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[Fiction] Villany - Chastity


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Part I - License Renewed

"Gather 'round while I sing you of Wernher Von Braun, a man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience; call him a Nazi, he won't even frown: 'Nazi, schmatzi' says Wernher Von Braun..."

Naples, Italy. July 4th, 2017 - 1:13 pm

The brilliant sunlight pooled beneath the café tables and stroked the lazily stirring blue water below, the babbling activity of the tourists momentarily stilled by the heavy afternoon heat. Swimsuits and light t-shirts were the order of the day, and the tall, lithe woman perched with her feet up on one edge of the café's patio and the table umbrella adjusted to shade her drew the occasional stare from patrons who overcame their urgent self-absorption long enough to notice that even in the heat and humidity she wore long leather boots, fitted pants and blouse of synthetic fabric that glittered slightly in the bright light, a heavy duster left unbuttoned, wrist-length black leather gloves and a wide-brimmed black fedora. The effect, combined with her short-cropped dark hair, was to cover nearly every surface of her pale skin but her face and throat in heavy black cloth. The wait staff, for their part, knew better to inquire. La signora nera was a regular patron and a heavy tipper besides, and if her taste in clothing made them sweat just looking at it they were hardly going to be so rude as to comment. One of the girls replaced the woman's iced coffee silently and withdrew, and ruby red lips that were the only color in a pale face curved in a faint smile as the woman reached into an inner pocket and extracted a thin cigarette from a lightly engraved case. A heavy steel lighter appeared in her hand as if by magic, and she lit the cigarette carefully before making the lighter vanish with the same deft speed. There were times, she thought as she drew a long drag from the cigarette and blew the smoke out over the deep blue of the water, that life wasn't such a raw deal after all.

The phone in her hip pocket vibrated silently, and she brushed her fingertips over the edge of her coffee glass with a soft sigh before reaching for it. She let it ring two more times while she finished the drag on her cigarette, then snapped the phone open and brought it to her ear. "Hello, darling. I was rather enjoying my vacation; are you sure I need to hurry back so soon?"

"Very funny." The computer-distorted voice in her ear was so soft that it would have been inaudible the normal human ear; for her own enhanced hearing, of course, it was entirely loud enough. "You know why we haven't had much of your kind of work lately, trooper, so you can stow that lip."

"Of course, dear. Are you sure Father's all right with me going back to the grind? Our last outing was so... complicated."

"The investigative panel cleared your actions with Chimera as necessary and reasonable; your Alpha status is cleared and your credentials renewed. Besides, we've got a job that requires your talents: we spotted Rousseau in Berlin three hours ago having a quick chat with a couple very, very bad boys. Stand by for download."

Behind her mirrored sunglasses, the woman closed her eyes and heaved a silent sigh as the micro-drive in her phone spun up and began recording the data transfer. Truth be told, she would just as soon have continued sipping coffee on the patio in the sun and ignoring her work for another few weeks. Shooting one's coworkers is such a... permanent solution to interpersonal problems, after all. The drive spun to a stop and she sighed again, audibly this time. "I've got it. I'll just have a little chat with Sophia's friends, then?"

"Terminal sanction for the entire cell, though the Director would prefer it if you could get a few questions answered in the process. The usual clean-up procedures, of course. Any questions?" She thought she could detect just the hint of familiar impatience in that distorted voice, and she flicked ash from the tip of her cigarette before she took another drag.

"Not to worry, Victor, I'll get it taken care of and be home for supper. When have I ever missed a deadline?"

Grudging acknowledgment came through the phone as though he were grinding it out through splintered glass. "Never. Good hunting, Chastity. Central out."

"Love you too, dear." She killed the connection with a touch and glanced down at the first encrypted file on the phone screen, letting the cigarette dangle from her lips while she scrolled through the profile. A minute or so later, she dropped the finished butt to the floor and drained her coffee in a long swallow, dropping a twenty euro bill on the table and strolling back into the café; she gave the owner a friendly nod, stepped down into the stairwell that led to the beach and vanished into thin air between one breath and the next.

