This story uses characters and locations based on the Gunslinger Girl manga written by Yu Aida and published in monthly shōnen magazine Dengeki Daioh. The characters of Kara and Michele are original to myself.
Author's Note - This was the first Gunslinger Girl story I wrote and served to introduce Kara and Michele. As such, while it is the fifth story in terms of my chronology, it contains a good bit of back story. I have edited it to bring it into line with later stories.
Kara Michelle Pagani adjusted the focus of her new 36 centimeter telescope until she could make out the Cat's Eye Nebula in the constellation of Draco. The Public Welfare Agency compound where she lived was located away from much of the light pollution from Rome and the stars above her were bright and steady thanks to a New Moon.
"OK, Henrietta, it's ready," she motioned. The weather was unseasonably cold for June, so she had put on a long coat over the blazer and skirt she had worn with Michele on their earlier visit to the gruppo di investigazione criminalità organizzata to discuss recent Mafia activity in Milan and wore tall black leather boots to protect her lower legs from the chill.
Henrietta came forward to look into the eyepiece.
"Amazing!" she exclaimed. "I can clearly see the two rings and the center and the wispiness of the nebula."
"The larger mirrors have better resolving power," Kara noted.
"Ah. I still love Giuse's scope anyway," Henrietta replied dreamily, causing Kara to smile.
It had been almost six weeks since Kara had first come to the Agency and she was still trying to make sense of it all. She had met with Doctor Bianchi and Michele shortly after waking up in the hospital ward and he had explained to her the changes that had been made to her body. She couldn't help but feel that it was as much an education for Michele as it was for her, as he asked more questions then she did, and she'd had many.
She knew she had been in a terrible accident and had almost died. She had no real memories of what had happened to her, only that because her handler worked for the Agency, he had been able to secure the treatment for her. At first, she thought it strange to be a cyborg, but when she put more consideration to it, the medical community had been working for some time on both restorative and enhanced cybernetic systems. She felt lucky to live in a time where that technology had matured to the point it could be put into use and save her life.
Thanks to the conditioning she'd undergone, she gave absolutely no thought to the fact she and the other girls worked for a secret Italian military police agency. To her, it was a perfectly natural thing. She had a strong sense of loyalty to not just Michele, but also to the Agency for their gift of life and mobility to her. And she appreciated the fact that Michele worked to instill in her military fire-control discipline. He had made sure that she understood the enormous responsibility wielding a weapon in public entailed and she trained hard to ensure that every shot she took was a "good shot". While those fractions of a second she spent analyzing a target before squeezing the trigger on the outside training course added up and resulted in her times being slower and accuracy lower then many of the other girls, she had never mistakenly shot a "civilian". Michele had also instilled in her the mantra of "always police your brass" which tended to drive the other girls crazy on the indoor range because Kara would sometimes crawl into their area while they were shooting to chase errant casings, especially when she had been firing rifles on full automatic.
Due to both her age of 17 and the recent date of her augmentation, she knew she was a "Generation 2" model cyborg and she noted she looked the same as she did in pictures of her taken before the accident. However, she felt closer to a Generation 1 model, one of the last who underwent augmentation before the Generation 2 series began. This was the girl standing beside her – Henrietta. While all the Generation 1 girls had made her feel welcome upon her arrival, Henrietta had gone out of her way to do so. They discovered they shared a love for astronomy and stargazing when Henrietta had come into the library to pull the star charts and saw Kara already had them out and was loading coordinates into her Apple PowerBook G4.
Two weekends ago, Henrietta had invited Kara to come up and share Giuseppe's scope. While Kara thought nothing of this at the time, she later realized that Henrietta had extended her a great privilege by sharing time she normally spent alone with Giuseppe. While all the Generation 1 girls had a roughly monthly stargazing meeting, poor weather and various assignments outside of Rome had conspired to delay the next meeting.
As a thank you for her generosity, Kara surprised Henrietta the following week at dinner with a gigantic plate (Italians did not believe in small portions) of freshly made fettuccine alfredo using her own special sauce (she added a touch of fine brandy to it along with some special cheeses). She'd also used a fresh zucchini Claes had picked from her garden. The pasta had been a hit with all the girls – and the staff – and Kara had been pleased to have been able to repay them all for the kindness they had shown her upon her arrival.
"The chocolate torte cake is ready," Michele noted as he stepped onto the roof carrying a large tray. He set it down on a wooden picnic table that had a number of lit tea candles on it to provide a soft illumination that would not ruin their night vision while stargazing.
"I can't wait to try your tiramisu, Michele," Henrietta noted as she looked up from the telescope. Beside her, Kara made a face of distaste.
"Tiramisu…Yuck. If you're going to use ladyfingers in a dessert, do it right and make a charlotte russe," she noted.
