Disclaimer – Gunslinger Girl and Puella Magi Madoka Magica belong to respective owners, Yuu Aida and Gen Urobuchi, and this work is strictly not for profit. The character of Danielle is the original creation of Person With Many Aliases.
"Have you sent the message?"
"I have. Rosa went on ahead to make sure that it was received. No way will those bastards not take notice of this. How did the Matron council respond?"
"It's bad, but not as bad as it could have been. They've completely disavowed our actions, but that's about all they're willing to do."
"They're not moving to stop us. That's the important thing."
"But we need their help if the South decides to intervene. I don't fancy the three of us taking on fifty of them!"
"Don't worry, Kristen. Judging from the was the Matrons have been dancing around each other, we should be fine. Besides, if there's one thing the North and South see eye to eye on, is that the SWA is an abomination that needs to go."
HOPE'S TWO DAUGHTERS
Chapter 02: Henrietta, Fragile Innocence
Cyborgs. The word is the crystallization of a dream, that man can transcend his own limited form to something greater. By their very definition cyborgs are the pinnacle of scientific achievement, the perfect fusion between man and machine. The contemporary image of a cyborg conjures images of human beings elevated to a superhuman level by technology; demigods of our own creation… Humans who have become inhuman through the power of creation.
It is a sad joke that the cyborgs of the Social Welfare Agency fit this image all too well.
The Cyborgs of the social welfare agency are engineered weapons. Adolescent girls who are terminally ill, homeless or just unfortunate are selected by the Social Welfare Agency to be reconstructed from the ground up to be state of the art super-soldiers. Brainwashed with experimental drugs known as 'conditioning', these girls are trained as premier assassins in Italy's shadow war. Forced to do the bidding of an amoral government against equally amoral rebels, the life of a Cyborg is one of constant battle.
To say Henrietta was excited to be going down to Sicily was an understatement. The little cyborg practically danced around her dorm room as she packed a small stroller bag that would contain all her clothes. Unlike most cyborgs, Henrietta was not for want of personal belongings, thanks in no small part to her doting handler, and needed to put some thought about what she wanted to bring.
"Slow down, Henrietta." Triela advised Henrietta from where she and Claes sat around a tea table. "Your bag is full enough of things as it is. You already have clothes there; you don't have to bring your entire wardrobe along."
"Leave her alone, Triela." Claes didn't even take her eyes off the book she was reading. Claes had earlier told them that 'The Legend of Faust Through the Years' was not the most interesting read, but the cyborg was nevertheless glued to the pages of her book. "Let Henrietta have her fun. You know how much she loves going down to Sicily."
"Yes I do!" Henrietta beamed at them. "It's going to be great." Henrietta envisioned all the things she loved doing with Signore Jose in perfect detail, and the thought of doing even one of those things sent the little girl's heart aflutter.
Long quiet walks by the beach, cooking all of Signore Jose's favorite dishes, playing her violin on the porch… those were just a few of the many things Henrietta dreamed of doing. Henrietta lost herself in her perfect daydream, prompting Triela to palm her face at the sheer sappiness of the scene.
"She's even worse than Petra when she's like this." Triela groaned.
"Ah. Young love." Claes said in a completely deadpan tone, her eyes never leaving the pages.
"If Rico went with them, Henrietta wouldn't be this bad."
Triela's flippant remark caused Henrietta to frown slightly. Although she would have loved to spend her days in Sicily alone with Signore Jose, Henrietta would actually have been happier if Rico came along too. Unfortunately, Signore Jean had been personally tasked with protecting a very important person related to something called the 'Vinci Trial', and was unable to bring Rico down to Sicily like their summer vacation. In fact, this person was so important she hadn't seen either of the pair since they had taken up the assignment earlier that morning.
Her agenda wasn't exactly pure, though. While Henrietta did love Rico like a sister, she was planning to take the rare opportunity to cook. Having more people at their table would mean Henrietta had a better excuse to cook more extravagant meals to impress Signore Jose. It was a pity she wouldn't have more guests. Abruptly, Henrietta remembered something Signore Jose had told her earlier that day.
