stairs come down” Sho protested.
“Yes, it is. But they will be too busy with the aftermath of the blast to see us and it is too close to the front for them to look here. The perfect place for an escape tunnel”
She stepped to the left of the wall curtain and placed her palm just beside it. The wall slid to the side with a groan.“Always use misdirection. If you used it more often then you wouldn’t need my help as often” Lian admonished as she stepped through the wall into the tunnel. Sho followed reluctantly.