Henrietta responded with a look of sheer horror, as if Kara had just kicked a puppy off the roof.
"That's just because you haven't yet had a real tiramisu," Henrietta's handler, Giuseppe, noted as he followed Michele with a tray of cups and saucers and an insulated mug of coffee.
Michele nodded his head in agreement to Giuse's words. "A well-made tiramisu is something to behold, Kara Michelle," he added. "Now, both of you come have some torte."
Kara laid out four plates while Henrietta distributed tableware and Giuseppe poured the coffee into the saucers. Giuseppe and Henrietta had helped Michele and Kara adapt themselves to Section 2 and Kara had decided to do this special event for the two of them as a thank you.
"I worked all day on this, so I expect you to tell me it's wonderful even if it isn't," Michele ordered as he cut out slices and placed them on the plates.
Kara reached out and grabbed his arm affectionately, which caused Henrietta to do the same to Giuseppe, who almost spilled the coffee he was pouring. Kara did not feel any reticence to show Michele affection and she noticed that Henrietta would often follow her lead with Giuseppe if they were present, as well.
They all settled down and over the next hour enjoyed the excellent torte cake and coffee while taking turns stargazing.
"There is a trattoria about five kilometers up the road that serves an excellent tiramisu," Giuseppe noted to Michele as he sipped his coffee. "They're open late since they get motorists coming in for a quick bite or a jolt of espresso to keep them going. I go there often."
Henrietta's head snapped up and she fixed her handler with a stern stare. "You've never taken me there, Giuse," she accused.
"Uh, yeah…" Giuseppe stammered, running his hand through his hair. "I think we're running low on coffee. I'd better go start a fresh pot."
Kara stood up. "Henrietta, I need to use the restroom. Would you accompany me, please? We can take the dishes with us."
"Hmh? What? Oh, sure, Kara," Henrietta said, her face relaxing as if nothing had just happened.
"I owe her one," Giuseppe smiled after the two girls had left.
"Kara's a perceptive one," Michele noted.
"No less then Henrietta, it seems. I know she has feelings for me beyond those instilled by our brother-sister fratello bond, but I just can't bring myself to increase her conditioning to try and damp them. No matter what my brother Jean believes, Henrietta is a human being, not a tool."
"It's easier for those of us with Generation 2 models," he noted. "They already come pre-programmed with loyalties to us handlers and the Agency as well as an understanding of not only what was done to them, but also what is expected of them. All we need to do is point them at the target."
"It can't be that simple," Giuseppe stated.
"I suppose not, but there seem to be serious gaps in the original conditioning regimen if it is not applied forcefully. I've heard about the mission in Naples to capture the Albanian. I hear they had to evacuate the apartment building with a fake gas leak and then torch the room since there was no way they were going to be able to clean that mess up."
"A lot of people were furious with us," Giuseppe admitted. "During her initial off-site training, she almost killed a waiter at a ristorante I took her to so she could learn proper table etiquette because she thought he was going to stab me when he was removing my steak knife."
"Madre de Dio…" Michele muttered. "Being both French and Japanese, Kara's table manners are excellent. I'm afraid she makes me look like a toro maldestro," he added with a chuckle.
"I've tried hard to instill in her a sense of taking responsibility every time she pulls the trigger," Michele continued in a more somber tone. "It was drilled into me in the military to be sure of what you were shooting at before you committed to taking that shot. Fortunately, her reaction times as a cyborg are so quick that I don't think it will bring her to harm."
"Most damage can be fixed, anyway," Giuseppe noted.
Michele shivered, and not just from the cold.
"I know she's been programmed to give her life for me without thought or hesitation, but the thought of her dying before me…Even though we've only been together for such a short time, somehow it has been…"
Michele nodded his head. "Magic indeed."
They heard boot steps on the stairs and Henrietta and Kara re-appeared.
"I think it is time we call it a night, Henrietta."
"Okay, Giuse. Thank you for the dessert, Michele. And for letting us try your new telescope, Kara. Please bring it to the next Astronomy meet."
"I will," Kara assured her.
"Kara, grab Celeste from the garage and bring her up front, please. I suddenly feel like some tiramisu," Michele said.
Kara was so surprised she answered him in Japanese. "Honto ni?"
"Hai," Michele replied as he removed his hand from his pocket and tossed her the key fob to his Ferrari 456, which he called "Celeste" because he said driving her was "heavenly".
Even in the dark, Kara expertly tracked it's flight and snatched it with one hand and dashed off down the stairs.
"Pappamolle," Giuseppe chided him with a laugh.
"Is it not a father's duty to spoil their children on occasion?" Michele replied with a laugh as he picked up the telescope and started for the stairs.