"We won't be alone, Triela. Guess what? Signore Fermi and Signorina Gabrelli agreed to come along!" Henrietta beamed, only for her smile to vanish when her triumphant proclamation was met with two blank stares.
"Who?" Triela's stare of utter confusion set off alarm bells in Henrietta's head.
"Signore Fermi? He was the investigator that came last year to investigate Elsa's death. Signorina Gabrelli was his partner. Don't you remember them?"
"No. I don't think I've met anyone by that name." Claes decided with complete certainly. "What about you Triela? Have you met anyone by that name?"
"Now that you mention it, I think there was someone like that, but I can't remember him very well."
Henrietta felt a lump of nervousness settle in her stomach. Henrietta knew evidence of the detrimental side effects of their conditioning when she saw it. Elsa de Sica was the first ever cyborg to have been lost by the SWA. Anything relating to that incident, especially the two very personable inspectors sent by Section 1, should not have been so easily forgotten.
Yet Triela and Claes could not remember Signore Fermi and his partner. Triela had told the pair where to find Henrietta and Signore Jose last Christmas. Were it not for Triela, Henrietta would never met the two investigators, and would have never learned the truth of Elsa's demise. So how could she remember Signore Fermi and Signorina Gabrelli while Triela could not?
And then it all clicked.
"Triela, Claes, I have to tell you about this girl I met down in Rome yesterday!"
"I think you're reading too much into this, Jose." Pietro assured Jose. The two men were sitting in the central courtyard, taking a brief moment to relax in an otherwise hectic day. "Henrietta remembering what you did last Christmas is nothing. My little Silvia can remember things from up to two years ago."
"I hope so, Pietro. I really do." Jose had been more unnerved by Henrietta's comment last night than he'd first thought. Perhaps it was the shade of Angelica's death haunting his thoughts, but one of the main symptoms of a cyborgs' life nearing its end was the return of their memories. Jose knew Henrietta's health was becoming increasingly volatile, so his fears weren't completely unjustified.
"Relax, Jose. You scheduled a checkup for Henrietta right?"
"It's just a regular check. It's mandatory before I take her out for a holiday."
Jose would have like to have scheduled a more comprehensive examination for Henrietta, but the last minute nature of the appointment prevented him from doing so. It wasn't as if it was actually necessary for such a test, Henrietta had undergone her semi-annual maintenance the week prior and was in about as a good a shape as any. What it would have done was put Jose's uncertainties at ease.
Watching Marco lose Angelica had shaken Jose more than he cared to admit. In spite for his treatment of her in the later parts of her life, Marco had been broken by Angelica's death. Marco hid it well, but Jose could see something had changed in the man. Sure, Marco hadn't fallen into the bottle, but he had become less confident, less sure of his own steps.
Marco's grief reminded Jose too much of when he lost Enrica. If Henrietta died, Jose knew it would be like losing Enrica all over again. He couldn't bear that.
"Ah. The holiday." Pietro rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "You should probably focus more on that than worrying about Henrietta's health. For goodness sakes, Jose, if you worry yourself to death over this all you'll do is make her worry over you!"
"I hope you're right, Pietro."
"I also bet she's planning on cooking for you. Silvia told me your little girl isn't a very good cook." Jose couldn't suppress a wince at Pietro's blunt, but accurate, description of Henrietta's culinary skills. His flinch didn't go unnoticed, as Pietro gave a sympathetic smile. "That bad, huh?"
"Elenora Gabrelli from Section 1 is teaching her how to cook once every two weekends as a favor to me. She's… getting better." Jose gave a soft shudder as he remembered some of Henrietta's first attempts at cooking that she had generously offered to him. "She actually makes pretty good lasagna now, but she occasionally mistakes salt for sugar and vice versa."
