"Still in trouble again Petra?" Soni asked.
"Well, we escaped from another mess.." replied Petrushka to her, she read a magazine in her hand.
"It would be a lucky mission if i join in the party..." said Gattonero, before a pillow was thrown in her face.
"With your bad luck Gattonero, I fear we might get into trouble...again..." said Soni, after throwing the pillow.
As they talk to each other, Yuki and Ai entered the room "Bonjour vos trois, Madame Petra, Soni, Nero!" In their hands, each carried a basketful of souvenirs from France and Austria "Here, come and join us!"
As she crawled from the bed, Petrushka grabbed some croissant from the basket and opened the wrapping. "Where did you get this?" she asked.
"Saber gave this to us...she said it's for Bianco, but he give this to me...so I decided to share this with all of you" replied Ai, giving Gattonero two gifts. "Here Gattonero, give this to Kara, if she returns from Michele's home, okay?"
"What's this?" asked Gatto looking to the gift wrapping then opened it "Aw cute!, where did you get this?" surprised to see the gift was actually a doll, Black cat plushies.
"Oh, that one? I got it from a souvenir shop in Gare De Lyon Train station...since you are a black cat, then i decided to buy you that thing" said Yuki, eating biscuit she bought from France. "Since you arrived as our backup in Tyrol, my plan was to give that to you...but our job made me cancel that idea..." she added.
"Thank you very much, Yuki!" thanked Gattonero as she hugged Yuki with her hand.
Walking through the corridor with some books in her hand, Victoria looked out the window; she could see cloud floating together, grey in color. "Chert! My clothes are outside!" Victoria then ran to her room, then she ran back outside to pick her clothing outside. "Damn...why on this day, it's start to rain? Pain in my neck for carrying this clothes" said Victoria, carrying basketful of her clothes. As she entered the dorm,Victoria collided with Silber, spilling the dress to the floor. "Sorry, sorry,sorry!" Victoria apologized bowing her head.
"It's okay Vic, no harm done" Silber replied, helping Victoria picking her dress. "What's the hurry Vic?" asked Silber.
"Raining" a simple answer come out from Victoria's mouth.
"Can i help you?" asked Silber, favoring Victoria.
"Sure, be my guest!"
Listening to her favorite music via headphones, Lorraine spent her day off at the library, reading some books and by one book from the shelf, she finished reading bored, she headed from the library to the park she walked across the pathway, she encountered with Priscilla, along with Claes with her.
"How's your day off Lorraine?" asked Priscilla.
"Bored to death?"
"Oh, almost forgot, Director Lorenzo called you..."
"What? What does the Section 2 want with me?"
"Don't know..he ordered you to come to his office"
"Im...I don't remember anything that cause me a trouble..."
"Better hurry Lorraine, or Director Lorenzo will be angry at you, right girl?" Priscilla looked to Claes.
"Lorraine Andrea reporting sir..."
"Good, you're here..."
"What's the matter sir?" asked Lorraine. Next to her Kai sat in a chair.
"Well, Kai here offered me to consider you joining the Section 2. The question is, do you agree?"
Her breath was stuck, her eyes widening, her hand trembled, Lorraine only nodded her head, speechless as she looked directly to Kai sitting next to her.
"Since you agree with the offer, then I'll assign you with Kai. Before that, we must find you a cyborg."
"Roger that Sir..." Still trembling from the offer she received, she head out from Director Lorenzo's room, with Kai behind her.
Yuki, stood behind her handler Kai as they watched another patient dossier offered to them. "How about this, Lorraine?" suggested Kai.
"Uhm...this will be good" said Lorraine as she check the dossier handed to her.
"Patient 134291, name Christine Michael, victim of hit and run..."
"That will do for us now...thanks doctor."
After selecting the patient Lorraine waited in the lobby, anxious, still surprised and confused about what happened today, her last day off ruined, at the same time an offering knocking down to her.
"Do you have a name for the girl, Lorraine?" asked Kai.
"Uhm...yeah...her name will be Enrica, Enrica Cornacchia" she replied, holding her hand tighly.
"What's the matter Lorraine?" asked Kai, sitting next to her.
"Uhm nothing." She blushed, shy, and trembled to see him sitting next to her.
"Calm down Lorraine-San" Kai tried to calm down Lorraine.
"I'ts nothing Kai...it's just..."
"Anything bothering you, tell me...we'll solve this together."
"Well..." her face turned red.
"Don't worry Lorraine-San...I'll be here if there's any trouble." He kissed Lorraine in the lips. Next thing happened; Lorraine passed out.
"Lorraine-San, are you okay?"
"Let me help Kai-Sama" interfered Yuki, helping Lorraine to get up.
The man sitting at the bare table in the interrogation room stirred restlessly, producing a rattle from the handcuffs shackling his wrists to the chair arms. He'd been sitting here forever, it seemed, with nothing to do but stare at the bare walls and think. He'd been replaying the ride to this place, lying bound on the floor of the big van with the bloody corpse of an old friend pressing down on top of him. And they call us terrorists and criminals, he thought. He stared at the table's surface, hands clenching. He wondered if he was going to be tortured; it seemed likely. It was against official policy, he knew, even for 'terrorists', but these people didn't seem overly respectful of rules. It was a very bad sign, he thought, that this room had no observation window, or even a camera set up. It had been recently cleaned, judging from the smell, but beneath the odor of disinfectant, he thought he could still catch the scent of gunpowder … and, unless his fear was supplying it, blood.
The door opened. His heart skipped a beat, but he resolved to be brave. He lifted his chin, took one look across the table to the doorway… and couldn't help giving a little snort. "Which one of you is going to play the bad cop?"
Just inside the doorway stood two girls in their early- or mid-teens: still centimeters short of their full height, figures just budding. One was tawny-haired, a mixture of blonde and light brown with hints of red, a soft mantle cascading in waves about her shoulders; the other wore a very long ponytail over one shoulder as black and shiny as the inside of a raven's wing. The blonde was in a sort of shopgirl outfit, a knee-length skirt and matching blazer over a collared shirt, and carried a file folder; the other wore tight jeans, boots, and a black leather jacket, all studs and buckles, and stood with her hands in its pockets. Aside from being the same age, they were about as dissimilar as two girls the same race could be, he thought – until he looked in their eyes: identically shaped and lashed, and the same clear gray. He suddenly realized their facial features were identical. Twins? Or…
The girls didn't answer, just regarded him with a sort of detached scrutiny that suddenly made them seem years older. Then he remembered how he'd got here, and the rumors and stories about Public Safety's 'special ops' sections, and he realized the smirk had slipped off his face.
