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.
"Yume no Kakera" [Fragment of a Dream]
A Gunslinger Girl Original Story by Chris Wallace
The late July sun streamed down across the Lazio region of the Italian Peninsula. As the rays sprayed across the province of Rome, some fell upon a rectangular three-story building and streamed in through the open window on the third floor to reflect off the glasses of a young girl who stood before the ledge, enjoying the warmth those rays brought and the smell of the pine trees on the breeze.
The girl turned towards the sound. "Good morning, Triela," Claes said.
"Are we going to have to go through this every sunny weekend?" Triela groused, running her hair through her bangs. "I'd like to be able to sleep in at least one Saturday."
"Then perhaps you should have Hillshire stop scheduling morning practices on days you know will be nice," Claes replied with a smile.
Triela shook her head. "I'd rather be sleepy then soaked."
Michele was weeding in his garden that same morning when he heard Claes come up. As opposed to her own novice efforts, Michele was a master gardener and he'd chosen a large plot near the main administrative building. He'd chosen to do a cross between traditional raised bed gardening and Mel Bartholomew's "square foot gardening" to allow easy access to the plots and because different vegetables, herbs and flowers needed different amounts of space to grow in, allowing him to best-utilize the available space. What was once just a patch of dirt was now a thriving potager garden that included not just vegetables for the kitchen, but also flowers to enhance the beauty of the garden and various rooms of the compound.
At first, Claes had been a bit ambivalent about a new garden plot appearing. Not out of selfishness, but because she enjoyed the peace and tranquility working the small plot she cultivated offered her. Henrietta or Beatrice would sometimes help out and Triela or Rico would pass the time with her while she worked. She had been afraid that the new garden would negate the need for her own, however it proved to be that her garden was perfect for growing herbs which Michele would combine with the vegetables from his garden so they nicely complemented each other. It also offered her an opportunity to practice more advanced gardening techniques.
The staff also appreciated Michele's larger garden and often enjoyed taking lunches or just relaxing in the grass nearby, listening to the wind rustle through the plants and enjoying the pleasant aromas from the flowers.
"Buon pomeriggio," Claes greeted. "May I join you?" She was dressed in a black t-shirt and denim shorts with a large straw hat and sandals.
"Of course," Michele said. "I'd enjoy the company."
"Don't like talking to the plants?" Claes joked.
"I find that the thyme lacks the background to properly discuss Nietzsche. And have you ever tried to discuss Kafka with a zucchini?" Michele said in mock horror, causing Claes to burst out laughing.
"How are the tomatoes coming?" she asked, looking at the lush vines around a row of sticks.
"They're ripening nicely. Maybe in a week or so they'll be ready. I'm thinking of a nice ragù with some ziti pasta."
They continued chatting about various subjects as they worked. Claes didn't know where she'd heard it, but she did recall someone telling her that soldiers were well-educated and curious. And as a Reserve Air Force Colonel, Michele was very well-educated. His library was an impressive one and she often borrowed books from it when she could find nothing of interest in her own library or the one she had access to in the Handler's Dormitory. As Claes watered the herbs from a watering can, she started to sing.
"A fan of Simon & Garfunkel?" Michele asked after Claes finished.
"What?" she asked.
"That song you were just singing. It was released by them the year after I was born. It's a favorite of mine."
"I didn't realize I was singing out loud. I'm sorry," she said, embarrassed.
"Don't be. You have a beautiful voice," Michele complimented. "Kara says she heard you play it on the piano."
"I've had this song stuck in my head for some time. I don't know why," she said, shrugging.
"I believe you are reading Francis James Child's Popular English and Scottish Ballads," Michele noted. "The Elfin Knight is the second ballad in that collection, which is itself a retelling of the first ballad, Riddles Wisely Expounded, though there it is the Devil who threatens to take the fair maiden, not an elf knight, and the knight must perform seemingly impossible tasks as opposed to answering riddles.
"That ballad was originally Scottish. However, the English got their hands on it and changed it. In the English version, a young man tells the listener to ask his former lover to perform a series of impossible tasks. If she does so, the young man promises to take her back."
"Sounds rather chauvinistic of him," Claes replied. Overhead, a hawk called out to it's mate as it rode a thermal.
Michele chuckled. "Usually the ballad was sung as a duet, with the woman requiring equally impossible tasks to prove that he is worthy of being her true love, as well. The original ballad was much longer, with some 50 lines. When Simon & Garfunkel recorded their version, they took one stanza from the men's part and two from the woman's, which they then changed the gender from male to female."
"How do you know all this stuff?" Claes asked.
"Soldiers need to be well-read," Michele stated. "A good soldier is curious, and that curiosity makes that soldier want to study and they do that by reading a great deal."
"And what of the four herbs? What is their meaning?" Claes asked.
"That is a subject of much debate," Michele noted. "Evidently it only entered the ballad in relatively recent versions, so some think it's just there as an alternate rhyming refrain to whatever originally preceded it. Others believe they're symbolism for either traits like courage and faithfulness."
"What do you think it means?" Claes asked.
"To misquote the late Doctor Sigmund Freud, I think that sometimes, a herb is just a herb."
"You wished to see me?" Michele asked later that afternoon as he stepped into the office of the Director of Special Operations, Section 2.
"We want you to take Claes with you on the Geneva operation," Director Lorenzo said.
