The artist sat in an alcove off the catwalk. The Arc hummed around her, alive, thrumming. Her home. Once.
Now it was just a hunting ground for her enemies. For the sniper, the agents of Callion, Lian and criminals. Just a hunting ground. A killing ground.
She sighed as she stared at the wall. Was Lian right? Had she lost sight of the art? She had not made art in a week, had not even thought about making it in that time.
And before that she had not been choosy. She had made art; no, had killed families, mothers, fathers, children. Had she torn families apart like hers had been? Before she had stayed with only those who had no family and few friends. She had chosen with care, chosen those who would not leave behind pain. What had happened to her?
Where had she gone wrong?
Lian awoke in a darkened room. Her hands were bound behind her back, her legs locked into cuffs on a chair and a gag in her mouth.
“Awake?” a shape moved on the darkness. The agent.
He stepped close enough for Lian to see him. He looked tired, but still deadly. He had shed the firefighter gear, and his coat revealing two shoulder holsters over body armour, along with several knives grenades, and ammo belts. Lian tried to work some moisture back into her mouth.
“I’m sure that you have questions” he pulled a chair up from behind him and sat, not taking his eyes off of her. He slid a knife out of the sheath on his wrist and leaned close to her.
“You see this knife? It is serrated, so it will hurt more. It will saw easily, will cut what needs to be cut. Now, you may not be worried. But I have been genetically enhanced. I can slice your arm clean off with one swing” he carefully slid the knife along the gag, sawing until it fell free.
Then he turned away and began to clean the pieces of his rifle. She thought she heard him mutter something about “things I can control”
Freed from her gag but from none of her bonds she sat still, not talking. The agent took his entire rifle apart, then took the pieces apart. He cleaned each and every one and reassembled them. When that was done he reassembled the rifle, got up, and flicked the lights on.
She was in a railcar, that much she could tell. It was utilitarian, a single sleepcouch, one swivel chair and two folding ones, a wall desk, and a wallscreen. There also appeared to be four doors; likely a closet, a washroom, the exit, and an armoury.
The agent began to exercise, slow careful movements, each one using only the motion that it needed, and no more. She was growing very bored. This man had not spoken for hours, not since he had cut her gag.
“Who are you really agent?”
He paused in his actions and looked over at her, cocking an eyebrow.
“Who are you? I learned some things about you, but not who you really are. All I know is that you are the Arcernment’s top agent and that you were found in a bakery. Asides from that your file contains something so heavily encrypted that not even I could break it”
The agent’s eyebrow arched even further.
“You’ve hacked the Arc’s systems? No wonder you were able to send me a message about the treason. I wondered why it had been me who was flagged out of everyone in the area. I figured it was a trick to try and get me to prove my treasonous nature”
“Yes, I did hack the systems. It was relatively easy. But you still didn’t tell me who you are”
“And I am not going to”
“I think you are agent. I think that thats why I am here, instead of in a prison cell. Thats why the cameras are all pointing away from me, or are blocked from seeing me. You don’t want them to know that I am here. Which means that I am to be either your plaything, which by what I have seen seems unlikely, or that you believe I have answers. You want me to do for you what I do for Sho”
“And what exactly is it that you do for Sho?”
“ I am her conscience”
“Really? You tell her right from wrong?”
“Actually yes; I do”
The agent shook his head and turned back to his exercises.
“I don’t believe you”
“And I don’t believe you”
The sniper ignored the woman. It was eerie how close she had come to guessing why he wanted her here. But she was wrong.
He didn’t want her to be his conscience. He didn’t want her to help him work through his troubles, for her to absolve him of his crimes. He wanted her to talk. To tell her what she knew about him, how she knew about him. To tell him more about the chance for a different life. To tell him about herself, about this odd woman who claimed she could hack the Arc’s security network relatively easily.
He went back to his exercises. She had proven once that she did not react well to silence; she would talk to him again. Whereas he, well, he spent almost his entire days in silence, at least when he was alone. The silence was his friend. She would break first.
The artist uncurled and stood up. Her leg hurt, but she ignored it. The pain had decreased now. It had been hours here. Hours spent waiting. She could tell because the lights had dimmed for the nightcycle. Lian was not coming.
The artist looked both ways down the catwalk, and then over the edge. Below was a series of cables and piping, a mess of wiring and electrical systems. But there was one larger pipe with a gauge on it. It also read ‘water main’. That would take her where she was going.
She dug her fingers into the catwalk and made sure that the bag was secure before flipping around and under. She hung by her fingertips; dangling above that mess of wires. If she missed her pipe she would likely sink in, break something, and die of electrocution. She swung once more to build momentum, and then let go.
At the last moment she remembered to not land on her left leg, and so landed with far less grace than she had intended, almost sliding off the other side. But she managed to hang on and right herself.
She straddled the pipe and looked down at it. It didn’t say which direction the water was flowing in. So, she could follow it in one direction hoping that it took her to the sewer access, or…
She wrapped her legs around it as tightly as she could. Then she bent down. Her fingers dug in the sides of the pipe, and she pulled. Her back protested, as did her arms, as did her everything. But the pipe began to grown. She pulled harder, doing her very best to straighten.
Just as she felt as if her arms would tear off she felt the pipe give. It slid up a bit and water began to spray out of the bottom onto her feet. She shook her head. She had been facing the right way afterall.
Soon enough the loss in water pressure would be detected and a maintenance crew would be sent to check out the problem. But she took a moment to rest anyways, her muscles all aching from the stress of moving the pipe.
Lian looked at the man. At this odd agent. Who was he really? And what did he want with her? Despite what she had said, she did not believe that he wanted her as a psychiatrist, a pastor, someone to dole out absolution and guilt in equal amounts. No, he wanted something else.