The blonde turned her head toward her companion, giving her an expectant look. The dark-haired girl said, "I did it last time."
"But you're so good at it," the blonde wheedled.
"Oh, fine, then." She stepped toward him, the blonde following a step behind, and shrugged out of her coat. Underneath, she wore a camisole top that bared her shoulders and exposed a great deal of skin below her collarbones as well, drawing the eyes to her modest bosom. When she reached the empty chair on her side of the table, she hung the heavy leather garment across its back, arranging it carefully. She caught his eyes on her and gave him a feline little smile. Then she unbound her tail and shook her head, and her hair fell down her back like black silk. She combed her fingers through it, lifting it by the handful and pulling it straight out sideways until it slipped free, just past her elbows, to fall over her bare shoulders. "Let's all get comfortable. They gave you the keys, didn't they, Kristal? Get those things off him."
"Okay." The blonde, Kristal, produced the key to his cuffs and removed them, from his wrists and the chair both, and slipped them into her jacket pocket.
He rubbed his wrists. "Is this supposed to make us friends or something?"
"No," said the dark-haired one, winding a lock at her temple around a forefinger. "Handcuffs simply aren't to my taste." She lowered her lashes and smiled again. "Though, under the right circumstances, I might be persuaded. Would you like some coffee?"
He swallowed. "What?"
"Coffee. How do you take it?"
"Black." His stomach rumbled. He'd been given not a morsel since he'd been captured, and only a little water. "No. Cream and sugar, extra."
She nodded and turned for the door, giving him a view of denim-sheathed derriere and bare shoulder blades. When it closed behind her, the blonde said, "Well. She's taking this 'bad cop' thing a little far. She must be feeling mean today."
"What?" He frowned. "She's not really getting coffee?"
"Oh, sure. But you haven't tasted the coffee here." She made a face and sat across from him. "There are maybe six people in Section Two who know how to brew a decent cup. I don't think any of them are here right now. What you get will probably taste like it was poured through a dirty sock." She opened the folder and started reading, idly brushing a thumb along the edges of the stacked papers and making a soft card-shuffling sound.
He stared at the folder, which was as thick as his thumb. Some of the pages had edges that were frayed and discolored. How long had they been watching him, and how much did they really know? He'd been so careful. If they knew who he'd been talking to, the plans they'd been working on for months…
"Italo Montefiore. You're a master carpenter, really? And a contractor? Worked on some pretty impressive projects too, I see."
They know.He pulled his eyes off the file and focused on the door behind her, keeping his face impassive, giving away nothing.
She didn't look up, just continued to read. "I always imagine FRF gunsels as being broke and unemployable, hirelings or easy dupes for the rich guys who want to run Northern Italy as they please. I know better, but it still surprises sometimes, to see a man of your talents in their camp."
"If I was unemployable," he growled, "I'd be a government supporter." He stilled, surprised at himself, and shut his mouth.
She nodded, eyes still on her reading. "The socialist government wants to pick the working man's pocket to buy the votes of the indolent and unwashed mob. It imposes crushing taxes and crazy regulations that stifle enterprise and make it impossible for the middle class to prosper, in order to keep the North under Rome's thumb. The only reasonable course of action is opposition."
He scowled. "If you understand, how can you work for them?"
She looked up and met his eyes. "I didn't say I believed any of it. I was quoting a man we had in custody a few weeks ago. He seemed to think that drivel justified planting a bomb under a car with a pregnant woman and a twelve-year-old girl in it, just because the driver made a few speeches he didn't like." Her eyes dropped back to her reading. "Well, the girl didn't go to waste, at least."
He felt a chill. "I would never…"
"Really? What is it you and your friends are doing all over South Tyrol? Do you really think when those things go off no one is going to get hurt?"
They don't know. Just hold out for half a day, and it will be too late."I want a lawyer. You can't hold me here without-"
"Don't." She turned a few pages more.
"Don't be troublesome. It's hard enough keeping Jean from walking in here and shooting you as it is." At his look she said, "Jean Croce. I'm sure you heard about what happened to his father, his mother, his little sister, and his fiancée. He thinks there's a special place in Hell waiting for Padan bombers."
The door opened, and the dark-haired girl appeared with three steaming mugs on a tray. "Fresh-brewed. I got us all some." She set a mug in front of her seated partner; it smelled delicious. Then she circled the table and came up behind him. She bent over his shoulder to place his mug down. Her hair fell on his neck, brushing softly across it, and goosebumps rose on his arms. He caught her perfume: not floral, but heady and enticing. Nothing for a young girl to be wearing.He inhaled slowly, filling his nose with it.
"Temptation," she said, her face a double handwidth from his.
He blinked. "What?"
"The name of my perfume." Another sly little smile. "In case you're thinking of buying it for your wife."
"He's not married," said Kristal, closing her file. "If you're looking at the tan line on his finger, it's from a lodge ring. They must have taken it from him during processing."
"Well." The dark girl straightened. "It's good to know you have other interests besides the RF. Men with only one thing on their minds all the time can be so tiresome. Do you have a girlfriend?"
"I don't think that's any of your business," he said.
"Well, pardon me," she said, her manner changing instantly. "I'm just trying to be pleasant." She snatched his mug back from the table, slopping some coffee to form a puddle on its surface. "I'm sure you don't want any gifts from me either."
The blonde said, "Vee…" "Fine." She slammed the mug back down in front of him, sending still more brew rocketing up out of the vessel, and turned away, crossing her arms.
"I'm sorry." It slipped out of him unthinking. He went on, "I don't have a girlfriend." It wasn't true, but he wasn't about to divulge anything that might be used to pressure him. Her posture remained stiff for another moment, then relaxed. He picked up the mug and took a sip of the hot brew. It was as good as it smelled, and if it had been just a bit cooler, he would have gulped it down until it was gone. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," she said in a small voice. "Sorry." Then she turned and said brightly, "Do you follow football? I'm a big Malaga fan. I suppose you're behind AC Milan. What do you think of our chances against you this year?"
He blinked. "Well… Milan is fielding its best side in years. Malaga's not bad … There's always a chance, I suppose."
Her face turned fierce. "We're going to kick your butts, and you know it." Then she smiled. "No, you don't. You're sure we don't have a chance. You're just being polite."