Paris, France. July 4th, 2017 - 1:35 pm

"Jesus, what a morning." Léon Bellamont, "Cracker" to his friends, dropped onto his bed and reached over his head to rest a fingertip against his computer case, bringing up his favorite Opnet vidsite while the knots in his spine finally started to unwind. Sure, he'd done a couple of hackjobs for Jackson before, and he'd seen some shit on the inside of mainframe Utopia systems that would make the newsies sit up and take notice, but before this morning he hadn't really believed it. Hadn't been able to make himself believe it until that woman had sat there with those piercing eyes and no nonsense voice and explained that it was really happening. That Utopia really had been sterilizing novas left and right, killing them by the dozens, locking them up in secret facilities for years. A rush of anger shook him, setting the computer humming with excess charge before he got himself under control. It was monstrous, god dammit, and they were going to see an end to it if he had to crawl inside every Utopian mainframe and rip it apart from the inside with his bare fingers.

"Lovely place." He would probably have called the woman's voice sexy if it hadn't come from thin air which he knew was empty, had to be; his apartment had the best security money could buy or a computer genius could build, and someone couldn't just... the thought trailed off into silence as he froze, half-upright, the barrel of a silenced pistol resting against his forehead as his own terrified reflection stared back at him in miniature from mirrored sunglasses. The woman behind them smiled, a sultry twitch of the lips that would have done Ingrid Bergman proud, and the cool pressure of the gun against his forehead pressed him slowly back down onto the bed. "Would have a nice view of the Seine if you hadn't blacked the windows. Now, Mr. Bellamont, we need to have a little talk." He felt a tight, searing pressure in his head, and with a reflexive effort he slammed the door on the mental intrusion with a hard wall of encryption. The pistol clicked softly, the sound of a round snapping in the chamber, and her fading smile had all the warmth of a shark's now. "Well, then, we'll do this the hard way. You've been a very bad boy and you've been talking to all the wrong sorts of people. If you tell me where they might be, you could walk out of this room alive." He mustered a hard look of defiance, thinking of Jackson and Sarah's outraged faces this morning, and her smile widened fractionally. "Well, in that case..." Her hand moved too fast to follow, the sharp cough of the gun in his ears, and agony exploded from his left knee, worse than anything he'd ever imagined; his head jerked up, body folding in on the pain as a scream tore at his throat, and the barrel was hard against his forehead again before he was even five inches off the bed. "I stand corrected. You won't be walking out of here after all. Crawling, perhaps. I understand they do wonderful repair work on knees these days."

"You can go.. fuck... yourself." He gritted it out through his teeth, blinking back tears. It was just like the movies, just had to keep your head about you and...

The thought exploded as the pistol smashed across his face, splitting the flesh of his cheek to the bone, rattling his teeth against each other and setting his ears ringing. He started to double up again, coughing blood, and again the cold metal ring against his forehead froze him in place. Her lips had peeled back in a slow smile, and in spite of himself he whimpered softly; the blood-spattered kid looking back at him from her glasses scarcely looked human anymore. Her voice was very soft now, almost gentle. "You still have your other knee, Mr. Bellamont, and then I can begin on your hands. Then perhaps two in the gut; do you know how long a man can live with bullets in his intestines? It's really quite impressive. All I need is the location of one of your friends, Mr. Bellamont, and you wake up in the hospital to find this was all a horrible dream..."

He was going to tell her, eventually. If she kept going, he'd tell everything he knew just to make the pain stop. He knew it, with a sudden terrible certainty, and something hard and cold in his chest tightened on the knowledge. Jackson. Sarah. Everyone. He felt the next blow coming, the slightest shift in pressure on his forehead, and when she moved his hand snapped out to touch the computer with a wild desperate pulse of quantum effort. She's coming for you, all of you, run, god damn it run like hell and don't stop tell Sophia I'm sorry and Sarah I always wanted to tell you I should have asked you to... the thought exploded into bloody mist as Chastity put three bullets through his head and into the computer beyond, shattering the case in an explosion of sparks.