"And that, my dear Jose, is why I always do the cooking for my dear Silvia." Pietro nodded sagely at a bitter truth of being a handler. "Hillshire is damn lucky he's got Triela. Sometimes I wonder who's supposed to be taking care of whom in that pair."
"She's got him henpecked."
"Well, there is that."
"A threat has been met against Roberta Guellfi's life. The Calibineri received the threat six hours ago on a video tape that had been intercepted through public post. The video tape had been addressed to the DP's offices. No fingerprints or other identifying material were found on the tape, so we only have the recording to go by…"
Allesandro sat in the dimly lit briefing room alongside his colleagues as part of the detail that was supposed to guard Prosecutor Guellfi. In spite of the gravity of Priscilla's brief, none of Jean's handpicked team was surprised by it. Such a thing had been anticipated long before Roberta had even been assigned to prosecute. Despite the importance of the briefing, the room was mostly empty, as most of the team and Jean himself had left beforehand as part of their advance party to meet with Roberta. This briefing was specifically for the three handlers also assigned to the mission who had yet to depart from the SWA HQ.
"So? Who are we dealing with this time?" Bernado gave a bored yawn, cutting off Priscilla's briefing. "Just spare us the details and tell us who made the threat. Once we know, we can commence the epic beat down of whoever dares take us all on."
"Your confidence is dangerous, Bernardo." Hillshire admonished. "However, I am curious as well, Priscilla. You haven't said who made the threat, yet. Normally that's the first thing we need to know."
"That's where things get a little weird." Priscilla sighed.
The paused video of the threat appeared on the presentation screen behind her. The recording was pretty typical of most amateur terrorist threats; a single speaker was standing in a plain, sparely decorated room. She held a set of cue cards that she was presumably reading from. However there was one peculiar thing about her.
"That girl doesn't look older than fifteen." Allesandro marveled at the age of the dark haired girl. He'd known that the insurgency weren't picky about who was on their payroll, but even the five republics should have had more sense than to let a child this young into their ranks.
"…To the government murderers who receive this message." The girl started in a squeaky voice far too young to be making such treats. Any notion that she was an innocent was disproved by the way the girl's eyes practically burned with fanatical hate. "We are coming for Prosecutor Guellfi for her role in the Vinci trial. You cannot protect her from us, even with your little abominations…"
"With your abominations?" Bernado raised an eyebrow, just as Priscilla hit pause on the video playback. "They can't mean…"
"They mean us." Allesandro finished, Bernado's thought.
Priscilla's nod confirmed Allesandro's suspicions, sending the entire briefing room into concerned murmurs. This wasn't a regular threat to the government. This was a direct challenge to the SWA.
"Who made this threat?"
"That's the problem." Priscillia said, she flipped through her prepared notes. "Video analysis hasn't told us anything so far. So far, all indicators we've found don't match up with any of the known extremist groups. As for the girl, we're running ID checks on her right now, but so far we haven't turned up with anything."
"But the mere fact they know about the cyborgs means that little Miss Muffet over there is involved in some serious shit." Allesandro groaned as the situation finally sunk in. "Great, so these guys are going to come spoiling for a fight against us, specifically."
"We've been making waves through the government's enemies." Hillshire noted sullenly. The German, being the most morally upright person in the room, didn't seem pleased with this situation in the slightest. "It was only a matter of time before they sat up and took notice of us. The fact they're using a child to send us this must mean they're expecting the SWA to take action."
"Does this mean that they're looking for a fight?" Bernado tapped his temple thoughtfully.
"Probably. Considering how badly we've kicked their behinds over the last few years, they're probably going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at us to see what works." Allesandro chuckled darkly. "Should make for an interesting time."
"Well, it could be worse." Priscilla quipped as she flipped the lights in the room back on. "Miss Muffet over there could come after us herself."
"Henrietta, she was just having you on."
"I'm serious. She was a Magical Girl!"