After some undetermined time (it seemed like an hour, but he had no watch, and there was no clock in the room), Montefiore decided that these two couldn't be interrogators. He'd wondered at first about the blonde, Kristal; she seemed far the more serious of the two. But she hardly spoke, alternating her study of the file she'd brought with bemused observation of the other girl's antics. The dark girl, Vee, asked no questions of importance – she did most of the talking, in fact – and seemed perfectly satisfied with the short and noncommittal answers he gave her. She was actually an entertaining little loon, easy on the eyes, and given to mercurial moods that added or shaved off decades of apparent age instantly; conversing with her was leaving him a little breathless and pleasantly dizzy.
Amateurs, he thought with a mixture of contempt and hope. To think that he'd given those stupid stories some credence, and imagined these two might be some sort of ruthless Government killing machines! The investigators must not think him important enough to merit serious attention, that was all, and had sent these babysitters just to-
Kristal closed her file. "Done."
Vee had been bending over him as she spoke, using wide gestures to punctuate her sentences and sending faint traces of her shampoo and perfume his way. She stopped mid-sentence and straightened. "Hand me my jacket," she said in a businesslike voice. Kristal stood, removed the black leather jacket from the chair back, and passed it to the other girl. Vee slipped it on and pulled her long hair out of its collar.
He glanced from one to the other. "What's going on?"
Kristal bound her hair in a ponytail with an elastic band. "It's time to get started."
He glanced at the door, but it was still closed.
Vee rounded the table and stood behind him. "Hang on." The chair tipped back and pulled away from the table. His hands clenched on the chair arms – not because he was afraid of falling; because this girl half his size was dragging his chair with no more effort than if it was empty.
She righted it near the center of the room. "Don't move." She began to twist her waist-length tresses into a rope. "She's not being entirely accurate. Really, the interrogation began when we walked through the door and I started bad-copping you." She returned his stare with a raised eyebrow. "A hundred-kilo man would have done it differently, I'm sure, but the object would be the same. Stress the subject, usually through threats and intimidation. Provoke a range of responses to observe, and distract him from noticing how closely my partner is watching him. I didn't have to threaten you or push you around to make you feel intimidated. I just batted my eyelashes at you." She coiled her hair at the back of her head in a series of short loops and secured them with a clip from her jacket pocket. "Now that Kristal's established your response baseline, it's time for the main event."
Kristal rounded the table to stand in front of him. "It's amazing, really, all the involuntary and unconscious message traffic a person gives up – body language, voice stress, microexpressions… a whole second conversation, really. The skin on the back of your hands tells more than you would ever guess." She combed back a loose tendril of hair and trapped it behind her ear. "And biometrics, especially for an observer with enhanced senses. Right now, in this hard-walled little room, I can hear your heartbeat and respiration, clear as speech. Woo, did you catch that?"
Behind him, Vee rested her hands on his shoulders. "Sure did. He's revving up like a motorbike." Her voice turned singsong, teasing. "Italo's got a see-cret."
He swallowed; he heard the ulp, and, from Kristal's quick smile, was sure the girls did too. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Kristal leaned over him, locking eyes. The pale gray irises looked like the eyes of a ghost. "Tell me five things, Italo Montefiore. Trivial things about you or your life that wouldn't appear on any file. They don't have to be true – in fact, at least one should be a lie." After a pause, she said, "Not for me, Italo, for you. You need this."
He swallowed again. "My brother almost joined the Carabinieri. He withdrew his application."
"True," the little blonde said. "But that might be in a file. You need proof, Italo."
"He changed his mind because he decided he couldn't work for the government."
"Lie," said Kristal immediately, still staring intently at his face.
He hesitated, then said, "His girlfriend talked him out of it. She left him six weeks later."
She nodded. "Both true."
Vee whispered in his ear, "Girls' affections can be so unreliable, can't they?"
Kristal was still staring at him. "You're beginning to see, I think. Try again."
He thought for a moment, started to say something, then paused. Then he said, "I was born in the same hospital room as my mother."
The corners of Kristal's mouth turned up. "Equivocal. Someone you know was born in that room, but it wasn't your mother." Her eyes narrowed. "Another relative…. No. Someone close, though. A friend." She smiled wider. "A girlfriend." The smile turned cool. "I could get her name in less than a minute. Do you want me to show you?"
His throat felt tight when he swallowed this time. "No."
"Good. Then let's not waste any more time. What use does the Five Republics Faction have for a man who renovates old buildings? Old government buildings?"
He stared at the door: just a few steps away, and now the table wasn't between anymore…. He didn't realize he'd risen until he felt his weight transfer from his buttocks to his feet.
He cried out as steel pincers sank into his shoulders. He was slammed back down into the seat with enough force to make his teeth click. Vee said conversationally, "Where did you think you were going?"
His trapezius muscles were on fire. His shoulders and upper arms felt numb, not properly connected to his body. "I'm not telling you anything."
"Exactly what Luccio said," said Vee behind him, stroking his ear. "Just before he told us everything."
Montefiore stopped breathing. Luccio Valeri was a weapons dealer who'd been instrumental in setting up the present operation. He'd been in the safehouse in Bolzano when these maniacs had attacked it. Italo hadn't known whether the man had been captured or killed.
The little blonde stared through him. "That's what we were doing while you were sitting in here waiting. He cracked like an egg, Italo. He didn't know much, but what he knew, he told. We know about the teams who've been training, and how they're armed, and that they were sent to positions along the A1 and SS10 before the safehouse raid here. We know about the bombs, too. Now you're going to tell us the rest." She lifted his hand off the chair arm, effortlessly breaking his grip. She held his hand in hers, turned it palm-up, and began stroking the base of his fingers with her thumb. "You want to know why we put our hair up, I can tell. It's simple. I don't mind changing clothes and taking a shower after an interrogation, but I hate scrubbing body fluids out of this mop."
"Vomit," said Vee. "The worst. Ecch."
"Blood doesn't stain yours like it does mine." Kristal's stroking thumb stopped, resting at the base of the second and third fingers. "Italo, I'm sure you've heard the old adage that torture is a poor interrogation tool, because a man in pain doesn't necessarily tell you the truth, he'll tell you anything that makes the pain stop."
Her thumb sank into his palm. He couldn't cry out; the searing pain stole his voice. His hand jerked hard in reflex, but it was held fast as if clamped in a vise. She increased the pressure, and sweat popped out on his face and back. Tears blurred his vision. He could feel the slender bones in his palm bending aside; his mind filled with the image of them slowly splitting and tearing under the pressure instead of snapping cleanly.