She prodded him with a boot toe for a moment, lips taut with disgust, then put two more bullets through his spine and into his heart. You could never be too sure, with a nova. She knelt to examine the computer, clicked her tongue again in irritation as she saw she'd blown the hard drive apart as thoroughly as the target's brainpan. Basics, basics, basics. You forget the basics, you deserve what happens to you. Now she'd have to do the others the hard way, assume he'd gotten a warning off in that fraction of a second contact. Well, Chas, if the game was easy then anyone could play. A quick adjustment of sparking wiring and a slightly opened gas valve later, she nodded in satisfaction and slid the pistol back into its holster. Nothing like fire to give you a clean sweep, after all. She flickered into nothingness, and two minutes later a spark caught the leaking gas and sent a blast of flaming wreckage blossoming out over the Seine.

Part II - Wet Work

"...Don't say that he's hypocritical; say rather that he's apolitical. 'Once ze rockets go up, who cares where zey come down? That's not my department' says Wernher Von Braun."

London, England. July 4th, 2017 - 2:17 pm

The solid clank of her keys on the table just inside her flat's door welcomed Songbird home to cheerfully mundane privacy, with a light seasoning of hippie kitsch. With what she made on her endorsement deal from British Airlines, she probably could have afforded a bigger place; fact was, though, she'd gotten attached to it. It had the same leaky faucets and finicky AC it'd had when she was just plain Sarah Jacobs pulling double shifts down at the bank, and even if everyone from her mum to the tabloids looked at her like some glamorous stranger, at least her apartment still looked like it belonged to her and not a pin-up girl and the big floor-to-ceiling windows she'd rented the place for still gave their gorgeous view of bustlingly urban London. That plus a quick fish and chips from the Hot Buck down on the corner, where she could still get a bite without making a production of it, was almost enough to make her feel human again after four hours in the air. Truth be told, she probably would have just booked a plane ticket if she could have found any plausible excuse to be in Berlin. A year working with Jackson and Sophia had drilled enough disciplined paranoia into her to squash that thought after more than a moment's consideration, though.

Strictly speaking, of course, she shouldn't have been there at all. Putting more of the cell in one place at one time than necessary was a big operational risk, but she'd wanted to be there to see Léon come all the way in. And maybe 'cause you were hoping to get a little private air time afterward with him, girl? She brushed the thought away with a certain heat in her cheeks. Sophia would have called it unprofessional, and Jackson would probably have tanned her hide for the whole idea, but she'd liked Léon from the moment she'd met him. Tech-geek chic, I guess. Always was a sucker for the nerds. Oh, well; maybe one night our eyes will meet over the sabotage blueprints and... She caught the 'messages waiting' light on her op-phone and reached over to hit the play button, then shrugged out of her leather jacket and strolled back toward the bathroom as her mother's voice came over the speaker. "Honey, just a little favor. I've got a friend coming over for dinner, and could you just stop in for a minute or two? It's always so nice when you're home..."

The wrongness was so subtle, she almost didn't notice it. If Jackson hadn't drilled her on tells and observing her surroundings for months when she first joined the cell, she wouldn't have caught it; as it was, she froze halfway to the bathroom door with her brain scrambling back over what had set her reflexes jangling. The door marker was in place... mail was where I left it... kitchen was... I didn't leave the kitchen door open, why is it... Pure reflex lifted her almost to the ceiling, meaning to double back, and then the wall below her exploded in fragments of plaster as gunfire ripped across the narrow hallway at what had been waist-level a moment before. A diving twist dropped her to the floor halfway into her front room, rolling with the impact, and she caught a glimpse of the black-clad woman in her kitchen already spinning to bring the pistol in her right hand to bear; Jackson's carefully drilled training brought Sarah's left hand up, and the pistol exploded in a haze of shattering metal as one of her electric blue quantum blasts tore through it and crumpled her refrigerator into a broken mass of frozen food, packaging and metal, slamming the intruder against the weakened wall of the kitchen with the backblast and tumbling her black fedora across one of the counters

