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One, Two, Three

1536587850

Edited 1536590483
One She walks through the room, her face grave, intent, eyes flickering about. It's not the actual room. A set of micro-drone infiltration units and at least two agents with body cameras have done visual scans of the site. Approximately 95% of the room surface has been mapped. There are the inevitable odd angles where one can see wireframe, but none of them are critical save possibly the gap under the desk. Sloppy, that. She steps across the room, ignoring the ghost shadows of occupants during various times of photography, trying to ignore the flatness from different light sources, different sun angles during the day. The curtains are thrown open, giving a glorious view to the north of the triangle of Pico Naiguatá. It, too, feels strangely flat, composited from multiple drone and satellite sources. The room itself, she notes, is elegant. It feels like a room of power. The ceiling is high, painted with a false trim to make it look taller. The desk, before the windows, is old, wooden, highly decorated. Spanish colonial, most likely. There are hints of gilt in the decor. Atop the desk, a shadow forest of stacks of papers, telephone, recharging cables, a stone sphere, a pistol lying in the open, almost solid in its immobility (Sig Sauer P226, as the report indicated). She crosses the room with careful grace turning as she does, trying to feel it. A chandelier above. Bookshelves to the left and right, again in heavy wood, embedded into the walls. The titles demonstrate they are all for show. A door to the far left from that desk. It's labeled "WC" when she pulls up the annotations. The double-doors in the center are closed, but she's familiar with the second floor foyer beyond them from floor plans she's already reviewed. Two elaborate chairs in front of the desk. To the right of it, more cushioned chairs with small tables beside them, a place to relax and confer, rather than sit behind --  The desk. It's the locus, the lynchpin, the focus of the room. The furniture and its arrangement is part of that, but even the architecture makes it so. Who sits behind that desk is the master of every conversation, every meeting, as much as if it were a golden throne upon a dais.  To the left of the doors (from the perspective of the occupant of that desk) is a large, dark painting of men in the outfits of Spanish conquistadors -- a  Velázquez, she thinks. On the other side, incongruous, a series of two-sheet movie posters: two from Mexico, one from Venezuela, all films about narcotics traffickers. Of course. "Conclusions," asks a voice, cold, demanding. "A center of opulence. A center of power. Intended to intimidate, to secure rule, to control others." "Yes. Of course. What more?" She considers. "Per the floor plan, only one entrance and exit, through the main doors. That seems sloppy. It doesn't show in the intel, but I would suspect a secret egress from the WC." "What more?" She looks at the focal point of the room, cocks her head. "The desk is old. It appears solid. It would probably provide cover from gunfire coming in through the main doors, especially if reinforced." "What more?" "I have researched the current occupant of the villa. He is a killer, both personally and those whose lives are destroyed by the drug cartel he runs. He is proud of this, considering himself a successor to the European conquerors of this land, and a member of the anti-heroes of narcocinema ." "What more?" Everything else she has in mind is trivial, of little value until connected to something else. "I -- have no other significant conclusions at this time." A long silence, as she continues to move through the room, examining details -- book spines, the lamps, the bronze of a pair of horses on a table against the far wall. She's trying to make the space her own, as she's learned she can do. If she can do that, she can fill the space with her mind, understand it fully. It's ... hard. This is not real, just a holographic display. There are no echoes. No subtle currents of air. The shadows are wrong. If she closes her eyes, the space has no presence. The voice continues after endless seconds. "Points of attack." She considers. "The doors. Blow them open, flash-bangs to disable those within, Lines of fire should be straightforward, unless --" "Yes?" "The desk is a natural defensive point. Even if not additionally reinforced, it would withstand normal automatic weapons fire for a time. There are likely additional weapons in the drawers, as well as contacts for guards, reinforcements. Other furniture could be used for defense, but is likely not substantial enough to do so." "Why not?" "The paranoia of power. He would not create defensive bulwarks that could be turned against him." "So the threat to him is from within." "He has competitors. They might attack. I have not had a briefing on other interior defenses to the building, nor to the compound as a whole. But even without that there is always in such organizations the trouble of disloyalty, of lieutenants deciding they are strong enough to take the throne. Lacking a purpose, a strong ideology, individual greed and pride --" "Insufficient!" The word lashes across her like an almost physical blow. She drops to one knee, bowing her head. "You think too linearly. How to enter the installation. How to approach the building. How to enter. How to make your way to the second floor. How to force the doors. How to overcome the defenses he has prepared. A simplistic series of events in a chain. You are far more intelligent than this." "The scenario --" "Recite the scenario. "Hector Ortiz, narco-trafficker. Owns a mansion and surrounding land at a given address on the outskirts of Caracas. Scenario goal: to --" She pauses. She's only 13. "-- eliminate him." "Why?" "He kills people. He destroys lives. He steals wealth from the poor --" "-- and the rich. And he destabilizes the corrupt governmental order. Why should he be eliminated?" "Drugs, narcotics are an evil unto themselves. They destroy lives. They deviate minds from reality. They are the literal opiate of the masses. They placate the population, preventing them from seeing their oppression." "There may be appropriate applications, on individual or even population bases. They are a tool, and, as such, can be highly dangerous to the user without guidance. Be that as it may. What else do you know of this Ortiz?" "I -- I have researched his personal life -- he is abusive to the people around him, capricious and murderous, killing and crippling and defacing --" "Irrelevant!" She keeps her face to the floor. Her eyes casually scan the image of the massive Persian carpet upon it, though her knee is clearly on concrete. She feels a deep shame in her failure. "I have no answer, beyond what I have said." "You have neglected the Great Mission." "I --" "You sought only externalities, thus you failed to consider our own interests. Mr. Ortiz became aware of the Caracas Cell in December. He knew of my interest in his nation. He let his greed overpower his wisdom, and raided the cell, killing our people, stealing weapons and equipment." "I --" The information had not been in her briefing information, or the research she'd done in addition to