Through the roaring agony, he heard the girl's voice. "But what if your interrogator is someone who always knows when you're lying, sometimes before you even speak? Who dismisses out of hand any cover story, no matter how elaborately prepared and rehearsed? Who sees through every attempt at deception or misdirection, spots every deliberate omission, and disregards every false claim of ignorance? What if the only way to make the pain stop … is to tell the truth?"
She released him. He gasped and clutched his abused limb to his chest with his other hand, waiting for the pain to fade. The fiery agony was gradually replaced by a deep ache that made him afraid to flex his fingers. He gathered his courage and held the hand away from him to examine it, expecting to see the palm blackened already and the fingers all askew. But his hand was unmarked save by a red spot where her thumb had dug in. He flexed the fingers carefully, which freshened the pain somewhat, but the digits worked.
"It'll hurt more later, when it swells up," Kristal said. "And it'll probably cramp up in a few hours."
"Make you jump out of bed screaming, seriously," said Vee.
"The sooner you get a cold pack on it, the better." Kristal leaned forward and rested a hand on his thigh just above the knee. "But that's not going to happen until we're done. And you might need more than one cold pack by then. If you think squeezing that little nerve in your hand hurt, just imagine what I can do with the nerve bundles in your legs, or under your collarbones, or the big one back of your neck."
He swallowed. "You're insane. Both of you."
"Truth." The blonde girl gave him a little smile. "At least, you're certain of it. But you're not really qualified to say, are you? That's not what you do for a living. Or for the Padania." Her grip tightened on his knee.
He forced his teeth to unclench. "You don't frighten me."
From behind, Vee wound her leather-jacketed arms around his neck, a girlfriend's gesture. "Oh, Italo," she said, voice teasing, "I don't have to be a cyborg to know that's a lie."
SOUTH OF MELEGNANO
Ensconced in the back of her armored sedan, Minister of Defense Monica Petris spoke with the Carabinieri Chief of Staff at the Palazzo Baracchini in Rome. The Commanding General of the Carabinieri, visiting the grave of Salvo D'Acquisto in Naples, was in transit back to Rome via an AgustaWestland AW109. The Vice-Comandante Generale remained at the headquarters of the GIS in Treviso.
"Do we know how many bombs were detonated?" she asked into her cellphone.
"We believe upwards of a dozen, but reports are still sketchy," the Chief of Staff replied a moment later.
"How many cities?"
"We have confirmed detonations in Milan, Bergamo and Verona, with a new report from Bolzano."
The head of the Security Detail's phone rang and he fished it out of his front suit pocket. He spoke quietly for a few moments and then motioned to get the attention of Minister Petris.
"Minister, there has been a bomb threat called in for the A1 and A7 bridges crossing the Po and the Polizia Stradale have closed the bridge and are diverting traffic off at Piacenza Nord and Piacenza Sud ramps."
"Can we take another route?"
"There has also been a hazardous materials spill on State Highway 412 and a traffic accident on SP199 and Padania involvement has not been ruled out for them."
"They say this car is bomb-proof, so should we risk it?" Monica asked.
"It certainly isn't buoyant, Minister. If they drop the span with us on it, we'll sink to the bottom of the Po within seconds," the head of the Security Detail replied. "The local Carabinieri unit is setting up a command post in the town hall in Piacenza to provide video and satellite links, so I suggest we divert to that location."
"Very well," the Minister of Defense acquiesced.
PALAZZO DEI MERCANTI
An Iveco Daily mobile command post from the 3rd Carabinieri Battalion parked itself in the back of the town hall, cables snaking through an open door and into a conference room where laptops and video projectors had been setup. While basic, it allowed Minister Petris to communicate with her staff at the Palazzo Baracchini as well as the Prime Minister at the Palazzo Chigi and the Minister of the Interior at the Palazzo del Viminale.
A search of the main road and rail bridges across the Po River did indeed discover explosive devices and further examination identified them having the signature of Franco and Franca. While the timers had been successfully deactivated, the anti-tampering devices meant extra care to be undertaken when they were removed. An Explosives Ordnance Disposal team from the Operational Divers Group of the Italian Naval Special Forces were deployed to remove them, however the bridges were not expected to re-open until well after dark. As what alternate routes that were available south soon gridlocked, the Carabinieri were considering sending an AW109 helicopter to a nearby public soccer field to extricate the Minister.
Jean Croce's office was small and spare. It was furnished with only a desk and two chairs liberated from the hidden underground rooms; these items occupied half the floor space. A landline and laptop sat on the desk, looking rather lonely. Jean sat behind it, a map of the Alto Adige taped to the wall behind him, listening to the cyborg twins standing almost at attention in front of him. Olga sat in the other chair, occasionally glancing at the chief handler, apparently to gauge his reaction to one bit of information or another. Jean interrupted a dozen times with questions; when the girls reached the end of their report, he asked a dozen more. Finally, he leaned back and folded his arms.
"I have to say," he told them, "the amount of detail in this man's confession is suspicious. Are you sure you weren't fed a cover story?"
"Positive." Kristal shifted her feet. "But he didn't really say everything we learned from him. He doesn't even know he told us some of it."
The chief handler frowned. Before he could speak, Vee said, "Sir, the information is accurate. If you think it's necessary, we can produce a verbal statement from him that's the same as our report in every detail. But it will take time. And he may not be speaking very clearly at the end of it."
He considered them a moment. Kristal felt uncomfortable under the man's gaze; Vee returned the ice-blue stare unflinching. Finally he said, "Not necessary. We'll accept it as presented. Dismissed. But don't go far."
"Yes, sir," they said in unison, and turned to leave.
He sat up abruptly, picked up his phone, and punched two keys. "Put me through to Michele Paglani at his hotel in Milan. Then get me whoever's in charge of the reaction team here. Then I'll want to talk to the Director."
"Good work, girls," Olga said after them.
The twins left with considerably less haste than when they'd entered. In the short hall, Kristal said, "I don't like hurting people, Verotrois."
Vee winced. Their handler never addressed anyone using abbreviations or nicknames, so she was used to the horrible moniker. But Kristal only used it when she was feeling grave and grownup – or angry. Vee said, "That's why we scare them first, so we don't have to hurt them much. He won't feel anything we did to him after a week." Unspoken between them lay any mention of Italo's likely fate, once Jean was certain he'd been wrung dry. At least, Vee thought, it wouldn't be them doing it.
"I wish we could talk to Doc." Their handler was still in Rome, recovering from his latest 'procedure'; the need to extract reliable information from the Agency's captured assets was deemed great enough (and the girls' talents in that regard deemed useful enough) to send them into the field without him. Neither girl had liked that – the thought of Doc lying helpless and alone while a stranger approached him with a needle made Kristal twitch – but orders were orders. A chat or even a text from their special man would have been all the reassurance their hearts needed, but whatever lines of communication that remained open across the border were reserved for official business.