"Now, now, Claes. Let the girl have her fun." Triela grinned impishly at her two friends. Henrietta had folded her hands and puffed her cheeks in irritation. For the past few minutes, Henrietta had been trying, unsuccessfully, to convince either girl that she had met a real magician. Triela held the opinion that this was a little fantasy Henrietta had come up with while Claes was being outright dismissive of the very notion. Still, it made for interesting conversation.
"I'm telling you the truth! Danielle really did heal me. She stroked my head and there was this tingling sensation and…" Completely lost in her rant, Henrietta did not notice when Claes finally set down her book and leaned closer to Triela.
"She's completely taken in by this idea, isn't she?" Claes whispered, just loud enough for Triela to hear. "Did she actually meet this person?"
"From what Hillshire told me, I'm pretty sure. Let her have her fantasy, Claes." Triela personally didn't mind Henrietta's little story about having met a magician that miraculously cured her. If anything, she found the idea quite endearing that even someone like Henrietta would still be able to believe in fanciful things like magic and miracles. Heaven knew they needed all the miracles they could get.
"I was worried that this might be a conditioning induced fantasy. Did you notice how she described that 'Danielle' character? 'Magical Girl'? Who uses that kind of term?"
"It probably was just a showman with a particularly good act. Henrietta's our baby sister. She's supposed to like this sort of thing. You're reading too much into this." Triela couldn't fault Claes from being overprotective. Angie's hallucinations were symptoms of the conditioning that weren't well understood, and many of the more mature first generation cyborgs secretly feared experiencing something similar.
"If you say so." Claes conceded, as they pair turned back towards Henrietta.
"So gave me ice cream, so I know that Danielle is a really nice person. You have to believe me when I tell you she's a Magical Girl." Henrietta finished her rant, none the wiser that Triela and Claes had missed most of her words. Sparing a quick glance towards Claes as if to remind the bespectacled cyborg to play along, Triela put on the biggest smile she could for Henrietta.
"If you say so 'Etta. But this is a very big claim you are making, you know. You have to understand that it's hard for me and Claes to believe because we haven't seen her ourselves."
"Triela's right." Claes concurred, after a moment's hesitation. "Unless we meet Danielle ourselves, it's going to be hard for us to be sure she is a real 'Magical Girl' and not a some phony street illusionist."
"Illusionist?" Henrietta tilted her head as she seemed to test the unfamiliar word.
"She means magic tricks instead of realmagic." Triela clarified.
"Okay. I understand." Henrietta tapped a finger on her chin absentmindedly, seemingly placated by their reasons for not believing her. It was clear to Triela the cogs in the little cyborg's head were turning in an attempt to figure out how to convince them. Triela wished she could see Henrietta's train of thought, for it was bound to be amusing. After a tense moment, Henrietta's face brightened as the petite brunette came up with her full-proofplan.
"I'll get her to come down to the dorm one day and show you how she fixed me up!" Henrietta declared triumphantly. "If she fixes everyone, you'll have to believe me!"
"She's not going to give up is she?" Claes sighed.
Despite the fact that Henrietta had tried, and failed, to convince Triela and Claes about her new friend, she eventually regained her good mood. They had perfectly valid reasons for not believing her about Danielle without concrete proof, Henrietta resolved to somehow invite the self-proclaimed 'Magical Girl' into their dorm at some point.
Henrietta finished her packing and then proceeded down to the medical wing for a last minute checkup that Signore Jose had scheduled for her. While Signore Jose normally escorted her to and from the Medical Wing in person, today he was busy applying for their Christmas leave, something Henrietta did not mind in the slightest. Between him personally escorting her to the doctors and him making sure her vacation would be as good as she could make it, she preferred the vacation.
Padding through the familiar halls of the medical center, she politely greeted many familiar faces as she passed them through the halls. As she walked through the halls, she felt a cold chill run through her spine. Henrietta had never truly liked the Medical Wing, but this time it was different. Though she didn't show it, Henrietta felt an unnatural feeling of dread work its way into her bones.