that. She knew that the Caracas Cell had gone dark, not the reason. That was not surprising -- it would not do to let such a blow against her father be made public -- but she should have known. "I did not research properly. We must --" She pauses again. "-- strike back." "Correct. Such an affront cannot be allowed." "Nor may his --" She pauses, surprised by her boldness. "-- his other offenses." "Of course. Though -- his sins in this part of the world are nothing unique. Strike such scum down, and others will come to fill his place. Until the world is reformed, that is the sad truth." "Then --" "But assaulting me -- us -- directly, cannot be tolerated. An example must be made." After a moment, she nods my head. "He is evil. He hurts the hurts. He stands in the way of the Great Mission." "Yes. And you will have the opportunity to rectify this situation." She kneels. "How may I serve, Father?" "You shall eliminate him." A thrill, a rush of adrenaline, an excitement, a chance to get Father's favor, a chance to strike directly ... and there's no question that Ortiz deserves elimination. She's seen his files, the men, women, even children he's killed or had killed, or let go with mutilations and disfigurement to serve as a warning -- let alone the poison he's spread across the Americas. And if he's opposed Father, then all the more reason to see him -- -- but -- "Father. I am your servant. But I am not ..." A flush of shame. "I want this done. And I want it done right. But a frontal assault -- I am not ..." She stops. She cannot say the words. I am not strong enough. I am not brave enough. I cannot do this, with any guarantee of victory. "You doubt yourself, Daughter." Is his voice the slightest bit softer in those words? "Yes, Father." "This attack on this compound you envision, you worry it would fall short." "Yes ... Father." Her face burns. She is lower than the dirt in her failure, in her inability. "You have not correctly evaluated the situation." What?  She's missed something. "I have failed you, Father." "No. Not ... yet." "I cannot --" All she can envision is leading troops to the slaughter. I am not ready. But -- "-- how can I serve?" "As I said, you think in a linear fashion. Think ... outside the box." She stands again, casting her gaze about her. She is within the room, the hologram of the room, feeling its elusive, illusory space. A rectangular room -- a box. Doors in and out, but those have been considered. Backtrack the escape from the WC? Break through the floor (an explosive?) or the ceiling? Both imply infiltration. Complex. Difficult. Am I up to -- Her eyes fall on the desk, the leather chair that sits behind it. Where Ortiz sits. She steps to the desk's front, looking at that chair, considering the angles of attack -- No. Is it that simple. The window behind -- She steps around the desk, looks out that window. The drapes are occasionally closed, but ... the view is spectacular. Both to impress others and for his own pleasure, Ortiz would leave the curtains aside when he could.  The jungle, the mountains, the isolated buildings. She calculates angles, distances. Illumination. What would be visible at what perspectives. There . It's within the fenced compound, but -- "The --" She calls up the compound map labels. "-- garage, to the northeast. The rooftop would provide a proper angle and range for a sniper." "Recommendations?" "A small team could infiltrate, assuming a priority for the survival of the assassin. Achieve the proper vantage point, covering for anyone using the garage. A night-time shot -- the window is not properly angled for other locations outside the fence, not with the trees at the north fence. A good shot could eliminate Ortiz." "Yes. A correct analysis." The words trigger a feeling of joy, of pleasure at her success. "My recommendation is Conway. She has the training --" "No. Conway is occupied in Eritrea." "Venizelos, then. He had Navy SEAL experience. Ortiz' pistol, he took it from a SEAL team that tried to take him out in Cúcuta. He would have that additional motivation." "Venizelos could perform the job. He is not the best resource." It's clear he has someone in mind. "Who, then, Father?" "You." * * * The spring night air is hot, humid, oppressive, but she is cold. The Direct Action team (from the Barranquilla Cell -- they cover most operations in northern South America, especially with the destruction of the Caracas Cell) is below her, around her. The building is secure. The caretaker, and the Ortiz soldado assigned there are both dead, their blood staining the concrete of the main vehicle bay. The team could handle any likely attack against their position. But she has to hope such an attack doesn't happen, since it would abort her -- -- mission. She looks through the scope of the Dragunov. She's well within the rangefinder's 1 klick chevron range. Ortiz' office is clearly visible. Poor judgment on his part. It would be difficult to line up a shot from outside is his compound borders. But within it, he is extraordinarily vulnerable. Hubris. Who would dare attack him from within, and without confronting him directly? Nobody without a holy purpose. It would make more sense if the glass on his office window was designed as bullet-resistant. (Nothing is truly bullet-proof, of course.) But, so far as the intel provided, it is not. The light comes on in the room. She forces her pulse, respiration, down to normal. She consider the angles. She thinks of the room, all that she learned. She wonders if Father knew that would become so useful. Of course he did. He knows what I need to know. Hector Ortiz steps to the window. He's not a big man. Wiry. His furrowed, scarred face. Thin mustache. The tattoo on the left of his neck. All visible in the scope. She can see someone else behind him -- a corpulent man in a business suit. The Deputy Minister of SEBIN, one of the country's security agencies. It's not full dark yet -- the Pico Naiguatá from his window is catching the last rays of the sun. It must be a glorious view. Hers is a ... glorious view as well. A useful view. He is clearly visible. Easily in range.  An easy shot. The reticle is lined up. She has distance and windage calculated. She knows the bullet she fires will intersect as required. She's been training on firearms for years. All sizes, from tiny one-shot hold-outs, to gunship chain-guns. Sniper rifles fall into the continuum there, somewhere. She is confident in her ability to hit her target. She's never killed someone. She's perforated targets. She's been on missions where she was armed, where she might have needed to fire. But she's -- The secondary water flow rises to ankle depth, cold with the bitter chill of the deep Pacific, the smell of brine filling the oily, stuffy air of the base. I can hear it rushing in from all the key points, hear the pounding on the bulkhead doors behind me, the screams, Father shouting for me to move more quickly ... I've killed. Just -- not this way. -- she's 13. Almost 14. She wants to do the right thing. She knows what her father expects. And she fully agrees with it. Ortiz is scum. He's a man who destroys lives, by his own order and through the industry he supports. And he attacked Father's base here. That cannot go unanswered. She sees him, standing there before the window, proud and preoccupied with the illusion of power, of invincibility. She knows that a small squeeze of the trigger will -- -- kill a man. Kill a person . She pulls away from the rifle, away from the scope. Her breath comes in short pants.  