"He's probably still groggy from the anesthetic," Vee said as they paused at the door to the common room. "If we were with him, we couldn't do anything for him but watch him sleep." She turned into the doorway and checked abruptly, but not quite fast enough to keep from bumping into someone coming quickly out the door: a dark, swarthy man only half a head taller than Vee. He grabbed her upper arms unnecessarily as they rebounded, and she placed a palm on his broad chest to steady them both. "Carlo. Sorry."
"Me too." The man smiled wide and released her with seeming reluctance. "I wish I'd been going a little faster." Locking eyes, the man stretched out an arm as if to lean on the opposite jamb and bar her way. His hand missed the doorframe and he lurched sideways before he found it on a second try.
Kristal's eyes found the ceiling, but Vee, whose gaze had never wavered from Carlo's face, pretended not to notice. "Thank you for making coffee," she said. "It was wonderful."
"Not my only talent." His smile was supposed to be sexy, Kristal supposed, but to her eyes it wasn't quite a leer. "And not the first time a lady told me it was wonderful."
"I'm sure." Vee lowered her lashes. "I bet you'd make a great handler."
"I wouldn't mind, with the right girl." He grinned. "You ever get tired of sharing Doc, I'll put in a request." He favored Kristal with a glance and a smile. "Or if something happens to him, I'll take you both."
Kristal swallowed her gorge.
Vee nodded, still smiling, though to Kristal it looked a little forced now. "That's sweet. Thank you."
"Well," he said, "got to go check the perimeter. I'm late already, but I'm sure Esposito will understand when I tell him why, eh? Think about me while I'm gone." He sauntered past, headed for the front door.
Kristal made a face. "Why do you encourage him like that?"
"He's harmless." Vee head-shrugged, dimpling. "If I ever kissed his cheek, he'd probably blush."
"Harmless. Does he realize what he said? Talking about our handler like, like…"
"He didn't mean anything," Vee said quietly as she turned into the room. "He just doesn't understand. None of them do, if they're not handlers."
"Half the handlers don't either."
But all of the cyborgs do, was the unspoken thought between them.
For half an hour, they mingled with other cyborgs and grownups who came and went, playing cards or sharing a snack or just gossiping; Vee was outgoing and upbeat, Kristal rather more withdrawn, the opposite of their usual demeanors.
Vee, standing at the counter beside her sister with half a shared sandwich in her hand, glanced around at the agents scattered through the room. "Kay, you ever notice how cute we all are? The cyborgs, I mean."
Kristal, chewing a bite from her half, didn't answer, but she gave her twin a quizzical look.
"Seriously. We're not pinups, but compared to any other crowd of girls, like in a mall or a theater, we're catalog models at least. Not a plain one in the bunch. How did that happen, do you suppose?"
Kristal knew that Vee was simply trying to raise her out of her funk, but she played along. "Design, of course. They don't call us 'dolls' for nothing. The engineers can make a second-gen look any way they want. I'll bet regular features are easier to make, and harder for witnesses to describe. Besides, everybody knows Mr. Duvalier likes pretty girls." And twins, she thought. Which makes me wonder sometimes if we were always twins, or even sisters.
"Well, what about the first-gens? They didn't get altered when they converted. But you can hardly talk to one of them without patting her on the head or pinching a cheek."
"Are you joking? They were all selected by their handlers. If you're a man, and they tell you to pick a little girl to raise and train, of course you'd choose a little doll like Angie or Etta." She took a tiny bite of her sandwich. Then another thought occurred to her, and she tucked the food into her cheek to talk. "It's another layer of disguise, really. Not just a little girl, but a cute little girl. Might stay a Padan gunman's trigger finger for an extra half second."
Vee nodded at Triela, who'd just come in: the first-gen's manner was uncharacteristically quiet and unsmiling, making her look older than her usual fourteen years. Her hair was pulled up off her neck in a long ponytail. "And that one? If I hear right, Hilshire didn't exactly pick her."
"But if you do hear right," Kristal said quietly, "she was still picked for her looks. Just not by him." She chewed and swallowed.
Later, they shared a couch in the common room, watching the news. International coverage concentrated on the brewing banking crisis and the military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Local programming gave more time to soccer scores than to the 'quarantine' in the Alto Adige.
"You two." A uniformed man stood in the doorway, a huge hand wrapped around the door frame, the top of his bald head brushing the top of the jamb: Fausto, another of the SRT troopers. His expression was heavy-lidded and stern. "Get your skinny little asses down to Jean's office. You have a call."
The sisters stood. Kristal said, "A call?"
"From National Hospital."
Kristal gasped and flew out of the room. The corner of Fausto's mouth quirked as she rushed by. He said to Vee, "What, not anxious to talk to the old man?"
"I am," Vee said, "but she needs him more." She stepped close and tipped her chin up to join eyes with the big man. "You did this."
"Credit where it's due. Jean mentioned finding you a reward. I just made a suggestion."
Vee kissed her fingertips, reached up over her head, and touched them to Fausto's lips. "Priscilla would be so lucky to have you." She hurried after her sister.
PARCO SOLARI, MILAN
Michele's iPhone started to play the "The Imperial March" and Kara knew that meant Jean Croce would be on the other end of the line.
"He wasted no time in calling a 'What Went Wrong' meeting," Kara commented from the bed in the master bedroom. She reached for the remote and muted the television audio.
Though she could only hear one side of the conversation, it quickly became to clear that Jean had not called them to order them back to the safe house.
"Is your school uniform here?" Michele asked Kara once he ended the call.
"Please change into it and configure your XM8 as a PDW," Michele ordered. "Then fire up the Fiorano. We're going to Piacenza."
"I'm on it," Kara replied and leapt off the bed.
With the major Autostrade gridlocked, Kara used secondary highways and back roads, giving the V12 of the Ferrari 599GTB it's head whenever possible. To help clear the road ahead – and keep law enforcement from pulling them over - Michele had plugged in a set of flashing LED emergency vehicle dash lights and replaced the standard plates with plates registered to the Carabinieri.
Seventy minutes after they left Milan, Kara pulled the Ferrari into the front of the Pallazzo dei Mercanti. Dressed in a school uniform consisting of a white shirt, black jacket, red tie, checkered miniskirt and black leather knee boots, she reached behind the driver's seat and removed a custom-designed messenger bag that held her XM8 PDW and P2000SK pistol along with silencers and spare magazines before following her handler inside.