She didn't understand it at all. Henrietta had gone for these tests dozens of times, yet for some reason now the very walls of this place felt constricting. By the time Henrietta eventually reached the door to the testing chamber, it had become almost unbearable.
"Henrietta, we were expecting you." Dr. Belisiaro greeted coldly as she entered. His colleague, Dr. Belgonzi, didn't even look up as she entered.
"Hello doctor. What do you have for me today?" Henrietta entered with undue haste. She wanted to get this over and done with as quickly as she could so she could leave this accursed place. Henrietta prayed they wouldn't take too long.
"It's just a regular checkup before you leave for your vacation. Nothing fancy. We'll be done in an hour or so."
"Will you be putting me in the tank today?" Henrietta referred to the large glass tube that allowed nanites to work repairs on the cyborgs. It was a relatively new piece of equipment that sped up maintenance times considerably, but Henrietta personally disliked the new piece of machinery.
Whenever she was inside the tank, she would dream of… unpleasant things.
"Yes, we will." Dr. Belisiaro affirmed, much to Henrietta's dismay. "Please put on the testing attire and enter the tank."The testing attire was a gray two piece swimsuit that was lying on one of the tables.
"I understand." Henrietta quickly grabbed the swimwear off table and entered the small changing room. While she disrobed and put on the swimsuit, her uneasiness continued to grow. She had even looked at herself in the changing room mirror and had the distinct feeling that there was something wrong with her reflection. Henrietta decided she needed to finish this quickly.
The quicker she was done, the quicker she could go find Signore Jose. It wasn't long before Henrietta was inside the tank. The anesthetic soon took hold, and Henrietta slipped into unconsciousness.
"The. Hell? Bianchi, look at this!" Dr. Belisiaro's startledcry pulled Dr. Belgonzi from his computer console where he was studying the condition of Henrietta's prosthetics. Walking over to where his colleague was, the scientist looked into Dr. Belisiaro's computer screen.
"That can't be right." Dr. Belgonzi blinked several times, unable to comprehend the data he was seeing. While Dr. Belisiaro was the one who specialized in the cyborg conditioning, Belgonzi did know enough about the process to understand the implications of what his friend was showing him. "Are you sure this is accurate?"
"I double and triple checked it." Dr. Belisiaro gestured wildly at his readouts. "The damage to her brain, it's completely healed!"
"That's impossible. We've been trying for months to do that."
"Just look." Dr. Belisiaro pointed at the graphical image of Henrietta's brain on his computer screen. The changing colors on the monitor reflected the young girl's brain activity. "That particular portion of her brain was showing reduced activity when I checked her last week. It was steadily declining over the past six months. I've been charting that area myself."
"It looks perfectly fine now." Dr. Belgonzi was no expert, but he could tell that the readout was consistent with that of a healthy preteen girl. But that in itself was the problem; the SWA has never had a specimen this healthy, due to their experimental drugs, not even among their newest Second Generation cyborgs. "Is this a sign that she's reacting badly to the treatments?"
"I thought so too at first. But I ran another scan. Belgonzi, she's regrown about ninety nine percent of her lost brain cells."
"What? I need to see this!"
Confronted with this new discovery, the pair quickly abandoned their plans to run maintenance on Henrietta and instead devoted their full attention to their new discovery. What should have been a quick one hour checkup became a long four hour long series of tests and scans to approve or disapprove of Dr. Belisiaro's data. Even when Dr. Bianchi had started knocking on their door, demanding to know why Henrietta had not showed up for her appointment with him, the two scientists soldiered on. Eventually the men reached a definitive and irrefutable conclusion. While neither man had any idea as to why it had happened, it was clear to them that the degrading side effects of conditioning on Henrietta's brain had been completely reversed.
"How do you want to play this?" Dr. Belgonzi finally asked.
"I'm speaking to Lorenzo. If this girl is a walking Nobel Prize, I'm not about to let her out of my sight." Dr. Belisiaro strode resolutely to the nearest phone and dialed for the SWA's director. "Henrietta has just become a very important specimen. I'm not about to lose her to some random insurgent with a shotgun in some back alley in Milan."