Killing is evil. To end a life is wrong -- -- except when it is not, comes her father's voice.  The lesson of history: violence, whether regretted or welcomed, is the edge of the knife that drives progress, where guided by righteous motivation. It's unavoidable, from mass warfare to targeted assassination. Rhetoric, the will and the words and the wisdom, are the most reliable long-term tools, but there are times the sword is needed in lieu of the pen. To refuse to take such a step -- It is the dilettante, the casual activist, the one who thinks speeches and letters to the editor and blog posts and tweets will suffice to change the world --  those are the ones who bow to the conventions of the lies of those in power, who wish to forestall violence even as an option to be considered, lest they themselves become a target. One must act with purpose. And without fear. To achieve a righteous end, the most effective means must be employed. Hector Ortiz is an evil man. He hurts others. He orders people's deaths. He produces poison. If I allow him to do it, I am complicit in his actions. She suddenly wonders would Jason would say.  Idiot. He'd never understand. He'd say to call the police, or the army, as if they would come -- or as though they would resolve the problem without engaging in violence themselves. Hell, if that bodyguard of his were here, the man would probably be giving me tips on how to better line up the shot. I've seen his file. Ortiz had his first wife killed, and ordered the deaths of his last three mistresses as well. He had the predecessor of the man he is with right now executed, the body left to be found in in the Fountain Venezuela at Los Caobos Park the next morning -- most of it, at any rate. He had the wife of the Minister of War similarly tortured and killed, a warning to a man with five children to stand down on a plan to raid his operations. And that's not counting the innumerable lesser killing he's committed or ordered in rising to the an uppermost post amongst narcotics traffickers. If there is a person who deserves execution, Ortiz is that person. That is all that is important, all that need be considered, at this locus in space-time. She leans back into the rifle, presses her eye against the scope. Lines everything up properly again. Feels the angles, the space, the volume that encompasses her, the compound, the office, Ortiz. Imagines the arc of the bullet, dragged by air and gravity, pulled by wind, slightly deflected by the materials of the window. She lets out all the air in her lungs. She slowly, carefully, pulls the trigger. * * * The exfiltration goes without a hitch. Father is pleased.  She's pleased as well. Even if that figure in the window continues to show up in her dreams. #Background #Cutscene
[I'm exploring a bit of Alycia backstory here, stuff I've had in my back pocket for a while, and have alluded to at different times, but have never really fully surfaced up until now. Since some of her history may be starting to bubble back up again, I figured I'd get it on (virtual) paper.]
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I'm curious what Alycia will do once she wakes up from one of these nightmares, and realizes that she's in a house with people, rather than a cell. But we'll find out in due course, I'm sure.
Two She walks through the room, her face grave, intent, eyes flickering about. This is different from the last time. There will be no careful timing, no kill shot. The method of death has already been determined -- a hypothetical discussion that suddenly turned out not to be hypothetical. Her father was pleased. No, she's here not for a walk-through of the assassination. She's here to commit it. "This is Amanda McIntyre. American. She is a senior accountant working for the Struan Consortium." She looks at the figure on the monitor, a mosaic of photos sliding on and off the screen. Female. Caucasian. Late 40s/early 50s. Business professional by dress. Red hair, with some streaks of gray/white, untouched. Seriously professional, then, not prone to ego or seeking approval. Backgrounds include conferences, the City in London, Heathrow, Schiphol, undetermined cityscapes. "What is her crime?" Alycia asks. "Misdirected virtue," her father replies. "How can virtue be misdirected?" A thin smile. "When its effect is against the greater order of what is needful." "I -- do not understand." "Her actions threaten the Great Mission." "How so?" A pause. "You question my judgment, daughter?" Her chest feels tight, her jaw clenched. "No, Father. I merely seek to understand, so that I can apply the lesson in my own judgment." The room is dark, and her eyes are on the display, but she can feel his gaze upon her, like a heavy blanket. "You are familiar with her employer." "A corporate network founded in the United Kingdom but with significant holdings in East Asia, including Singapore, China, and Japan." "Correct." Another pause. Will he follow up on his complement. It seems unlikely. "She has become aware of certain financial irregularities in Struan's cash flows. She suspects corporate corruption -- bribery, illicit transactions, trafficking in materials that are restricted by international law. She has uncovered some evidence to this effect." She considers, then nods. "She sounds like she could be a useful ally to the Great Mission." "Explain." "She has a strong moral compass. She is intelligent. She has gleaned conclusions from the evidence before her. She is willing to fight against powerful forces that would crush her if they could." A long silence. "You are correct. Unfortunately, her virtue is, as I said, misdirected." Alycia chew her lower lip for a moment, unwilling to turn around to her father. "Is not virtue of worth in and of itself?" "In an ideal, final-stage culture, perhaps. But McIntyre's virtue, as you put it, is a threat." "I do not understand." Always a safe, if sometimes self-deprecating, answer. "Virtue has two dimensions, Daughter. There is virtue as it reflects on the individual and their path to rising to the highest human potential. And there is virtue as it advances the higher truth, the Great Mission." Alycia closes her eyes, then opens them. "And in this woman's case?" "She has indicated her suspicions to the appropriate oversight organization of the British government." "Is that not what we would want? An aware person, privy to the abuse of power, willing to stand up and strike against the corrupt power structure?" A long silence. At length, her father says, "Yes. Save that the Struan Consortium has been providing covert support to the Great Mission and our efforts -- financially and logistically, as well as funneling technology purchases, lobbying politically in smaller nations, and other efforts as a front to our interests." Alycia correlates data, papers and screens she's seen, pulling together disparate threads of observation and reaching conclusions. "And those are the irregularities she's detected." "Yes. Quite cleverly." "Can she be turned from her course?" "Her superiors