Assassin. Sarah barely had time for the thought, because the woman in black's shattered hand was already mending and a desperate jackrabbit push with her legs was the only thing that got Sarah out of the way before a hail of bullets snapped into the floor from the machine pistol that had appeared as if by magic in her enemy's uninjured hand. In the back of her mind, she could hear Léon's panicked voice coming from her phone but there was no time to listen, no time for anything. She snapped off another blaze of quantum energy, trying to keep the woman's head down, but a twisting blur of black rolled out from under the blast with a gun in each hand and a glimpse at the icily empty precision of the other woman's movements told Sarah which of them would shoot straighter.Can't run, can't dodge, can't shoot... Her eyes snapped onto the window behind her attacker, and with a sudden desperate surge of quantum energy she exploded forward off the floor and smashed into the other woman bodily, the window shattering around them and fragments of glass biting at her flesh as she kicked off the assassin's chest and clawed for altitude, staring at the woman plunging toward the street with a horrified fascination. Oh god she's going to die, she was trying to kill me but she's going to die and I've never killed anyone before and Jesus, what do I... The thought cut off in blank shock as the woman dropped within a dozen feet of the street and simply vanished as though someone had flipped a switch. For a long moment Sarah just stared at the empty space where the woman had been, still coasting upward on the drift of her quantum energy as her reflexes smashed against the hard brick wall of confusion and her brain struggled to catch up with the last minute; the handful of people on the street below were still reacting to the glass dropping toward them, baseline reaction times barely adequate to realize something was happening much less identify it. Teleporter. She's a teleporter!

The burst of understanding was a fraction of a second too late, and something bit into the flesh of her lower back with a low hiss. She twisted, reaching for the dart, and then her world exploded in pain as the eclipsodal-loaded soma hit her bloodstream and her MR node went into involuntary seizure, hurling her skyward in a wild shaking spiral punctuated by brilliant bursts of blue energy that broke three hundred feet in a heartbeat. It was like having her head ripped apart from the inside, like erupting a thousand times over in a heartbeat, and for an eternal moment Sarah was aware only of her own helpless, impossibly loud scream of agony and the fiery agony of quantum fire burning away from her skin. And then she was free, gasping for air, and she awakened from pain into an even more primal terror that cut through the fuzzy high that lingered behind the pain: she hung almost a thousand feet up, London spread out beneath her like a vast rust and steel canvas, and she could feel the last of her momentum fading toward freefall. Raw panic clawed at her through a growing mental fog as she reached the top of her arc, straining for the easy grace of flight, and the ringing exhaustion in her skin was the only answer as she began the long, long drop to earth. She was aware, in the midst of the drug-hazed terror that accompanied her fall, of a sultry female voice that filled her head like the whisper of death. Assuming, of course, that death had a particularly dark sense of humor.I'll just help myself to these memories, Ms. Jacobs. You won't be needing them, will you?

Bending to retrieve her fedora from the kitchen floor, Chastity heard the distinctive wet crunch of a body smashing into pavement at terminal velocity and clicked her teeth against her tongue softly. The soma had made breeching Jacobs' mind easy enough, but she'd only had a few moments of contact to riff through the available memories for what she needed. It would, she decided after a moment, have to do. Pity about the girl, of course, but keeping the world running was a messy business and letting some chit playing crusader set the match to the whole powder keg wasn't something the Director was about to allow. A wave of her hand brought a small safe house in upper London into space-time conjunction with the kitchen, and Chastity hauled the soma-drugged young gangbanger she'd prepared half an hour ago out of his cot, through the closing warp-portal, and put a remaining bullet from the silenced machine-pistol through the side of his skull before his drug-addled brain quite realized where he was. It was the work of a moment to strip the silencer off the pistol, wipe it down and print it on his fingers, and she took two more swift heartbeats to check the half-used soma stash she'd placed under the bed. Everything in order for one more fame-drunk nova done in by sex, drugs and poor power control. Now, to see about this Jackson Pernelli. She could hear the sirens building in intensity as emergency personnel closed in on the scene, and three quick strides to the front room let her grab the op-phone off its charger before she twisted space around her again and was gone.

