Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Cally's War: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Sunday, July 18, 2004 01:17 EDT



    Back at her apartment, she carefully put the dull orange and somewhat battered seashell that Annie had proudly “found” for her on her bedside table next to a small potted cactus and went to shower off all the sticky salt and sand.  She’d need another once she decided who she needed to be on vacation, but she’d worry about that after she was clean.

    As she dropped the red bikini onto the bath mat she could hear the thunder and the first drops of rain beating against the small bathroom window.

    A few minutes later, hair in a towel, wrapped in a big fluffy blue bathrobe, she emerged from the bathroom and thumbed open the bottom drawer of her dresser, this time pulling it all the way open and reaching in the back for a battered black shoe box.  In here were her five specials, identities even the Bane Sidhe knew nothing about.  At least, not as far as she knew.  As Granpa had beaten into her head back during the Postie War, always have a go to hell plan.  Hrms.  These two are out, they need updating.  I’d never pass for my thirties at close range without more cosmetic work than I can do.  Okay.  This one.  Marilyn Grant from Toledo Urb.  Good thing I picked her the night before.  I’m gonna need a perm, and color that won’t wash out the next time I shower.  Oop.  Hobbies include acoustic guitar, nineteen sixties folk music.  There go the nails.

    A few hours later she stood in the three-way mirror, wrinkling her nose slightly at the chemical smell that now pervaded her bedroom, and checked the changes.  Warm brown eyes stared back at her, courtesy of good old-fashioned zero-prescription extended-wear contacts.  Not-quite chestnut curls stopped around her shoulders.  She hadn't had to take off much, with the curls to shrink the length up some.  Her skin tone was not exactly tanned, just more medium than fair.  Short nails on her left hand and slightly longer ones on the right were painted one of the rose shades more flattering to brunettes.  The toenails were a different shade of rose.  Both had small mistakes around the cuticles, both would be allowed to chip and be inexpertly repaired over the next few days.

    She pulled out the picture ID's and looked at the face, comparing it to the mirror.  Yep, I did this one with cheek pads. What a pain in the ass. At least you can actually wash a new perm now. Three cheers for modern cosmetics. But the stuff for major hair work still stinks.  She looked at the rain battering away at her windows and shook her head, opening the door to the rest of the apartment and flipping on the ceiling fan.  That and the bathroom fan venting to outside would help, some.  Anyway, she'd slept in worse stinks often enough.

    She looked over at the clock. Barely nine.  What the hell, maybe there's an alternative. She wrinkled her nose and looked in the closet.  Touristy, touristy.... Blue Hawaiian shirt, white Capri’s, white sandals, cheap tourist seashell jewelry. Perfect.



There was a really good seafood place a few blocks off Market--so good she had to consciously avoid going too often as too many people and setting a bad pattern.  Not likely to have any cadets on a week night--definitely a bad week for cadets.  Perfect place for tourists.

    She pulled up Toledo Urb's local news for the past few weeks on her PDA and set it for audio while she dressed.  As always, she'd avoid natives, but she was covered for anyone else.

    When she got to the Bristol she went ahead and ordered a tropical shrimp salad and an extra large mango margarita at the bar, then sat nursing her drink and listening to a karaoke lounge lizard massacre Jimmy Buffet with one ear while eavesdropping on her fellow patrons with the other.

    “ I told Tom that if he couldn't get me some qualified help no way are we gonna make that October deadline....”

    “...sometimes I think maybe she's the one, but then I wonder....”

    “...believe the prices here?  Nothing costs this much in the Urb....  Yeah, I know, but how much more can it be, I mean, the ocean's right here....”

    “...finally final, and I know I'm supposed to feel better and free and everything, but all I feel is like a chump for never wondering why she never bitched when it was time for my boat to go out....”

    Bingo.  She studied the guy talking to the bartender under her lashes.  Fortyish, balding--but he cut it short and wore it with dignity--no comb-over or bad rug.  A simple glitch ointment could have fixed it, but the fisherman apparently either couldn't afford it or wasn't that vain.  Not fat.  Well, a slight paunch, but without rejuv that was damned hard to fight.  She looked at the shoulders and biceps from a lifetime of manual labor, and the weather-roughened skin, and decided she'd seen worse.  She picked up her drink and moved over to the empty seat beside him, asking the bartender for a water and a slice of key lime pie.