have discouraged her efforts, so she has reached out directly to regulatory officers within the British government." A pause. "You realize what this means." "The Great Mission must prevail. But --" "You question this?" "Can she be brought into our cause, Father? If she is so determined to end corruption, abuse by those in power, surely she --" "She has already contacted regulators. If there was a possibility, that would be one thing. But she will meet with representatives of Her Majesty's Government on Friday." "She could recant. Perhaps --" "A recanting at this point could raise further suspicion." She's silent. "What is the rational conclusion, Daughter?" She does not speak. "What is the logical course of action, Daughter?" "A -- discrediting, perhaps. Something that that makes her --" "Why do you resist the logical, rational, straight-forward solution to this threat to the Great Mission?" Alycia does not want to speak, but the silence finally forces her to. "This death seems ... unjust, Father. This woman has not acting wrongly -- in fact, her actions are laudable. To kill someone who has not acted against humanity, as a whole or as individuals -- it feels wrong, Father." She is still facing the screen. A hand comes down on her shoulder. She starts, uncontrollably. Her father is not a person who interacts physically. "The Great Mission is all, Daughter." She can feel his breath on the back of her neck, smell it. "Anything, anyone who stands in its way, is an enemy to humanity, whether or not they realize. Do you question this?" She does. But she cannot.  "No, Father." "Very well. Now, let us discuss your previous idea as to how to deal with the matter." She walks through the flat, taking in the details. Her mouth and nose are covered -- beyond her body suit and gloves -- to minimize DNA contamination. It's not a perfect solution, but minimizes exposure even if legal authorities search for evidence in what will happen -- itself unlikely. The modern neo-fascist British state underfunds law enforcement, so as to enable their own corporatist crimes. That is a worthwhile assumption, but there is little reason to make things easier for any outliers. The front living areas of the flat are clean, simply decorated. The furniture is low-cost from outlets such as IKEA and Wayfair and B&M, but it's properly arranged. Everything is tidy, neatly placed. McIntyre makes good money at Struan, but doesn't spend it on home decor; most apparently goes to retirement investments. Various photos grace frames on the different pieces of furniture and on the wall. There's an older couple in many of them at different ages (87.6% likely her parents), and several images of McIntyre with another woman -- similar physiognomy gives an 68.3% chance of it being a sibling, but a friend/lover is a 23.6% chance. She seems, from the photography, to have a happy life. Alycia goes down the hallway. She already knows the layout of the flat, based on building construction plans and meta-models of apartment layouts of this age in this area of London. The short hallway past the kitchen leads to bathroom to the left, the bedroom to the right. She pauses. Her mission is one direction. But ... She turns right. The room is prosaic. A bed, with a simple head and foot board. A dresser with a mirror over it. A wardrobe. A print of a Degas with ballet dancers hangs over the bed. On the dresser is another photo, again with that other woman with some sort of tropical background, and another, smaller, with her (likely) parents. Alycia slowly moves through it, feeling the space. Her time here is limited, she knows, both circumstantially and in terms of causing an impact. Everything is neat and tidy. Alycia's actually not had much experience being in other people's bedrooms, so what is "normal" (even excluding a global perspective of what a "bedroom" is like) is limited, but there's nothing here that seems out of the ordinary. The bed is made, laundry is all in a hamper (a bra is draped over a chair in the corner, presumably for reuse). A normal person, doing normal things -- doing the correct things.  And for that "sin," she has to die. She stands still. She thinks of possibilities. She thinks of her father's voice. The Great Mission is all. The Great Mission must prevail. Humanity depends on it. Even if one human cannot be allowed to live to see that day. Andrea McIntyre opens her door. Yet another day at the office, enough of a drudgery, but even more stressful knowing what she knows. Hasty would shit his pants if he knew what she intended to do, what she'd be telling the Ministry reps come Friday. Serves you right, you bastard. Break the rules, rely on higher-ups to keep you safe, you deserve to go down. Hard. An ordinary evening. She should give Anna a call -- maybe set up dinner together Friday night. She'll need a good hug and the company, she suspects. A gin and tonic. A microwave dinner in front of the television. Clean everything up, just like Mother used to say. She pops the container of the meal into the rubbish bin, cleans off the fork, rinses out the glass, puts both in the dish rack. "And always wear clean underwear," she says aloud, imitating her mother's voice and accent. "Just in case you're in an accident and people see your knickers." Another hour of television, then it's time for her evening ablutions. Face treatment. Toothpaste and toothbrush, then use the irrigator to knock out anything remaining lodged in the teeth, then use the extra water from that to take the evening pills (mostly for hypertension). She has an appointment in a month down at the clinic to talk about going on statins, to protect against heart attack. She sits in bed for an hour, reading a fascinating history of the Roman Republic, before blowing a couple of kisses at the pictures on the dresser, then turning off the light and going to sleep. When the cardiac arrest comes -- triggered by the chemical Alycia injected into her toothpaste -- Andrea McIntyre is not even aware of it. She dies in her sleep. The chemical breaks down completely over the next three hours. Alycia sits at the table in her hotel room. The bodyguard sent with her is in the adjoining room, a connecting door between them closed but not locked. She looks at the apple in her hand, purchased from the small shop in front of the hotel. This is not right. Tomorrow she and her "father" will board a flight at Heathrow for Ankara. Two other legs and she will rejoin her true father at the New Delhi site.  He will be pleased with how the mission went. This is not right. The death of Andrea McIntyre barely warranted a small article in the news. Senior accountant dies of heart attack. Executives at the Struan Consortium express dismay, regret. CFO Bertram Hasty speaks of McIntyre's dedication to the firm. Survived by father, 76, and sister, 47. Services to be held Tuesday.  This is. Not. Right. Ortiz was a monster. Killing him was a proud duty. There is no pride in this. No honor. Not even duty.  How can one fight for humanity, but be so willing to sacrifice its members when convenient? What sort of utopia can be built on the bodies of the innocent? Alycia has no answers, but knows she needs some. She takes a bit of the apple. and stares out the window at the lights of London, and thinks.