Part III - Loose Ends

"...You too may be a big hero, once you've learned to count backward to zero; 'In German and English I know how to count down, and I'm learning Chinese', says Wernher Von Braun."

Munich, Germany. July 4th, 2017 - 6:43 pm

Chastity flickered out of the air and dropped to the roof below her with catlike silence, her eyes already focused on her minicomputer strapped to her left wrist. Almost dead on; one of the cellphone chips tech had isolated as having been copied on the message residing in Sarah Jacob's inbox was barely twenty meters below her, pacing restlessly around the half-empty warehouse on which she'd landed. There are times when there's nothing quite like being able to call on the resources of Project Utopia, reduced as they are. Pity they don't know how much we all appreciate the help. Of course, if they knew the kind of help we're giving them, they'd probably wretch all over their perfect uniforms. Chastity allowed herself a moment of icy satisfaction. Got all your friends together to discuss the mess I've been making, didn't you, Jack? Basics, man, basics. Prey should always go to ground when the owl's out... She crouched beside the skylight for a moment, scanning the room, then flickered down onto one of the gantries overlooking the floor, tucking herself against one of the freight boxes. Now, let's see who's come to the party....

"I still don't see why we're sitting around waiting for Jack. We know Utopia killed Sarah; we sure as hell know she didn't die of a 'soma-induced flight incident'." The redhead looked barely old enough to drive, but her voice was hard with congealed fury. "Are we just going to take this? We ought to be...."

"Doin' what, exactly? Blowin' up the nearest MR facility and makin' ourselves look like terrorists 'cause we're too busy thinkin' with our dicks to remember what we're fightin' for in the first place?" The voice was like great slabs of brass grinding over one another, and the massive creature from which it emerged might easily have been mistake for a mass of valuable scrap metal if it hadn't chosen that moment to give a distinctly masculine shrug. "Jack'll get the drop, then we'll know what we know. Start thinkin' things through. Ya gotta take your time with this, 'Taine. Justice ain't always swift. One thing, though." His voice dropped to an almost subsonic rumble. "This time, it's gonna be damn sure."

"Always the voice of reason, Gunther. Thanks. I appreciate it." Chastity flattened herself sharply against the box; she had some of the keenest senses of any Proteus operative on record, but she still hadn't seen Jackson "Speedfreak" Pernelli arrive. The man literally seemed to appear out of nowhere, only the slamming bang of the warehouse door a few seconds behind him indicating his point of entry. "Beltaine, thanks for coming. Sorry to make you wait; I had to stop off in Warsaw to check the dropbox. The news isn't good. What happened to Léon is being passed off as a loony hacker overwiring his apartment, and Sarah..." His voice cut off on a sharp intake of breath, but he forced past it with a visible effort. "Well, the bastards covered their tracks like usual. No evidence."

"So what now?" Some of the fury had leached out of the redhead's voice, replaced by frustration, and Chastity could hear heels clicking on the hard concrete flooring below. She drew the silenced Walther from her hip and checked it, carefully "Are we going to sit here and wait for them to come after us, too?"

"Like Gunther said, we're going to take some time and think. Plan. We want to make sure we aren't just striking blindly when..."