He kept at his exercises for another hour or so, noyl glancing at her once. When he was done with that he walked over, opened one of the doors; she had been right it was a washroom; and stepped inside.
Now that he was gone she could work on freeing herself. She began to wriggle her hands, then though for a moment.
Did she really want to get free? If she escaped now then there was no guarantee that she would ever have this opportunity again. If she escaped the agent would make sure to hunt her down and kill her. He would turn her over to the Arc and then they would do whatever they pleased with her.
And so it was that when the agent came out from the washroom she was still sitting there.
“Do you need to use the washroom?” he didn’t sound the least bit surprised.
“Yes. Thank you. But it will be difficult with my legs and arms bound”
The agent nodded, and unlocked the manacles on her ankles “Your arms stay bound. If you try and escape I will shoot you. If you take too long I will come in and drag you out to make sure that you are not trying to escape. I have no qualms about walking in on you, so do not think that that will save you”
Lian nodded and walked over to the washroom. It was a fairly compact cubicle with a steamer unit, a toilet, and a sink. There was a mirror on one wall, but no portscreen. She couldn’t see any cameras. The agent closed the door behind her.
The sniper changed into his sleepwear and lay down on his bed. When the woman was done in the washroom he would tie her up again, and then go to sleep. He wasn;t afraid that she would be able to escape; electrochains would not open without his key and once he maglocked the chair to the floor there was no way she could move it.
Unless of course she broke the chair, but he had not seen her exhibit the extraordinary strength and reflexes that the artist had.
The artist? Sho? The Butcher of Calton? Which one was she? Or could she be all three? She had butchered dozens, no matter that it was art. And everyone had a name. Even he had a name, but he did not think on that. But could there be a person inside that monster as this woman seemed to think, or was the monster really just a monster?
For that matter who was he? The woman called him agent, which implied that he worked for the government yes, but that he could also do good things for the populace. He called himself ‘the sniper’. To him that represented the fact that that was all he was good at. All he was ever used for. Killing. Again and again, just killing, and nothing more.
And Callion still called him Jor. Jor to taunt him with his past, with the life that he once had and now no longer did. Jor to remind him of the obscenities of the past. Jor to remind him that he was owned.
And who was he?
His musings were interrupted by the screen flashing on. He sat up straight and snapped to attention. Callion’s angry face filled the screen.
“You didn’t get the butcher”
“And three of my agents are dead. They were in your area. Do you know anything of this?”
“Three men jumped me in an ally sir. I dispatched them before I realized that they were other agents. The first two I killed by accident, and the last killed himself” the lie rolled off his tongue so easily.
“Interesting. Do you have any thoughts Agent?”
“Sir, I thought that they might have been traitors. They thought to remove me, the agent with the longest record and most successful missions, to weaken your power base. Then they likely would have gathered their allies and tried to overthrow the Arcernment”
“Allies? What makes you think that they had allies?”
“The fact that the last one killed himself rather than be captured. That bespeaks an unwillingness to talk, and having something to hide. As we are trained to not fear torture that can be the only explanation”
“So you believe that these three were part of a conspiracy to overthrow the Arc?”
“Yes sir” and he truly did he realized. But they did not seek to overthrow Callion; no they took their orders from him.
“Hmm” Callino stared at him for a moment “Either way you have failed. The Butcher has not been found. I am sending a team of my best men”
“Sir, that may not be wise. If they are your best men, what if one or more of them has been turned? I could take the best one in a fight, but if two of them get the drop on me then I will be defeated, and you will lose your best agent, your leads on the Butcher, and someone who will try and tear down the conspiracy all at one blow. I suggest that you choose the team very carefully, just to be certain”
There. Now he would have to worry about the team that he chose. If he sent his best men then the sniper could justify staying away from them, not sharing information, and acting paranoid to the extent of maybe shooting one of them. If he did not send his best men then they would not be much of a threat to him.
Callion frowned, seeing clearly the trap that the sniper had boxed him in.
“I will think on the team agent. But do not forget your place. And remember to stay focused on the job at hand”
“Of course sir”
The woman chose this moment to walk out of the washroom.
The sniper saw Callion’s eyebrows raise, and then lower as he frowned.
“I thought that you said you were staying focused Agent. That does not seem like staying focused. And why is the woman bound at the wrists?”
The sniper cursed the woman for her bad timing, but set about salvaging the situation. But before he could say anything the woman stepped forwards.
“Excuse me if I am interrupting, but I thought that the good agent would find me more entertaining if I was bound. I have to try my best to earn my pay after all”
Callion glared at her, then back at the sniper.
“Is this a whore Agent? Is that what this is? I thought you were beyond that, still hung up on your lost love”
The sniper swallowed what he had been going to say, and instead replied with “All men have needs sir”
“Well see that your needs are seen to, and then forget her. And make sure that she doesn’t know anything. Understood?”
The sniper understood all right. Callion had just told him to kill her when he was done. One more lie wouldn’t hurt.
“My plan all along sir”
“Be ready in the morning Agent. The team will report to you bright and early. Remember Jor; I own you”
With that the screen went blank.
“Jor? Is that your name?”
The sniper rose and looked at the woman. She wilted under his stare.
“I’m sorry, for what its worth”
“Sorry does nothing. The Director will make sure to have the team search this car to make sure you aren’t here, and I can’t let you go. You have placed me in a situation. Now, since you heard my name I need three things of you. One, your name. Two to shut up, and sit down in the chair so that I can chain you up again. Three, to have a suggestion for how to get out of this by the time that I wake up in the morning”
The woman nodded “My name is Lian”
She continued to talk, but he ignored her. Once her legs and arms were bolted in place he maglocked the chair to the floor, and lay down.
“Lights”The room fell dark, and still asides from the rhythmic breathing of the two bodies.