Chapter 16: Further Objectives
Talon and Clint walked down the sidewalk at a steady pace, despite their corporate-casual attire, keeping quite cool in the afternoon heat. They both had decided not to stop by Calico's nearby office building after leaving the airport and, instead, continued to track Emily. On this pursuit, Talon did not have the slightest intention of checking in with the boss every time they arrived somewhere. Much to the protest of his superiors. You don't, Talon thought, effectively follow someone you're supposed to track if you keep stopping to check in with the employer and let your subjects get ahead of you. The objections and counters of the officers still rang through his head, but they phased off of him. He knew how to do his job well, that was why Calico hired him personally, and he intended on doing it his way. Entirely his way: fulfilling Calico's goal, and his own.
"You do know where she is?" Clint inquired beside him, keeping his pace.
Talon simply ignored him and continued down the city sidewalk. He knew where he was going. He studied the entire city from border to border immediately after their job had been assigned. He would do his job right, with or without his partner's many doubts. Clint gave him a look of question, but didn't seem to be inclined to ask him again. Whether he knew better than to question Talon's place, or to simply ignore futility, he knew, despite his lack of experience, when to keep his mouth closed. It was more than could be said for most of Calico's operatives.
Operatives, Talon thought, was a strong word. "Henchmen" was better fitting, not for their work, but how they performed it; because of their inexperience. Calico had done heavy recruiting in the past months for more tools to fulfill his twisted bidding. Though some of his loyal, original minions remained, mostly those higher in the ranks, the majority of his current army was composed of mercenaries, bitter former soldiers from across the globe, or simple thugs who wanted their share of world domination. Despite inexperience with Calico's industry, at least, some of them actually knew how to do their jobs, knew how to handle the kind of equipment Calico possessed and was stealing, and knew how to obey Calico. Of course, that part was incredibly simple, there was only one true and safe way to obey Calico: Without question.
That group aside, the others were mere children who wanted to be mercenaries. And Talon had developed a resounding annoyance for them. Nevertheless, he cared little about Calico's revolution and the pawns he laid out on his chessboard, all that was important to him was his job. The job he had in front of him, the one that was so unlike all the others before. Unlike the ones in his golden days, before he met Calico…
Talon made a sharp turn onto the next side street leading back towards the city and Clint nearly tripped attempting to follow him. He still gave his partner looks of flat-out confusion, though in decreasing frequency, unsure whether or not to dismiss the concept that they were totally lost. He knew of the extensive research he had done on the area, which caused the concept to float off, but looking at the strange and unfamiliar surroundings kept it at bay. Yet, he remained reluctantly withdrawn. After several more blocks, by which time they had passed the first minor skyscrapers of the city, Clint was about to speak another careful query when Talon finally spoke. "The girl will be fleeing the city about now. Even she should know they can't linger this long," he said coolly. "They'd have to anyway, but especially with the recent developments."
Clint ran what he had heard through his conscience once more, focusing hard on each detail. "Calico's not going to be happy with him for that," Clint ventured after a handful of footsteps on the sidewalk. "After all, it brings the girl closer to her folks."
"Wilson did his job right," Talon replied without adjusting his view. "He told her exactly what she's supposed to know."
"So, things are on track then."
"Wouldn't know, to be honest," Talon stated. "Which is for the best, as I don't really care about the one-way game Calico's playing."
"Just how we do the job?" Clint asked.
"I told you you'd catch on," the older man kept his pace steady as they passed a bustling market to their right. "Calico pretty much has ideas for domination wrapped up in a neat little line. Some wouldn't believe it, but our job is simply to make sure those dominos fall in the right order and in the right way."
Clint hesitated. "So…we're on our way to make sure she uses that information in the way—"
"That Calico wants her to, so she'll go into the trap he set for any opposition," he finished, a smirk growing across his face. "You might not be as much of a pain as I thought."
The other grimaced and faced forward again, walking through the increasingly crowded streets and walkways. Passing a large variety of small shops and emporiums and hearing the bustle of the city sounds including car motors, shouts of shopkeepers or drivers, and in part of the mere energy the walkway's movements contained. It could be remarkably easy for someone just below their authority to become distracted from their mandate in the center of it all. But Talon was no simple child operative. Clint, perhaps, but Talon had been in the game for too long.