The wrenching crack of the gantry giving way as Chastity was dragged bodily through it drowned out whatever else Jackson might have been above to say, and she had just enough time to twist in mid-air and catch a glimpse of the snarl on the redhead's face before the concrete floor smashed up into her with shattering force. Long practice at hard falls saved her from a broken neck or shattered skull, but Chastity felt the long bones in her legs snap and splinter and the daggers of pain from cracked ribs encircle her chest. Reflex sent her hand snapping out for the pistol, but surprised as he was Jackson Pernelli was still fast enough to beat her to it; his foot slapped into the weapon, kicking it across the room, and a sudden searing pain in her veins froze Chastity in place.

"Can't say I was expecting them to be bold enough to send someone after this." Jackson half-knelt to snap the glasses off of Chastity's face, and the slitted red eyes that stared back at him gave him visible pause before he continued. "My friend behind you has the quantum knack of controlling and sensing blood. In this case, the blood in your veins, which is how she managed to drag you down here in the first place. She won't be letting you move any time soon, and we're looking for some answers. I think you might want to consider giving us some."

"Or?" Chastity gave him a hard smile, silently counting off in her head. "You work for Sophia, and I don't recall her being terribly fond of torture."

"No." Jackson stared back at her, jaw working. "She isn't. Neither am I. But I can be back here with enough mox to put Pax on his back in under two minutes, and then we'll see about finding one of us to read your mind. Which won't be the least bit of fun for you, I assure you. After which I'm going to take more pleasure than I probably should in seeing to it you never hurt anyone again."

"I will... tell you... just one thing." Chastity let the triumph linger on his face for one moment more, her eyes narrowing with satisfaction. "You really shouldn't stand there talking to a regenerator like that."

The room exploded in panicked motion as she vanished, snapped back into being a dozen feet behind Beltaine with her Beretta already in her hand and rising, and the younger nova wasn't nearly fast enough to get her shield of blood up before two bullets spattered the contents of her skull across the boxes behind her. Jackson charged her, faster than lightning, but Chastity flickered out and snapped into place just on his left, lining up the shot she'd only get the narrowest window for, and then a fist like the grate of a semi-truck smashed into her and sent her tumbling across the floor spitting blood again. Gunther rounded on her, eyes almost invisible beneath the twisted metal of his carapace, but there was murder in them and Chastity had perhaps a fraction of a second before those massive hands closed on her and reduced her to a particularly genetically advanced set of paste.

It was more than enough.

The .454 Casull cartridge had been a brute before Proteus's hardware techs had mated it with the newest Helgarde Arms armor-piercing bullets. Modifying a Ruger Super Redhawk to take the resulting technological aberration without exploding into fragments on firing had taken months of careful engineering. All of that effort culminated in a single quick draw and the pull of a trigger, and the precise application of a single hypercore round to the center of Gunther Vistrie's metal forehead drove fragments of superheated metal directly through his node and cerebral cortex. All in the half a heartbeat it took Pernelli to twist around and recross the room to kick the gun out of her hand with brutal force.

Chastity spun with the pain, legs snapping up and around, and the man the Op-broadcasts called Speedfreak found himself locked against a woman whose reflexes, if not her footspeed, were entirely equal to his own. She broke his legs first, two savage twists of her hips that stressed his knee joints far beyond even their enhanced tensile strength, then both his arms at the wrist and shoulder while he struggled to block her blows. Jackson was fast, the fastest man Sophia had ever trained, but the red-eyed demon inches from him had been killing novas for over a decade and experience was everything. She broke his nose, next, and three of his fingers for what his punch-drunk mind suspected was just the fun of it, then brought her knee up into his chest with enough force to drive all the breath out of him. She rolled off his crumpled, broken body and jammed a syringe into his throat, the icy tingle of high-dosage mox and sedatives rolling strait up the carotid and into his brain. The last thing he saw, before darkness claimed him, was her smirk as she wiped the blood from her mouth. "Fucking amateurs. How many of you do I have to kill before Sophia gets the hint?"

And then there was nothing but darkness.

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