All the while, the sleeping form of Henrietta didn't even make a peep.
Henrietta was lying face up. She couldn't feel anything, or move her limbs. All she could do was stare listlessly at the darkened ceiling. An eerie silence surrounded her, and the icy chill from the darkness seemed to seep into her very bones.
"Harriet, talk to me."
Henrietta had terrible dreams before but never were they as clear as the one she was having now. It was as if she was trapped in her worst nightmares. Losing herself to a blind panic, Henrietta willed herself to move again and again, but her arms and legs refused to respond. In fact, she couldn't fellher felt leg or right arm at all.
"Oh, no. Not you too… Anyone but you."
A shadow moved to loom over Henrietta's prone form. Only then did Henrietta notice the person that been calling to her. Allowing her eye, for the other was not working, to adjust to the darkness; Henrietta was startled to see a mirror image of herself looking down at her.
As if by instinct Henrietta felt a connection with this other girl. The stranger's clothing was torn, and her breathing was harsh and labored. Even from where she was lying, Henrietta could see her doppelganger was every bit as injured as she was.
"Danica…" Henrietta tried to say, the name coming to her so naturally it was as if she had known it all her life. All that came from her mouth was a painful gurgle. Henrietta knew that her lungs were filling with blood. Every bit of training she had told Henrietta that death was not too far away now.
"Harriet, please! You can die on me like this!" Danica pleaded futilely. "We'll get through this together!"
The pained expression on Danielle's face broke Henrietta's heart. The urge to somehow comfort the grieving girl overpowered the fear that had enveloped Henrietta since she arrived in this nightmare. However, this urge couldn't be fulfilled with her broken body, forcing Henrietta to witness Danica's anguish over her passing.
Darkness started to creep into the edges of Henrietta's vision, and the blood in her lungs was making it hard to breathe. It wouldn't be long now.
"What will you do to save her?" A small voice pierced through the darkness like a ray of light. As if guided by fate, Henrietta's head rolled to the side, allowing her to see a pair of blood red orbs watching her from the shadows. Henrietta tried to see more of the speaker, but her fading consciousness and the darkness of the shadows made it impossible to see more than those two red eyes.
"Who are you?" Danica's arms looped Henrietta's bloodied form protectively.
"I am someone who can help you. Who I am can wait, but the question you should ask is this; What are you willing to give to save her?"
It was then Henrietta made sense of what she was seeing. Henrietta froze in fear as she came to a horrifying realization. There was no logic behind her reasoning, no stream of thought that justified it. Her epiphany came from something so primal, it existed before humanity even had a civilization. It was an instinct in her very being that told her a single important fact.
This was no savior.
This was the devil.
Suddenly, Henrietta woke up in a cold sweat. She was lying on the examination table near the tank, far away from the empty house where her nightmare had taken place in. Even though she was now back in the world of the waking the nightmare, the memory of the creature stayed with her.
"What was that?" Henrietta gulped deep breaths of air as she tried to calm her racing nerves. The entire dream terrified Henrietta to no end. Even now that she was awake, and had better control over her thoughts, she couldn't forget the nightmarish red eyes of the creature. She was in such a sorry state that she actually flinched when a familiar, yet gentle hand touched her skin.
"Henrietta?" Signore Jose gently helped her into a sitting position. . Relief flooded through her veins as Henrietta felt the stabilizing, protective presence of her handler. The nightmare was over and Signore Jose was here, now, to protect her. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, Signore Jose." Henrietta, not wanting to worry him, lied through her teeth. "What are you doing here?"
"You were taking longer than usual, so I came to check on what was happening. I got a little worried." Jose admitted. "It didn't help I got a call from Lorenzo on the way here telling me that the Doctors were trying to cancel our holiday to Sicily."
"What? Why?" Henrietta's eyes flew open in alarm. "They can't cancel our holiday now, not after Signore Fermi and Signorina Gabrelli have agreed to come with us!"