Clint's doubt still tugged at him again. "How do we know where the girl is?"
"We don't," Talon stated immediately. "You may not. But I have a good idea where she'll go next," he finished before Clint's confusion got the better of him. "Just do what you do best." He finally made a turn into the parking garage on his right, keeping his remarkable pace. "Follow my lead."
By a passing glance, it would appear Emily and Lightning were casually walking along the city street. But their feelings were anything but calm. She worried, as she scanned over every person and car they passed, that she would look too guardedly alert of any threats to them, causing her to be dangerously recognizable from blocks away. Emily peered down at her dog, who was as ever-alert as she was. She wondered if they would be too recognizable in any other state; a tall, auburn-haired, nine year-old girl was not too much of an unusual sight, perhaps not even in India. But with an adult American white shepherd and an old cat sitting inside a bulky backpack, especially with the former being Calico's primary concern, it could be too dangerous for them to even approach a major city. And all their crowd scanning didn't help camouflage them. There were ways to blend in, however, including better concealing Lightning's identity. While she first found her own thought of hiding Lightning beside her befuddling, Emily had conceded that enough dirt on his fur might hide the power's signature bolt on his side, and perhaps disguise him altogether. Herself and Mittens were another story. Her cat being stowed in her backpack was no doubt part of the description given to Calico's men, and after what she had done with her before, she absolutely would not make any attempt to conceal her entirely in the pack. She would have to leave her cat in their temporary sleeping locations when they were searching for more on Calico industries. Emily shuddered at the concept of leaving Mittens alone in a strange location where Calico's men could more than effortlessly find her, but her conscience presented her with no alternative. It was probably better to leave her out of the line of fire anyway, Emily concluded. But she couldn't help but feel the uncertainty gnaw away at her again about it.
All the same, it was time she shoved it aside and focused on the tasks she had laid out for them. They would have to work harder at blending in, and they would have to start right away. Her goal with her newly found information still stood, but if they were to do it properly and, more appropriately, safely, then she had to get down-to-earth with her resources. It was something she felt she knew since they began, but had never truly grasped their situation until the recent incident. Emily wondered if Lightning had known it as soon or sooner than she did. Or if he even knew it at all, she couldn't tell. This scared her perhaps more than anything else; she found an increasing difficulty in interpreting her dog's expressions in the past days, almost to the point of being unreadable. Her friend was turning into someone she hardly knew anymore. And that was one of the things that was driving her to succeed. The sooner she could stop Calico, the sooner she could get her family back, and the sooner Lightning could return to his normal, ever playful and warm, loving state.
And then, her life could resume. With her loving parents, in her warm home, in her tight-knit town. In her once perfect life, only disturbed by Calico's plot. But it could all be undone, she coaxed herself, if she succeeded. If she succeeded. More doubt to set aside.
Even with her small stature, Emily found exceptional challenge in maneuvering herself through the massive crowds, and it just wasn't fast enough. That, of course, was one of the things that was out of her control; she could only move as fast as the city permitted. In the midst of this, Emily decided to leave the diligence to Lightning and reflect on Wilson's information. Calico was last reported in his facility at Kochi, overseeing his quest for natural resource drainage to fuel his machine. It seemed unlikely at first that Calico would be moving her parents wherever he went, even if Emily was the only person searching for them. Given their significance to his plan, however, it would be logical for him to keep them directly at his feet. Either way, wherever Calico was, or had been, there was a good chance for her to advance further. But how could she advance? What would she do when she arrived there? I'll figure it out when I get to that part, Emily thought to herself. It was time she put her priorities in the right order, and she knew it.
Her concentration dissolved when Lightning growled abruptly, his stare locked directly ahead of them. Emily cautiously adjusted her view to where he was looking…to see two men standing side by side ahead of them, somehow remaining stationary against the steady flow of the crowd. Both men had something of a business look to them. The one on the right, a tall man, was equipped with a black suit coat and what appeared to be a bandolier around his torso. The second, slightly shorter than the first, had more of an outfit that she had seen on the guards that raided her house. Both of them returning her stare.