Michele walked up to the reception desk and removed his credentials.
"I'm Colonel Pagani with the AISE. I need to speak with Captain Montermini immediately."
Within moments, the head of Minister Petris' Security Detail arrived and saluted.
"Situation report," Michele ordered.
"Minister Petris was last seen approximately an hour ago, sir. She'd excused herself to visit the restroom and when she had not returned after 15 minutes, a female staffer was sent to check in on her and reported her not present. We then commenced a search of the building with no success.
"During that time we received a call from the Operations Center informing them of the intelligence on a kidnap attempt. We identified the tunnel and followed it to an abandoned building approximately 200 meters northwest. We assume they're trying to extricate by car so we've alerted the police forces in the area and closed access to the A21 and A1, as well as SP10, operating under the assumption they would want to take her north or west."
"Take me to the tunnel," Michele ordered.
"Excuse me, miss," one of the junior staffers said when Kara tried to follow.
"She's with me," Michele ordered, and Kara was allowed to pass.
They descended into the basement and passed through a hidden door in one of the foundation walls into a tunnel. Emergency lamps had been placed at intervals to provide illumination. They walked through and emerged through a similar door into the basement of another building.
"Do you have any articles of the Minister's clothing?" Michele asked.
"Bring it, please," Michele ordered. Once it had arrived, Michele handed it to Kara.
"Try and see if you can isolate the scent of her perfume to track her."
A look of concern crossed Kara's face. "I can detect the scent, but tracking it…"
"We need to know where they took her from here," Michele said.
Kara nodded and took the coat from Michele, sniffing the collar area. She handed it back to Michele who handed it to Captain Montermini. Kara tentatively moved around the room, the two men giving her plenty of distance. She started up the stairs to the next level, but stopped once she entered the next room.
"It's hard to detect it with the other smells. I don't have anywhere near the capability of Beatrice," Kara noted.
"I know, but Beatrice is in Rome and you're here. Please try, Kara."
His cyborg nodded and partitioned her mind, filtering out familiar scents to focus on Minister Petris' perfume. Fortunately, her captors were all male and her confidence started to rise. Michele reached out and took her hand in his, reinforcing it even more.
Kara led them through the building to a loading area. She proceeded to a large rolling steel door, which she rolled up to give access to the outside. They found themselves facing an alley that ran a score of meters in either direction where they emptied onto streets.
"I can't detect the scent anymore. Sorry," Kara said, her shoulders slumping.
"That means they moved her into a vehicle," Montermini noted and Michele nodded his head.
"Batsu," Kara mentioned. Michele gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Now I need your expert eyes. Look for any type of camera – CCTV; bank teller machine; speed camera; anything that might allow us to get a picture of the vehicle they put her in and a direction."
Kara nodded and started down the alley towards the main street. Michele turned to Montermini.
"Get in touch with the local police chief and get some detectives to assist in securing the footage."
Unlike the United Kingdom, where it was said that CCTV cameras outnumbered people, Italy employed them only in "the most sensitive areas" of about 50 cities. Fortunately, the area of the Palazzo dei Mercanti ranked as one of those areas and within 20 minutes they had identified a Fiat panel van carrying the livery of "Larini Brothers Plumbing" leaving the area and proceeding northwest. Tapping into speed and traffic cameras allowed them to track the vehicle along the Via Emilia Pavese towards the onramp to the A21. However, there was no record of the vehicle passing through the Autostrade tollgates. Undercover agents were sent in to examine the surrounding area and identified the panel van parked in a commercial park just east of the Po.
Once the location was identified, covert surveillance units were put in place. Infrared thermography confirmed that the panel truck had been parked for some time and, when directed at the building, identified a half-dozen people inside.
"What do you think they're waiting for?" Captain Montermini asked. The mobile command post had been moved into a garage a couple of blocks away in case there were lookouts.
"They expected things to be significantly more chaotic," Michele replied. "The majority of their bombs either were not placed or were prevented from going off. That means the police and military presence is heavier than they planned for."
Michele turned to Kara.
"Any word from the SRT?"
"They're still tied up in ordinance removal in the north, so looks like it's just me," Kara replied.
"I don't like the odds," Montermini noted. From observing her mannerisms around Michele, he'd quickly determined that Kara was one of the cyborg operatives he'd heard about.
"Aye, it won't be much of a challenge," Kara replied with a confident smile.
"Don't get cocky," Michele replied. "This isn't the usual search and destroy mission. The objective is to ensure the safe recovery of the Minister."
"Yes, sir," Kara said, her manner switching to one of cool professionalism. She'd changed out of her school uniform and knee boots into a black tactical jumpsuit and combat boots as used by the German Bundeswehr. She'd also put her hair into a ponytail, which she'd stuffed down the back of the jumpsuit.
Kara crept along the back of the building, hugging the wall to stay out of sight from the windows on the second floor. The complex contained only minimal video security surveillance and it had been confirmed that their signal routed only to the security office – currently staffed by two Carabinieri sergeants.
As part of her standard load-out, Kara carried a magazine of subsonic .40 S&W Jacketed Hollow Point rounds and a sound suppressor for her pistol. Both were in place on her weapon today. The heavy bullet weight and low speed made such rounds rather ineffective against body armor, therefore Kara spent many hours practicing on the range to hone her skills with headshots.
Kara quietly clambered onto a large rubbish dumpster and used it to vault onto the roof.
"Radio check," her handler called.
"Reading you five-by-five," Kara replied.
She carefully made her way across the roof, staying low so as to not be visible from the ground. Reaching a wind turbine ventilation fan farthest from the location of the targets, Kara pulled a small crowbar from a pocket on her leg, proceeded to tear off the two aluminum anchor strips, and then lifted the entire assembly off and placed it to one side, giving her access to the crawlspace above.
Kara ducked her head in and swung the tactical flashlight attached to her pistol around in a 360-degree sweep, identifying the support studs – and scores of cobwebs.
"Spiders…why does it have to be spiders…" she muttered. The conditioning clamped down on Kara's inherent arachnophobia and she lowered herself onto one of the studs and proceeded to make her way towards the area where they believed Minister Petris to be held. Lifting the corner of a ceiling tile revealed an empty hallway and agitated male Italian voices coming from an open door. The air reeked with cigarette smoke.
"The longer we wait, the better the chance the police have to find her. We need to get the bitch out of here and to the safe house."