"Don't worry, we're still going, but they have a couple of things that they want to tell us first."
"We're changing Henrietta's prescription." Dr. Belgonzi informed them curtly as he handled Jose a small plastic bag filled with medications and a memo which presumably listed Henrietta's prescription. "This is what the Second Generation cyborgs are using now. It's far milder than anything Henrietta has been using before, but we believe she will be able to handle it."
Despite their best efforts, Dr. Belgonzi and Dr. Belisiaro had been unable to veto Jose's application for leave to Sicily. The doctor's supposed claims of a 'profound medical discovery' had not been enough to convince Lorenzo that having Henrietta anywhere on mainland Italy, where the media circus revolving around the Vinci family was taking place, was a good idea. Their claims that Henrietta had miraculously reversed three years' worth of conditioning induced brain damage overnight didn't give their arguments much water either, not when public demonstrations all over Rome calling for the blood of the 'child killers' was on everyone's minds.
Henrietta was not the most 'calm' of the cyborgs. Fears that she would go berserk, again, easily trumped the sudden whims of two members of their science team.
Seemingly resigning themselves to the fact that Henrietta was leaving, and neither of them could do a thing about it, Dr. Belgonzi and Dr. Belisiaro had instead dragged Jose and Henrietta into their office and began briefing Jose on everything Henrietta was allowed and not allowed to do while on Holiday. Everything from her diet to her physical activities had been covered. The detail that the doctors had gone into, despite the small amount of time they had to prepare, had been astonishing.
And now they had practically revised Henrietta's entire prescription.
"Forgive me if I'm wrong, Doctor, but I recall you telling us that the medication used in Second Generation conditioning was incompatible with First Generation Cyborgs." Jose nervously glanced at the door where Henrietta waited patiently outside for him.
"Well, normally you would be correct," Dr. Belisiaro explained sourly. "But from what we can tell, Henrietta's brain has been restored to peak condition.
"Restored? How?" Jose blurted out in surprise, earning a bemused look from Dr. Belgonzi.
"That's what we wanted to find out, Croce. Unfortunately, Lorenzo wants you on that vacation." Dr. Belgonzi was careful not to mention the Vinci Trial in front of Henrietta, but it was clear to Jose what had the other man in a knot.
"We're digressing." Dr. Belisiaro cleared this throat. "Normally changing drugs halfway through their lifespan could be a dangerous exercise due to the experimental nature of the drug, but given that Henrietta's brain has been… 'reset', if you will, we can start her off on the milder version of the conditioning we've been using for the Second Generation cyborgs."
"Listen, Croce… I'm going to be perfectly frank with you here." Dr. Belisiaro looked Jose straight in the eye. The intensity in the doctor's eye was so fierce, Jose was actually taken aback. He'd never knownthe scientists to be so confrontational before. In fact, Dr. Belgonzi had also been surprised by his colleague. "Henrietta has become a very important test subject for us. Were it up to me, she would never leave this building. As it stands, I cannot stop her from being dragged around by you without anything to support my case. I am holding you personally responsible for her safety."
"Henrietta's well being is of my utmost concern." Jose's eyes narrowed angrily. While he was relieved to see the medical staff finally taking an interest in Henrietta's wellbeing, he did not appreciate that they were accusing him of negligence. He didn't need to be lectured on this; Henrietta was family.
"I hope so." Dr. Belisiaro nodded and settled back down. "As long as that is clear, I have nothing more for you, Signore Croce."
"So are we done?" Jose asked through gritted teeth.
"Yes, yes, yes. As long as Henrietta remains intact, we will not have a problem." Dr. Belisiaro waved him out of the room. "And by the way? Have a good trip, Signore Croce."
It was generally understood that people did not visit the mortuary any more than they had to. Even Jean Croce, a man who by all accounts had a heart of solid ice, did not like to visit the place. For a man such as he, such a place carried too many bad memories.