Not searching for her, not casually standing around, but looking directly at her. Her heartbeat came to a dead halt, which was what she had to prevent her feet from doing. Quickly, without appearing too alarmed, she carefully altered her direction down a small side street occupied with mostly pedestrians, cyclists and carts, all lined neatly against the buildings they were in between. She held Lightning's collar briefly as she directed him along their new route. She used her peripheral vision to watch the two men; she could still see them in the same direction, but couldn't tell if they had begun to follow her. She briefly considered breaking into a sprint the moment she escaped their view. But she found, returning her central line of sight to her path, that it would be difficult to run in such crammed conditions. A few steps later, she craned her neck to risk performing a visual sweep behind her: the men were out of sight. She performed a similar sweep of the area in front of her, and elevated her pace.
She shuffled, sidestepped and crouched her way past the unending obstacles which drew her attention from the fact that her speed had risen from a low jog to a near-full sprint. She didn't dare look back to see if the men were in pursuit as to ensure they didn't suspect her actions. As if, she thought to herself, her running hadn't caused that already. Though she did ensure both her companions were still with her as she neared the end of the side street, which led perpendicular to yet another bustling city street. It didn't take Emily more than one speedy search across the road to notice the three distinctive black sedans that were slowly proceeding along nearly directly across from her. Her heart didn't have time to skip another beat. She was forced to continue her sprint down the sidewalk along the street, with the sedans following alongside, their speed having increased. She looked to ensure Lightning was still at her side, which he was, keeping just ahead of her pace. They both knew they couldn't continue like this for very long, Calico's men were bound to catch up to her with minimal effort. It wouldn't be a problem for Lightning, with his abilities. Except that Lightning wasn't their target, it was her who needed to mobilize. She needed to increase her speed somehow. Maybe if she held onto Lightning's leash tight enough...No, how would she ever—
Just then, the image of one of her mother's notes flashed into her memory, soon followed by the image of her past experience of how she traveled the last leg to San Francisco. Emily carefully swung her backpack around in front of her while maintaining a fair jog; she would have time to dwell on her ignorance later.
Having ducked into another small side street, she had the motorized scooter unfolded and ready in no more than a quarter of a minute. With a rare of the small engine and a quick glance at her ever-ready dog, she came speeding out onto the road in front of the startled minions who had followed her. Their surprise didn't hinder them for more than a second, but it was a second she was able to use to her advantage. After a moment of both hard concentration and terror, they somehow successfully merged into the left-hand lanes of traffic and were speeding between them, putting as many vehicles between them and the sedans as possible.
Emily only hoped Lightning could keep pace with her, or rather, vice versa as she kept her vision locked on the narrow space between lanes in front of her. In this circumstance, she didn't dare to move at the scooter's full power, despite the multitude of vehicles surrounding her, including the three sedans which were in some way gaining on her. But this was only the start of their problems. Ahead, she saw the road forking slowly into a perpendicular street. Nodding her intentions to Lightning, she quickly swung her scooter across the front of a mid-sized car and only narrowly missed hitting the divider and colliding with a small truck. Looking back, she saw the sedans had lined up and also merged into the side lane. It suddenly occurred to her that she may not be able to outrun them, especially now they had an easier distance on her. Then, another image of the past clicked into her head. Looking down at the scooter's four control buttons on the handles, the headlight switch, the hoverboard ability, the startup button and the switch to launch the tug baton, and looked back at Lightning, who appeared to share her idea. As they merged into the perpendicular lane with surprising ease, the lead sedan was only one car behind them. Emily held her finger over the switch as she looked to Lightning one more time, and took a breath. "Lightning," she called with reasonable volume among the wind and speeding cars. "Zoom zoom!"
Lightning acknowledged the moment she uttered the words, racing ahead of her. With the sedan changing lanes to come up beside her, she pressed the control. The baton launched. Lightning caught it in the air with impressive agility and, quite literally, zoomed ahead of her in a blur. When the tug line ran out on her scooter, the snap of the spool was drowned out in a sudden rush of wind as the environment around her faded into a vision of speeding, mottled colors; they were off to the next target.