"Are you sure that is wise after Piedmont?" Michele advised. It had been only a few days since Claes and Petra had captured the two bombers trying to escape to Switzerland over Lake Maggiore.
"That is why we want you to take her," Jean Croce stated. "We've been using her to test new biomechatronics devices and systems, but only in the lab. We want to gain some field data, as well."
Michele looked both unconvinced and unimpressed.
"You were going to take her with Kara to Monaco at the end of that week, anyway, so it would save you coming back to pick her up," Jean stated.
"She didn't want to come to Monaco," Michele noted. "Kara had to convince her to do that, even though Claes evidently loves looking at the ocean. She seems to think we're all being 'suspiciously nice' to her, to quote her words to Alessandro."
"We still think it is beneficial for her to get out more," Lorenzo said, his tone making it clear that Michele's concerns notwithstanding, he wanted her to accompany he and Kara.
"What will be her role?"
"She'll be acting as your daughter," Jean said.
"What if she doesn't want to come?" Michele asked.
"You're assuming she has a choice," Jean noted.
"Ordering her to do something she didn't want to was what caused her to freeze at Piedmont in the first place," Michele growled. "And that damn near caused her to be injured and could have blown the mission if not for Petra."
"Michele, it is not our place to judge how a handler interacts with their cyborg, as long as they get results," Lorenzo noted. "But do not make the mistake and assume that these girls have free-will. They are programmed to obey orders and that programming is separate from the additional conditioning you choose to give – or not give – them. Claes will follow your orders in the end because that is what she is programmed to do."
Michele didn't feel like arguing, so he nodded his acceptance.
"Entrare," Michele called out in response to the knock on his door that evening. While he spent the majority of his time at an apartment in Rome, like all the handlers he had a room at the compound that was a square five meters on a side. Stepping in from the door, to the right was a closet 3m long and a little under 1m deep. Directly ahead against the far wall was a north-facing large window (1.5m by 1.5m) and to the right was a long and tall adjustable bookcase wall system composed of six 1m wide shelves and six half-meter high rows. The bottom two rows were covered with wooden swinging doors. The upper shelves were filled mostly with books and personal items, though there were three larger areas with glass shelves and lit from the shelf above. The area on the far left column held a 1:100 scale mahogany model of a Boeing E-3A Sentry AWACS plane in NATO colors. It's opposite on the far right column held a 1:100 scale mahogany model of a Boeing 777-200ER in Alitalia livery. In the center two columns was a double-wide shelf with four high-quality 1:18 scale models of the Ferrari 412T and F310B Formula One cars and the Sauber-Mercedes C9 and Peugeot 905B Le Mans prototypes.
In the corner under the window was a corner desk, dominated by a 30" Apple Cinema Display. Michele was working on the flight plan for the upcoming flight to Geneva so the display was covered in spreadsheets, calculators, and Internet browser windows. Hanging from the left side was an Apple PowerMac G5 in a stand and on the right between the desk and the wall unit was a three-drawer unit on casters. To the left of the computer, against the west wall, was a six-drawer (three high by two wide) chest where Michele kept his clothes. On top of that was a TV shelf which held his video components. On top of that was a Sony 32" LCD television, facing the full-size bed which was pushed perpendicularly against the east wall. Between the bed and the wall unit was a sliding door that led to a private bathroom.
He turned and saw Claes step inside. She was dressed in a pajama top and bottom with slippers. She had a book in her hand – Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History.
"I wanted to return this," she noted.
"What did you think?" Michele asked.
"The descriptions of the battle were a little dry," she noted. "However, I was surprised how quickly naval technology advanced between each battle."
"War often spurs greater development then peace," Michele noted. The electric kettle on his desk indicated it was ready.
"I'm making some hot chocolate. Would you like some?" Michele offered.
"It's Moonstruck," Michele noted.
"Yes, please," Claes said. Moonstruck Chocolates was a specialty chocolate maker in the western United States and Claes agreed with Michele and Kara that it was exceptionally good. Michele prepared two cups and handed one to Claes, who took a seat on the end of the bed.
Michele moved to close the window.
"Can you leave it open, please?" Claes asked. "I like the breeze."
"Wrap that throw around you, then," Michele stated. "I don't want you catching a cold."
"You're being nice to me again. Something must be on your mind," Claes observed.
Michele leaned back in his chair. "Lorenzo and Jean want you to come to Geneva with Kara and I prior to our trip to Monaco."
"What's in Geneva?"
"One of the big financial backers of the Five Republics - and a few other terrorist organizations around Europe and Asia – is going to be in Geneva for a meeting. If we can take him out, it would put a serious crimp on their funding. So they are sending Kara and I along with Henrietta and Giuseppe to see if we can eliminate him."
"Why do they want me?" she asked. "It sounds like I'd be a fifth wheel."
"They're worried about what happened at Piedmont. Aboard the boat. They want to test you in the field again."
Claes lowered her eyes and he saw her take a few breaths. "Ok," she said.
"You don't have to come if you don't want, Claes."
"Michele, for someone who has known about Section 2 for so long, you really are naïve at times about how it works," she noted. She expected him to argue with her, so she decided to change the subject before he could start.
"Is that the flight plan to Geneva you are working on?" she asked.
"Can you show me?"
"You have an interest in being a pilot?"
"Kara was talking about having to file one. I'm curious."
"Okay. There are about two dozen fields that need to be filled out," Michele began.