"We found him two hours ago." Ferro pulled the zipper on the body bag open, revealing the corpse of a man who was once a GIS soldier. Jean didn't even flinch at the sight of the man and, to her credit, neither did Ferro. "Corporal Guiche Orlan. He was on the Prosecutor's guard detail. He was found dead at the end of his shift."
"That's an interesting wound, one that I've seen before." Jean observed. The man's entire chest had been caved inwards from a blow that must have taken superhuman strength. While most people would have presumed that the Corporal had met his end in a car accident, Jean had been around Rico long enough to know how the man had died. The concerning part was that the only things in the world that could have killed this man were all affiliated with the SWA, and none of their cyborgs had gone rouge since the disastrous Pia and Ernesto incident.
"I presume that the Prosecutor was moved?"
"Yes, sir. We immediately relocated her to a secondary safe house as soon as we found the body. This confuses me, though." Ferro made a thoughtful frown. "If they can do this, the assassins obviously are already in a position to make an attempt on Prosecutor Guellfi's life. But they killed our guard and then left the body for us to find."
"They're challenging us." Jean nodded, the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. "Whoever did this is sending us a message. They can take our Guellfi any time they want, but they want to fight us." Jean shook his head in disgust. "Not the government. The SWA. This poor man was their message." And it was a crude message, at that. A man that had been killed in a way that only could have been done with the strength of a superhuman cyborg and then left for them to find was a brutal, but ultimately effective, way of getting the message across.
The implications on any group outside of the SWA, even allied ones, possessing the ability to do something like this was disturbing.
"So what the hell are we dealing with here, Sir?"
"That's what we are going to have to find out."
It was very late when Henrietta was finally able to return to her room. As Rico had been gone earlier, and Triela had finally left with Hillshire for their assignment, her normally bright and lively room seemed dark and suffocating. Signore Jose had tried his best at cheering her up after their test, but his options were limited in the SWA premises and the hour was already very late.
Quickly changing out of her clothes and into her nightgown, Henrietta tried to keep her mind focused on her upcoming holiday to Sicily. She kept telling herself that good things were waiting for her tomorrow, and things could only get better from this point onwards. Henrietta had even gone as far to take out her diary to write her customary entry into it.
But her treacherous mind kept going back to the dark house and a pair of glowing red eyes. The creature from her nightmare plagued her thoughts. Every time she thought back to it, the dream became clearer and more detailed. At first she could only see the events as they unfolded, but every time she turned over the nightmare in her mind, more and more details unfurled like paint on a canvas. The vividness of her dream, her memories, defied all logic and reason, but Henrietta couldn't help but remember the pit of dread that had settled in her heart.
It almost made her never want to sleep again.
But despite her misgivings, Henrietta knew she had to turn in sometime. After a full hour of doing nothing but sitting at her desk with her pen hovering over a fresh page, the cyborg finally relented. Soon, Henrietta laid her head down on her pillow, and hoped that she would dream of happier times.
She was back in the darkened house. The chill and terror had settled back into her bones. Death clawed at her very existence, and each passing moment she felt more and more of herself slip away. Henrietta once again knew fear.
"What are you willing to give to save her?"
Though Henrietta could not see the form of the creature clearly, she knew she was looking into the eyes of a devil. Although Henrietta was mere moments from death, she wanted nothing more than to tell Danica to run away and forget either of them ever saw it. No good could come of associating with this monster.
Henrietta would rather die than let it defile her baby sister, but she could only watch as her nightmare played its course.
"Anything." Danica's voice was hard, desperate but most of all, resolute in her decision. "I'll give you anything. Just please, save her."
"Well then if you are that determined…"
The figure strode out of the shadows, revealing a four legged white creature with long floppy ears and a large swaying tail. Its two red eyes seemed to glow in the gloom as its emotionless, yet disarmingly innocent, face stared into Henreitta's very soul. It was small, cute and seemingly harmless.
Henrietta wanted to scream.
"…make a contract with me and become a Magical Girl!"