Three She walks through the room, her face grave, intent, eyes flickering about. The man's gaze follows her, his eyes wide. There's sweat on his brow, but his arms around his wife are firm, and he keeps his silence as they sit on the couch in his Montreal home. She stops in front of the two of them, looking down at them. Her face is masked. "Did you hear me?" He nods his head, a sharp jerk of the neck. She nods more slowly. "But I think we should talk first." Alycia is in the dining hall of the Fort McMurray installation. Located northern wilds of Alberta, Canada, it exemplifies her father's penchant for hiding in plain sight. The Alberta locale is in the midst of being a boom town around the Athabasca oil sands, being ruthlessly exploited for their petrochemicals at a ruinous cost to the environment, both in extraction carbon costs, devastation of the boreal forest around the town, and in pollution of the local water sources.  The town itself has grown tremendously, attracting oil field workers from around the world. Companies are offering exorbitant contracts, but the labor pool discovers that much of that is absorbed in horrific costs of living -- substandard trailer housing, inadequate civic utilities and services, price gouging on groceries and other essentials. Just as with the classic example of the California Gold Rush, the people getting rich are not the workers, but the suppliers of goods and services -- and, of course, in this case, the over-arching corporations that exploit the labor and the natural resources, incentivized financially by the Canadian government. She shakes her head. At the very least, it gives her father's organization cover to actually put together a facility in the area -- the additional logistics and building materials, the staff, the security, all fit right in. Hell, the disaffected of the town itself makes for a potential recruiting ground.  "Mistress Chin," says a voice from behind her, in French, though with an appalling Quebecois accent. "Might I join you?" Alycia sighs. "You are the base commander, Third Rank Dupre." "But you are the daughter of our great Master. Of the First Rank, in effect if not in formal Table of Organization." She waves her hand. "As you will." He takes a seat opposite her. He's a large man, tall and muscular. His hair is slicked back, and he sports a thin moustache. His face is a handsome one -- a strong jaw, striking blue eyes. And he is very aware of all of those facts, she muses . He smiles at her. "I trust your tour of our installation has been of value?" "I will report to my father what I have seen." Out of politeness she adds, "I expect the report will be a positive one. You are ahead of schedule in several areas, and I was impressed by the efficiency reports I reviewed. Your suborning of local politicians was also inspired." "Thank you, Mistress Chin. In pursuit of the Great Mission, it is an honor to have one's efforts recognized." Father has her doing any number of things these days, since her last punishment tour away, and since the incident in Puget Sound. Among them is visiting major installations around the globe (in between studies, field missions, and the like). There's often a certain amount of brown-nosing and flattery from the site commanders, but Dupre has been a special case. His record is good, she notes, just from what she's seen beyond what the reports might say. Personnel morale is also high, which to Alycia is one of the most important successes.  Dupre has been unfailingly polite, deferential without being obsequious, helpful without being cloying. There's just -- something -- about the man that bothers her. "I was wondering," he says, casually, taking a bite from his sandwich (the commissary here makes excellent sandwiches, and actually pretty healthy ones as well, from both a personal nutrition and global sustainability standpoint). "If your inspection regime is complete, would you care to share a meal with me." She gestures at their trays. "I think we're doing just that." He smiles at her. His teeth are white and even. "Ah. I was speaking more of a private dinner. I am, if I may brag, a passable chef, and I have a kitchen in my quarters. I would welcome the opportunity to provide you with something ... more filling. And, perhaps, we could speak of something more than just mere business. I am sure you are much more interesting of a person than just an inspector, even beyond being the daughter of our Master." The last thing Alycia wants is to be drawn into a dinner with Dupre. She's young, but he's not the first man who's attempted to manipulate Achilles Chin's child in order to gain influence. On the other hand, her father was quite specific -- she is to demonstrate her ability to engage with individuals on this fact-finding mission. She is to report back in particular on each of the leads at this base. She is to be able to discuss them as individuals, beyond filed reports and records. This is not something she wants to do -- not something she is good at, inclined toward, or happy about. But her father's orders are clear and, at least, they are orders she can follow that do not cause her to doubt, to remember -- "Very well, Third Dupre. Shall we say 1800?" A white smile. "May we make it 2000? I have some late meetings with task group leads on the next phase of operations. A commander's work is never done, I fear." Alycia tries hard to avoid rolling her eyes. "And a later dinner can be more -- relaxed." This is not going to be a pleasant experience. She can already tell. "Very well, 2000 it is. I'll be interested in hearing about those meetings --" And why I was not invited to them. "-- when I arrive." "Of course. Might I suggest --" "Sir!" An adjutant has run to their table. "Mistress!" "What is it, Covington?" Dupre asks, growling. "Mistress, a call from Mission Command. For you." Alycia feels a guilty sense of relief. "Father does not like to be kept waiting," she says to the commander. "If you'll excuse me, I'll see you at 2000. Eigth, take me to a secure room and have the call routed there." "One is prepared, Mistress." She sits in the small room, large enough for a desk against the wall and video-conference equipment mounted above it. The door seals with a shut-off hiss, and the light over it turns green, as the screen pops into life. Alycia looks at the face there, and frowns slightly. "Callado. Where's Father?" The lean, bald-headed man before her meets her gaze with an annoying steadiness. His eyes behind his glasses are cold, but that's nothing unusual. His goatee is neatly trimmed. Alycia is reminded, not for the first time, of a shark: sleek, elegant in design, utterly deadly. "The Master is otherwise engaged, Mistress Alycia." His voice is a gravelly baritone, lightly accented with his presumed South American origin. "I have his orders to be passed to you." She frowns even more. "Only my father gives me orders, Callado." "His encryption codes are on the package. Transmitting now." He keys something offscreen, and a few moments later a digital package pops on the screen. She splits the view, verifies the source identity is, in fact, Achilles Chin. While Father seems to trust Callado as much as any of his senior assistants / henchmen / bodyguards, he would never let his encryption key out to anyone. Not to Callado. Not even to her. The package opens and she goes directly to the précis. It's another assassination. Her guts knot. The roaring sound of water fills her head for a moment. She shakes it off. She can't afford to look week in front of Callado. "You know the contents?" "In summary," Callado nods, his tone casual but curt. "Colin Washington, British research physicist, currently engaged in research at McGill University in Montreal. He is to be killed in his home, through explosives, with third party evidence already prepared to blame a resurgence of radical Quebec separatists." "What is the reason for his death?" Callado's head tilts slightly. The eyes don't change expression. "Your father wills it." She makes an impatient sound. "That's not what I asked." "It is the truest answer, Mistress Alycia." He could be reporting on the temperature outside. "As to why he wills it, I am not privy to his thoughts." "A simple killing --" Her guts lurch again. "-- why not send you?" "I am similarly engaged, Mistress Alycia." He nods his head. "I am certain the package will provide all the additional information you might need. I will inform the Master you've received it."  