"But are they still safe? The government has compromised one already. Perhaps they have the others under surveillance?"
"Well we can't stay here. Gianmaria says the place is crawling with Carabinieri and Poliza di Stato bikes and cars."
"But what if they're guarding the toll booths to the A21?"
"Then we take a back route."
Kara listened for Monica Petris' voice, but heard nothing. She also could not reach the ceiling tiles over the room due to there being no support beams in that area. Kara therefore backed up until she was at the far end of the hallway, removed one of the ceiling tiles, and dropped to the ground, pistol at the ready. She flattened herself against the wall and slid towards the door, thankful for the thick carpeting that muffled her footsteps.
"I'm going to check the truck," a voice said and Kara froze. A burly man exited the door, but at an oblique angle away from Kara that meant his peripheral vision did not take in her presence. She matched his footfalls and just as she reached the edge of the door, she pulled the trigger, sending the bullet into the base of his skull, where it shredded his cerebellum and he fell face-first to the ground.
Kara stepped into the doorway and started to identify and prioritize targets. Two men were present, one behind a desk and another leaning against a wall, both with lit cigarettes.
Kara's first shot smashed through the skull of the sitting man, knocking his head back, the back of his chair moving in sympathy. She adjusted her aim and put the second bullet through the temple of the leaning man, whose brain was still trying to process the visual of his partner's violent end before following into the void.
A quick survey of the room identified no other humans, but Kara hoped a closed door to the left would lead her to the prize. While her rounds had been subsonic and the exhaust gasses suppressed, to Kara's sensitive ears the two engagements had roared and she could not assume that nobody had noticed. She therefore went for the door and kicked it off the hinges, crouching as she entered.
Minister Petris sat on the couch, her hands and feet loosely bound with the large plastic zip-ties favored by law enforcement for crowd control. The shock on her face from the door flying in quickly faded as she recognized Kara.
Kara's eyes swept the room, but it appeared empty.
"Are you alone?" Kara asked.
"No, but I don't think the person guarding me is going to be a problem," Minister Petris noted, indicating with a nod of her head the door lying at an angle on the floor. Kara hooked her right boot underneath an edge and lifted her leg, revealing the unconscious form of a man, bleeding from a broken nose and a gash on his scalp from where the door had slammed into him.
Kara smiled and activated her radio.
"Position secured. Three hostiles terminated and one captured. The Minister is unharmed."
"Well done," Michele said, giving Kara's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"Do you think this will get us out of the 'What Went Wrong' meeting?" Kara asked.
As if reading her mind, Michele's iPhone started to play The Imperial March.
The sky grew a pinkish color as the sun set over the snow-capped ridgeline. They could see it from their small encampment they made for the night. This was the team that was to meet up with Isabella, who had just captured an FRF hideout near a mid-sized lake in the country side. They
were too tired to drive all night to the hideout, so Isabella was, unfortunately, left to her own devices.
"Anyone got any smokes?" A young, thin girl asked. She was fairly tall, had blonde hair that flowed to her shoulders, and contacts that reacted differently in different lights, changing their color, and sometimes glowing. This was Dimah, the marksman and driver of the team.
"Nah, I'm all out." An older man spoke, his voice sounded gruff, but kind. This was Henry, one of two handlers assigned to this mission. He was mainly the handler for Dimah and Cody.
"That sucks." She rolled her eyes, and continued to clean up her DIO KH2002 Sama rifle. "I'm gonna go for a swim, cool off." Dimah slapped her rifle back together, stripped down to her underclothes, and waded into the lake. The water was cold, but it felt nice to her, regardless.
Cody smiled at Dimah, blushing a bit when he saw her strip down and walk down into the water. He was a fairly strong guy, about 6' 2" in height, and was skilled with hand to hand combat.
"Cody, snap out of it man, she's outta your league." Henry said, laughing. "You'll find someone, trust me."
"Yeah, but I miss Jenn." He watched Dimah swim in the lake, which was now shimmering in the moonlight. "It's not fair, really, it. It just sucks." He shrugged, before rotating one of his shoulders, trying to loosen up. He picked up his AK-47 and adjusted his optics.
Meanwhile, in their van, Carolina, who was Isabella's handler, operated a stealth drone as it passed over the hideout that Isabella captured. She usually preferred to go with Isabella, but she knew she could handle herself. It was more of a sense of security that caused Carolina to go with Isabella, but this was no Gen 1, and Carolina was no pushover.
"Hey, sweet thing, you there?" Carolina spoke to Isabella over her com.
"Yeah, what's your status?" Isabella replied, sounding tired.
"We've made camp a ways down the road, should be there by sunrise." Carolina said, smiling at a UAV image of the house.
"Alright, well, I'm gonna try to stay up as long as I can I suppose." Isabella shrugged, before looking at her watch. "I'll see you in a while then."
"Yep. Umm….stay safe, would you?" Carolina said, in a caring, yet teasing sort of way that she usually does.
"No promises." Isabella smiled, before shutting off from the feed.
Carolina took her headset off, stepping out of the van for a stretch, before walking over to the group. She sat down on a little folding camping chair, and looked out at the lake, watching the same thing everyone else was, Dimah.
"I take it we aren't watching her for her swimming abilities?" She raised an eyebrow.
Henry and Cody shook out of their collective stupor. "What? Oh…umm….no, we. Just. Ah hell." Cody sighed as Dimah walked up the beach and back to the group.
"Did I miss some divine revelation or somethin'?" Dimah asked, drying off and putting her shorts and "Metallica" tee-shirt back on.
"No, you just. Nothing." Cody finished aligning and recalibrating his optics, setting the AK-47 between his legs. "Hey Carolina, can you toss me an MRE?"
Carolina nodded and threw him one of the pouches from her backpack. Cody checked the bag.
"Rice? Again? I mean, I ain't complaining, but I just kinda get tired of the same shit all the time." He opened the pouch, removed the contents, and followed the instructions to cook the rations. Meanwhile, he tapped his feet to nothing in particular.
Meanwhile, out in the mountains themselves, two figures moved through the shadows of the night.
In this pair were one man, wearing a thick winter coat under a white snow suit, and one little girl, wearing the same. The girl carried an AK-12 assault rifle on her back and a PM Makarov on her thigh. The man carried a Barrett M107 .50 caliber sniper system and a Steyr M9A1 on his thigh.
They remained silent as they trundled their way up a slope to a cliff face overlooking a road. The man lay down on his stomach and positioned the rifle, and the girl pulled out a spotter scope. "What's our target again?" The little girl said, as she got comfortable where she lay.