"I like them, Giuse," Henrietta said softly beside him.
"So do I, Henrietta. So do I." He placed his hand on her head and playfully mussed her hair.
Kara arrived at the garage area. The SWA motor pool cars were parked in a lot near the main building. Since the handlers mostly had nice cars they were assigned enclosed parking areas near their rooms. Kara typed in the security code and a large door rolled up into the ceiling. Inside were Michele's Ferrari and Jose's Porsche. Jean and Hillshire were out so their respective Mercedes were not present.
While she did not have a license, Kara did know how to drive. She'd barely been out of the hospital a week when Michele put her behind the wheel on a Sunday morning and taught her the basics. The following weekend he took her to a private track outside of Rome and she spent the entire day becoming familiar with the car. This would be her third time behind the wheel.
Kara took a moment to admire the black paint, the multiple coats of lacquer seeming to absorb the light thrown on it by the overhead lights. She unlocked the doors and tossed her coat and blazer into the back seat area and then slipped into the soft leather seat. While the car was six years old and had close to 50,000km on the odometer, the inside looked almost as good as it had when it rolled out of the factory at Modena. The burgundy red and black leather surfaces on the dash, center column, doors and seats still had their original luster thanks to countless applications of high-quality leather cleaner and protector. The aluminum was brightly polished and the glass was so clear as to be effectively non-existent. She reached down to find the power seat adjustments and slid the seat forward until her feet reached the pedals and then adjusted the back and bottom to the point it was comfortable for her to see. The car had a driver's seat position memory setting so she knew it would be easy for Michele to set it back when they swapped out front.
She snapped the seatbelt into place and inserted the key, twisting the ignition. With a mighty bark, the V12 came to life and she resisted the urge to blip the throttle so as to allow the oil a chance to lubricate the parts that had been sitting still. She waited 60 seconds for the oil to circulate and then applied the brake while moving the large chrome shifter ball into Drive. She slightly depressed the throttle and the car rolled out of the garage.
Once outside the garage the ground went dark and she realized in her excitement she had forgotten to turn on the headlamps. She allowed the torque of the engine to push the car forward at walking speed and turned onto the road that led towards the main gate. She turned again and drove under the colonnades and came to a stop before the main building's entrance, where Michele had been waiting. She put the transmission in park and was sliding the seat back when the interior lights snapped on as Michele opened the right door and plopped into the seat, banging his knees against the leather-covered glove box door as he did so. He reached down and pushed the seat back.
Kara's hand was still hovering over the seatbelt release latch, but she slowly took it away. When Michele closed the door and moved to latch his own belt, she smiled and moved the transmission back into Drive.
Kara pulled out onto the main road and smoothly accelerated to an indicated 100km/h, which she then carefully maintained. Driving a motor vehicle without the proper Patente B license was a serious offense and Michele's military rank would have no effect if they were stopped by an officer of the Polizia di Stato and it would be awkward if he tried to order a Carabinieri officer to take no action.
The V12 loped lazily at such a speed and she almost felt sorry for it, wishing she could open it up and let it play. As if reading her mind, Michele spoke up.
"There's a two kilometer straight past this bend. I checked and there are no patrols this evening. Feel free to clear the plugs."
Kara rounded the bend and sure enough, the ribbon of asphalt lay straight and true and empty off into the distance. She tightened her grip on the steering wheel and buried her right boot into the soft carpeting. The 5.5l V12 snapped to attention as the transmission kicked-down two gears and she was shoved back into her seat as 406 pound-feet of torque launched the car forward. The V12, only seconds before a purring kitten, now roared like a defiant lion as 442hp pushed the nearly two tons of mass ever faster. The speedometer needle swung past 150 km/h in a matter of seconds and then it passed 200 and she felt the car settle as the auto-leveling suspension lowered the car as the speed increased. She kept her foot down until the needle touched 250 (about 50 km/h below top end) and them lifted off the throttle and let first drag and then the brakes bring the car back down to just below the legal limit.
While physiologically nothing had changed – her heart rate and breathing had not altered from normal – mentally she was wired. The automatic gearbox took away some of the fun of spirited driving, but she knew that much of the time Michele was stuck in stop-and-go traffic. While her knee was titanium and carbon fibers, his was not. It was one of the reasons she wished he'd buy the 575 M Maranello with the Magneti Marelli "F1" sequential manual transmission that eliminated the manual clutch and therefore allowed manual gear changing via paddle shifters on the steering wheel like in an F1 car.
She wanted to reach out and grasp Michele in thanks, but again he seemed to read her mind.
"Keep both hands on the wheel, Kara," he admonished.
"Hai," she replied. In the distance, she saw the lights of the trattoria beckoning.
She could wait a few minutes to give him his hug.