Before she can object, he terminates the call. I hate that man. She doesn't fear him -- precisely. He's absolutely death on two feet -- her father doesn't hire incompetents as bodyguards -- but he's utterly loyal to his employer, and so is unlikely to harm her without his orders. The down side being, should he ever receive such orders, he would follow them without compunction, and she has low confidence in being able to stop him. She also senses he doesn't particularly like her. Nothing she can put a figure on -- he is unfailingly polite in an utterly professional fashion -- but he seems to ... resent her? Resent her (soft) authority, the attention she gets from her father, the distraction she provides him. He's a fanatic. Utterly devoted to the cause. I'm -- She's not sure what she is any more. The killing of -- her killing of Amanda McIntyre, almost a year ago, triggered something in her. Something she can't quite grasp yet. Something that is causing her to question -- No, not question Father. He's a great man. His Great Mission is of the highest importance. I believe that. I do . I just -- She hears screams in her head. Thumps of flesh on metal doors. Ice-cold water roaring about her ankles. She dreams about that. It was six months ago. Father -- Father wants me to kill again. Can I do this? If the cause is just, surely. And if Father orders it, doesn't that mean the cause is, prima facie , just? Even her own question has no answer. She emerges from the comm chamber half an hour later, her face impassive. Third Dupre just happens to be down the corridor talking with a subordinate. He's turning from the door as she exits. He's been watching for me. She pivots toward him and strides down the hallway.  "Mistress. I trust all is --" "The vault. I need to access to it, immediately." His eyebrows rise. "I -- have no authoriz--" "Do you say I am not authorized, Third?" He pales slightly. "Not at all. This is just -- well, irregular --" I stare at him. "But, of course," he says, catching his mental breath. "You are the inspector here." "You are correct. And what I have just heard is very, very disturbing." Eyes widen. Nostrils flare. He's more frightened than he should be. "I would be happy to --" "Escort me to the vault. Now." I'm a crappy leader of men, but I can bully them around quite well.  Dupre opens the vault. She closes the door behind her, leaving him on the outside. She considers an explanation like "operational security," but decides that a stony glare is more useful, more threatening. I'm not doing this. I am doing this. There has to be another way. The vault is a reinforced sub-bunker, present only in the most "permanent" of installations. The shaft to it is designed to be collapsed should the base be taken. Within are kept high-tech equipment -- in sophistication and rarity beyond what the armory holds -- as well as core computer memory for the base's servers, hardcopy documents (minimal) that must be kept, and physical financial assets: usually cash (always preferable for clandestine transactions), but often including gems and jewelry, bullion, even artwork and drugs. The cash is kept in cabinets along the wall. She opens up each one, eyeing the stacks. She goes back to the electronic and physical registers, examining the amount in the current balance. There's about CAD 750,000 missing. It wouldn't be obvious to someone without her eye for volume and space, short of a full audit, something that doesn't happen often. Her father's organization relies upon both good compensation (of all sorts), personal fanaticism, and terror of what happens to those who betray Achilles Chin. Dupre is well-compensated. But, slick tongue notwithstanding, he's no fanatic, no loyalist to the cause. And, apparently, his fear is too little, or his confidence too great. The disadvantage of a criminal enterprise, I suppose, is that is full of criminals. Of all varieties. It's a corruption that would normally outrage her. Now she welcomes it as a distraction, and a convenient way to remove Dupre from her list of people to worry about. That all said, she also finds it oddly troubling. If the supporters and higher-ups of the Great Mission are so tainted -- how far does the corruption go? Who can be trusted? Is any of it worthy of trust? The Mission, yes. The goal. But how it is pursued -- who pursues it -- Father. This is wrong . It's yet another straw upon the camel's back, as the saying goes. Not breaking -- but coming closer. Trivial, compared to -- She shudders. Grips the edge of the desk she is sitting at. How can I doubt? How can I even be thinking of this?  Alycia plants a small piece of code in the base's system. It will allow her to monitor any financial transfers made; it's imperfect (the physical cash reserves cannot be so tracked), but if Dupre makes a more substantial theft electronically, perhaps in a panic, she will be able to detect it. That done, she secures from a separate cabinet a small pellet of explosive, about the size of a bouillon cube. It's experimental, but will provide the just the correct level of force to destroy the target's house. The Great Mission must prevail. Washington must die. When she exits, she apologizes to Dupre for not being able to meet him for dinner, but that she has a high-priority mission. She is driven to the base's airfield -- a portion of a civil aviation field built to support a number of corporate entities in the area. Some of the small jets there are owned by the companies; others are available on a time-share or private hire basis.  She takes one of these last, ostensibly for security purposes, but which suits her just fine. There's a finite chance that Dupre might have arranged for the company jet the organization time-shares to be destroyed while she was in the vault, if he is concerned about what she might have found there. It's a low chance, but there's no point in providing him the opportunity. Leaning in a seat, drinking iced tea, she calls to mind the images of the files she reviewed in the communications cell. Colin Washington is another innocent. He is involved in experimental research related to iridium metal crystals as a mechanism for containment and even absorption of energies in nuclear fusion reactors. What he doesn't know is that his research, intellectual property rights, the scientific publication of findings, and the clandestine involvement of governments including the UK, US, Canada, and Japan, threatens key technological advances with iridium lenses that Father himself has been developing by proxy in a long-game plan involving orbital lasers -- a plan that would be set back years, maybe decades, and certainly billions of dollars should it need to be replaced. Washington's work is brilliant -- a lynchpin to the research being done. If he dies, the project will almost certainly falter: at best, be delayed by many years, at worst, be abandoned. The result, beyond an innocent man's death, will be losing a mass energy source that could both reverse the need for carbon fuel and fission pile power plants, with possible civilization-saving results, as well as losing a means of providing ultimately cheap power to the entire world, overthrowing a key component of poverty and socio-economic inequality. Hell, beyond that, his work could lead to efficient space drives that could jump-start colonization of the solar system. But because his work threatens a weapons plan of her father's, he has to die. It's McIntyre again. In its own way, it's Puget Base again. She closes her eyes, but that only makes the screams louder.  