"Armored munitions convoy. We do one of two things. Take out any foot mobiles and secure the trucks with the weapons, or we blow everything up. I'd recommend the first option. Not that you have any choice in the matter this time."
"Fun." She looked through her scope. Nothing yet, this is why I hate takedowns like this. You get there hours before, and nothing happens. She took a sip from the tube attached to her CamelPak backpack, which held inside of it a warm substance, which was like a caffeinated hot chocolate that she made up herself for missions like this.
"This is gonna take a while." He kept his eyes down scope, and let out a sigh, his breath coming out as a bone white fog.
"Why'd you get the M9A1? You shoulda gotten an FN or something. I hear those 5.7s can crack armor nicely." She tried to make small talk with her new handler, unsuccessfully.
She put in her earbuds and listened to one of her playlists that she loved to listen to on missions, the Halo 4 remixes soundtrack. Odd as it was, it was something to pass the time. A few hours passed, and the young Ariel finally spotted something on her scope."Two armored personnel carriers and one semi-truck. Is this our target?"
"Affirmative." He racked the charging handle on his sniper rifle, before placing his cheek on the cheek rest, and looking down the scope.
"Target incoming. 12 oh 5. You know what to do bro." She smiled at that. Seconds later, the cracks sounded in rapid succession. She looked down her scope. "Hit 'em in the engine block? Nice."
Moments after that, the APC's scattered, since the truck was now toast. This was a strange tactic, for sure. Steven knew it was a trap. No sane man leaves valuable weapons and ammunition out in the open like that.
"Let's displace." He slung his rifle and slowly crawled back, Ariel following behind.
By Robert Frazer
Tomas had terrible eyesight. Not so much in the physical sense – in fact, he'd maintained a immaculate 20:20 throughout his life, and was quite proud of it – but still, they regularly needed cleaning. Throughout his life he seen the world through a soft and yielding myopic blur – until someone had shoved through the fog to smash him into the ground and pound his face into the gravel. In a way, it was a blessing, for as he scraped the dirt away it also peeled the scales from his eyes. The first stone seemed like a small thing, but it was all the more painful for being a piercing point that could embed itself in the most awkward corner – years ago, when he had been working in a Bruneck café and had overheard a noisy tourist blaring down her cellphone that she was staying in the "German bit of Italy", he had first been made aware of the disparaging dismissal to which he and his home had been consigned.
Today, he was experiencing a similar pain. In times past he had adored the mountains – the tall walls of the Dolomites rising up in sheer, heady ascents, as solid as towers and as prominent as spires. He had visited an archaeological site once and seen rooms traced out in the indentation of their foundations – living amongst these mountains was like the wall-walks of a palace of giants that only vanished into the sky because something of such incredible scale passed beyond the resolution of human vision. What had been recently revealed to him was more prosaic. The sharp-edged ridges of the Southern Limestone Alps were no longer steeples.
They were teeth.
Another report ricocheted off of one valley wall and spun off the other. Grieg winced and instinctively ducked as another report ricocheted off one valley side and spun off the other. He glanced over at Tomas despairingly. Tomas only wormed his way deeper into his corner, feeling the damp of the moss seeping through his trousers.
They were both crouched under root-cracked rocks in a small but dense copse of firs – there was a narrow stream passing through between them, but it was less a gaily babbling brook and more of a vague spattered line of boggy black puddles, as though one of the giants had spilt a few drops when carrying his coffee from the kitchen. It provided cover... in same way as blinkers, Tomas thought bitterly. The echoes of gunfire had been washing over them erratically, buffeting them back to their shelter each time they dared to nudge out like a marmot sniffing the air – as reports caromed and careered off the mountainsides, shots that could have been two hundred or two thousand yards away reverberated a crazy and disorienting course, without reference and as unknowable as the hellish imps of the Agency that snuck out from crowds and burst out through wall-spaces. The shots could be coming from anywhere.
They could be coming from everywhere.
"We're getting our asses handed to us." Grieg grimaced, glancing upwards for a reason that he probably thought was significant in some way.
"So what else is new?" Tomas spat bitterly.
"It shouldn't have been like this, though..." There was a plaintive, wistful tone to Grieg's voice, but to Tomas's ears it was a reedy childish whine. "We... we were prepared. The Agency relies on surprise. No-one expects them until it's too late. We were ready ... we were..." He ground the heels of his palms into his eyes. Tomas wondered when he would start bawling for his pacifier.
The hollow bass boom of what sounded like a shotgun (or a fifty-cal, or a stun grenade, or a backfiring car exhaust, or a snare drum) puffed over their heads.
Tomas looked past Grieg and through the trees; between each trunk he could only see the stone of the mountainside, the jaws closing in.
"No plan survives the first contact," Tomas said, the cliché creating a sense of familiarity and helping to quell his own creeping insecurity that he was hiding behind his flinty mask, "so we make a new plan. The Agency has us pinned, applying pressure in the current direction... so we alter the angle."
"Hooo-how?" Grieg's animal call was initially an impassioned shout before he hastily strangled it into a harsh whisper. "We've committed everything! Anyone who's left is probably gone to ground like... Hell, like us!" He threw his arms up, not caring if bullets scissored through the copse and snickered off his fingers.
"We have." Tomas steepled his fingers. "Others haven't."
Grieg looked confused, and his eyes narrowed as he understood Tomas's implication. Something to hate and resent provided him with some focus. "The Tyrol Bridge-Builders? Your old faction? We told you when you joined us, we won't have any truck with them. They're retrocessors. We are fighting for independence... not replacing Italian oppression with Austrian Empire."
"Look at it this way." Tomas began with weary patience. "Yes, they're mostly a bunch of graduates addled by political philosophy classes, but as it stands they're still warm bodies and needed reinforcements. They've been chomping at the bit to make an action for months – at present we've been able to keep a lid on them but we need to relieve some pressure before they vent on us in a turf war. I know they have the means to inflict some pain. If they help to confound the enemy, all well and good – and if the Agency wastes its ammo on them, too... well, two birds, one stone."
Another report sounded, with a fading echo that elongated into a distant distended groan of pain.
"Make the call." Grieg scowled.
Tomas found his mobile phone in his jacket pocket – the fact that it hadn't bounced out of the unzipped pouch in their pell-mell flight from their last holdout might have been seen as Providential. Trusting that the Social Welfare Agency couldn't quite yet pluck radio waves out of the air (even though they could seemingly teleport, walk on water, and keep their perms intact through multiple gunfights), he reached back into his memory and dialled a number.