How can I do this? How can I not? She should take her time in this. She knows that. But the unease it causes, the disquiet, the revulsion, drives her to be done with the affair as quickly as possible. Rather than approaching the Saint-Jérôme cell, she checks in at the Four Seasons Montreal. Her duffel bag contains what she needs for an infiltration. Get in, plant the bomb, leave,  she thinks . No chance for detection in a prolonged stake-out,  she self-justifies . "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well done quickly," she mutters. She knows she's stressed when she finds herself quoting 15th Century English playwrights. Two taxis, a city bus, an hour's walk in the twilight ... she finds herself across the street from Washington's house. Surveillance photos in the packet appear to be accurate, and the recommendation of infiltration via a basement window seems sound. The neighborhood is upper middle class, and quiet at 11pm on a Tuesday evening.  She slips into her night gear; the clothing she leaves behind in a second duffel will not be found, even if it needs to be abandoned. She crosses the street, pauses under some trees, vaults the fence, watches further from the junipers on the edge of the property. Aside from the porch light, there is light on the main floor. Washington is home. The operation should go easily from here. The Great Mission will be protected.  (Screams, as she hears the voices begging for help even over the roaring, even as she leaves them to die, dragged forward under the lash of her father's voice, her feet splashing in the cold water, so cold -- Stop it! Concentrate on the mission or die. That's her father's voice as well, but it was grotesquely true then -- and it's not not wrong now.) She forces her heartbeat down, recites combat mantras to block the screams, focuses on the basement window -- A dash across the lawn, stopping in the shadows by the window. The glass pane is cut in seconds. She slips through, unseen, into the darkness of the basement, lowering herself carefully to what turns out to be the floor.  Once stable, she turns on the night vision goggles in her mask. It's not an unexpected vista. Basements in Western dwellings are either extended living space -- media rooms, billiard areas, etc. -- or, much more often, places for storage. This is the latter, though relatively spare. Washington's permanent residence is still in the UK; he's in the fifth year of a visiting fellowship at McGill. Most of his belongings are no doubt still overseas. But that spareness shows something that might not have been otherwise apparent. A pair of bicycles against one unfinished concrete wall. One he currently uses, and the other was his previous one? But the layout of bottle holders and bags is different, and there are helmets sitting on each of the seats. A girlfriend? She looks further. On a metal rack by the stairwell upward, she finds more boxes. "WEDDING STUFF" is scribbled in marker on the side of one box. "ANGELA 0-1" and "ANGELA AGE 2-3" on another.  The dossier packet didn't mention family. It didn't mention a wife. A child.  No, no, no, no ... She pulls down the wedding box, carefully, quietly. Inside are various trinkets and memorabilia, including a photo album. The pictures show Washington -- a tall, passably handsome, black man -- in a tuxedo, and in various poses with a similarly complected woman in a wedding dress. The Angela boxes have clothes. Toys.  She returns to the bikes. Tucked behind them is a small trailer, designed to be hitched to a bicycle, the main compartment set up to hold a young child. Washington has a wife and child. The bicycles are clean, not dusty. His family isn't in the UK. They're here. If I kill Washington, I kill his wife. I kill his child. (Screams bubble to the surface of her mind.) And why wasn't this information in the dossier? Was I meant to discover it? Is this a test, to see if I am not deterred by -- sentimentality? Weakness? Disloyalty to the Great Mission? Or was the intent that I wouldn't discover this until after the fact? She leans against a wall, slides down to the slab floor. Am I not trusted? Is that mistrust ... warranted? The target remains clear. The rationale is unchanged. The Great Mission calls -- it calls for sacrifice .  If I would be willing to kill one person, why not three? Why not a child? (The water about her feet is so cold. As cold as her guts, as her mind. She has to be just as cold, if she's to survive this moment.) She has to be cold.  She cannot let her emotions color her reason. She knows what is right, what is just, what must be done. No matter how difficult, it must be done. Only if she is cold, as icy as the waters of Puget Sound, can she do what she has to do. The door to the basement opens. The door creaks in doing so, but she's taken no precautions to keep it silent. She doesn't worry about being heard. Her gun -- plastic, undetectable by airfield security -- is up, pointed instantly at the couple sitting on the sofa, staring at her. Slow to react, though her reaction time is so much faster than theirs it makes little difference, even if they'd had weapons in hand.  "I'm here to kill you," she says, loud enough to carry over the television showing a football game. She walks through the room, her face grave, intent, eyes flickering about. The man's gaze follows her, his eyes wide. There's sweat on his brow, but his arms around his wife are firm, and he keeps his silence as they sit on the couch. She stops in front of the two of them, looking down at them, the gun still pointed midway between them. "Did you hear me?" He nods his head, a sharp jerk of the neck. As does the woman. Alycia nods more slowly. "But I think we should talk first." "I am an agent of Achilles Chin," she says, having picked up the remote and muted the television. "He sent me to kill you, Dr. Washington." "I --" He stops. "I know the name," he says, slowly. "Security bulletins. News stories on terrorism. Dr. Chin. Everyone knows -- Why --?" "The work you are doing threatens his interests, his plans." He shakes his head. "I -- didn't know;." "Of course not. Nevertheless, I was sent to kill you. And, when I do so, your wife." I nod to her. "And your daughter." He makes a sound. She speaks for the first time. Her name (per the wedding album) is Jessica. "No," she says. "Please. She's -- she's just a baby." Alycia holds the gun on them. It's not too late. The quantum patterns haven't collapsed yet. Schrodinger's Physicist could still be either alive or dead. She realizes she's fooling herself, an emotional flaw she cannot afford right now. Alycia pulls her mask off. "Yes, she is. An innocent. As are you, Ms Washington. And you, Dr. Washington." She lowers the gun. "So I have an alternative course of action to suggest." They both sag back, once the gun is no longer trained on them. Jessica is crying. Oddly, Alycia feels no contempt for the emotion. She feels like crying herself, but cannot. "What," Colin says, trying and failing to keep his voice steady, "is your alternative suggestion?" "Three phases. First --" She pulls the plastic card out of a pocket, tosses it to them. It's hers, but that won't matter; certainly the name on it has nothing to do with her own. "That card has a one hundred thousand dollar debit account, PIN 052500. As of 1 a.m. tonight, it will have a three million dollar debit account behind it." From the McMurray base financial system. Dupre's "embezzlement" has turned out to be very convenient indeed. "I suggest using it to purchase a vehicle from a location I will give you, and driving far, far away. Lose yourself in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories.  Leave your mobiles here. Contact nobody, neither friends or family. Vanish." He's wide-eyed, but his wife is nodding.  "Second, once you have found someplace obscure and where you needn't provide your identity -- the money will help there -- then Dr. Washington, you need to write down every aspect of your research that is not currently already in the project's data files -- insights, speculations, things you've been holding back, things you're not sure about, hypotheses, all of it. Do you understand?" He nods, slowly, then it transitions into a shake. Alycia snorts. "You are meant to die both because of your talent , and because of your knowledge . The first phase protects the former; this phase protects the latter. Because you are going to then email that file to every member of the project. CC whomever else you like. Get that information into the open, such that the value of your death is significantly reduced. Do you understand?" He nods again, still slowly. "Make it so that killing you doesn't kill your research . Do you understand?" He nods, more vigorously. "Phase 3 -- ignore any news stories. This house is going to be blown up. People will think you are dead. You need to be dead, then get that information out, then stay dead -- for one month, the 23rd of next month. After that, you return to civilization, say that you were --" She thinks rapidly (of course). She's been refining this plan on the fly since she set foot on the stairs up from the basement. "-- pulled away into protective custody by a security agency you cannot name. You need to maintain that to both the press and to any security agency that actually interviews you. If you feel up to it, imply that it's a different one -- MI-5, the CIA, the CSIS, Kōanchōsa-chō -- from whomever is asking the question. They'll be suspicious, but more of each other than of you. Don't mention me or Dr. Chin -- it would both endanger me and, potentially, your family." A beat. "Keep the debit card, as recompense for your inconvenience." They look at each other, then turn back to her. Colin says, "Who are you?" Janice Washington asks, at the same time. "How old are you?" She smirks at them. It's not a professional expression, but she can't help herself. "Nobody whose name you want to know. Fifteen." They stare at her for a long moment. "I don't understand this," Colin finally says. "I've heard of this Chin fellow, know he's some sort of radical science terrorist. But if I was getting in his way -- why not just warn me off? Why would he want to kill me -- let alone my wife and baby? What kind of man is he?!" "You want to know what kind of man he is? He's a man who sends his daughter to assassinate you." Back to the staring. The roaring is in her head. She has to speak, or it will overwhelm her. Terror and sudden anger -- fury, even -- drag her in the same direction. "What kind of person is he? Six months ago, we were together on an underwater base in Puget Sound, off of Seattle and Vancouver. He used both for oceanography research and to track trade and military traffic from both the US and Canada. Used. AEGIS raided the base. While he remotely prepared the minisub for our escape, he had me --"  She stops. She's never talked about this with anyone. Never talked about it with herself. Just pushed away the nightmares, drowned in them. The terror of that moment is with her. But the anger is there, too. Anger for what he he made her -- what she did. She takes a shallow breath, then another. She mustn't hyperventilate. Not now. "He had me -- electronically lock down the bulkhead doors, and flood --" I can say it. I have to say it. I have to face it. "-- Flood the base. Block the attackers path to us. Allow us -- the two of us -- to get away." Colin shakes his head. "What's that --?" "Oh, my God," Jessica interrupts, a hand to her mouth. She looks at her husband, then back at me, eyes wide. "How many ...?" "The base was crewed by thirty loyal followers to my father and his Great Mission. None survived." The screams are loud in her head. The thumping, desperate beating of fists against the bulkhead doors. The shrill shouted orders of her father echo in her ears. She can still see her hand on the large, red button, the cover flipped up, feel the hard plastic as its mechanism sinks into the console. Killing all of them. Not personally, with a rifle, or a hypo, or even an explosive pellet. But killing them all the same.   It all seems unreal -- except for the screams. " That's the sort of man my father is. A man who would do something like that. Who would -- have -- me do it." Colin is finally getting it. The fear in his eyes, looking at her, has doubled. Jessica's eyes, though -- "I'm sorry," she whispers. "Don't be sorry," She says, her voice rough but cold. "Start moving. Now . Take no more than you can pack in a suitcase. Include what research data you have downloaded, that you'll need for Phase 2. Nothing more." "But --" he says. "We have all our --" "You are going to lose many things tonight, Dr. Washington. Things. Your lives will not be among those losses. If you start moving now. You need to be out of the house in --" She glances at her chronograph. "-- twenty minutes." They start moving. As does she. At 12:02 am, the Washington family departs in a minivan Alycia has stolen from a driveway a block away. They will abandon it in the driveway of a house on the northern outskirts of the city, where they will then walk three blocks to a garage which will sell them a car (at an exorbitant price, but with no questions asked).  At 12:47 am, the Washington family house is destroyed in an explosion.  At 3:09 am, an anonymous call to a Montreal radio station claims credit for the death of the "Imperialist British Scientist who sought to build closer ties to the Anglophone hegemonists." In French, of course. Canadian government officials will denounce the terrorist act, promising to redouble security efforts. Perhaps because of that, there will be no recurrence of the violence. Seven days later, an email from the presumed-dead Colin Washington arrives in the Inboxes of several McGill University researchers, as well as the (clandestine) emails of multiple intelligence agencies.  A day after that, Alycia's report is submitted to her father, suggesting that Third Dupre of the Fort McMurray station has been embezzling funds, with suggestive evidence that he was also involved with Washington and had him spirited away before the destruction of the house. A review of the physical evidence shows a bit over CAD 750K missing from vault funds. A review of electronic transfers shows CAD 3 million being transferred to an untraceable account. Alycia spends the two weeks in Alberta, cleaning things up after Dupre's execution.  She waits for her role in this to be revealed, for her father to discover her betrayal. He is apparently otherwise occupied -- aside from the termination order on Dupre (on which she is copied, not, mercifully, tasked with), she hears nothing back from him, or from Callado. Three weeks after her actions in Ottawa, she is in a hotel room in Boston, USA. She watches television reports pf the death of Byron Quill, Rusty Byrne, Hector Callado, and her father, Achilles Chin, in Washington, DC. One week after that, the reappearance of Dr. Colin Washington is a three-day wonder. His career will doubtless be damaged by this, she considers, but he, his wife, and daughter are safe. And the daughter should be able to get quite a nice college education. It doesn't balance the scales, not even close. But it shows that she can choose her own path. She knows she needs to find out what actually happened to her father -- and that reactionary asshole Quill -- and she knows that she's going to have to figure out how to run her father's empire in the meantime, if only to use its resources in confirming whether he is alive or dead. But she knows she doesn't have to kill any more. That no more orders of that sort will come -- and, if they do, that she need not obey them.  It's not enough. But perhaps a step toward being enough so that those those faces, those screams, will start to fade. -fin-