    “God that looks sweet,” the fisherman looked at her margarita and shuddered slightly, “and you're having pie with it?”

    “Yeah, I've got a bit of a sweet tooth,” she grinned at him.

    “Well, if you'll excuse me saying so, it doesn't show.”  He glanced briefly at her body but politely looked back away.

    She grimaced as the guy with a guitar--calling him a musician would have been too generous--fumbled a chord change, then saw the fisherman wincing, too, and laughed.

    “So since it's obviously not the music, what brings a pretty young girl in here drinking with old farts like us?”  He gestured around the bar with a hand, “Your boyfriend work here?”

    “Did you ever have an evening where you just didn't want to be alone?”  Cally smiled gently at him.

    “What, you mean like tonight?”  He snorted, taking a long drink of his beer and staring off into nowhere.  “All the time, lately.”  He drained his drink and gestured to the bartender for a refill.  “You don't sound like you're from around here, either.  Aw, excuse me,” he waved her off.  “I'm just being nosy.”

    “Nah, it's alright.”  She offered her hand.  “I'm Marilyn, and you're right, I'm not from here.  I'm on vacation, from Toledo.”  She took a sip of her margarita and looked away.  “This trip was supposed to be with my fiancé, well, ex-fiancé, just didn't work out, I came anyway, and now I'm wondering if I should have.”

    “You wanna paint the town red to show you ain't hurt, but then you ain't in the mood for partyin'.”  He fumbled for the bills to pay for his arriving drink.  “Guess there's a lot of that goin' around tonight.”

    “You too?”  She took a bite of the pie, watching him.

    “Yeah, I just went through a divorce.”


    “It could've been if I'd made it.  I could have taken it into court and made sure she got nothin'.”  He took another drink.  “Her good luck.  When I walked in and, well, saw what I saw, I was so disgusted all I wanted was out as fast as I could get.”

    “That's lousy.  I don't know what I would have done if there had been another girl.  I just finally got tired of us fighting all the time.  He was one of those people who could find something wrong with everything.”

    “Sounds like you had a lucky escape.”

    “Yeah, well, you too.  And I came out here planning to party all week, and, I guess it's stupid, I just...” she trailed off and went back to her pie.  She had obviously picked someone whose prime interest was getting good and drunk.  Not a good pick.  I should have known better.

    When the bartender cut him off, later, she was a good enough sport to put him in a cab home before driving back to her own apartment to sleep in the hair fumes.



Chicago, Tuesday, May 14

    The receptionist was a hell of a looker.  Not much in the tits, but her face just took your breath away.  Besides, tits were easy enough to fix.  Damn. 

    John Earl Bill Stuart, Johnny to friends and enemies alike, paced the outer office pretending a polite interest in the snooty art stuff scattered around the place.  If any of it was real, it must have cost a mint.  Most of it was probably those reproduction things meant for show.  And he’d bet it worked with some people.  He’d been more impressed with the view.  This Terra Trade Holdings had the whole next-to-top floor, at least, of the old Sears Tower.  They’d renamed it, but it was still—or again, depending on how you looked at it—the tallest building on Earth.  He didn’t know who had the top floor, but it sure wasn’t open to the tourists any more and he figured the second to top floor view was closer than almost anybody got these days.  Damned aliens, but there you were, and they were really no different from the old corporations, who had really taken it in the teeth when the aliens showed up, now were they?  Just different people on top.

    Johnny would have liked to have brought his camera and snapped a few pictures for Mary Lynn while he was up here, but that wouldn’t have been classy, and he knew you had to be classy at meetings like this.  Pictures would have been nice, just to show her he’d really been here, but it couldn’t be helped.

    “The Tir will see you now,” the girl said, just like one of the girls on the evening news.  No yankee accent like you heard a lot here in Chicago.  No accent at all.  Classy.

    The Tir’s corner office was a criminal waste.  Heavy drapes covered both walls of floor to ceiling windows, darkening the room to dim shadows as well as shutting out the view.  It was a little like the guy who takes the last piece of chicken in the basket, not because he wants it but so you can’t have it.  It was pretty much of a piece with his employers’ typical way of doing business.

    He had never actually seen a Darhel before.  Usually he had reported through Worth, but had had an emergency contact number to use when his immediate superior had dropped off the map sometime between Thursday and Monday of last week.

    “We received your message.”  The voice was just beautiful.  Hypnotic.  Almost like music.  He could have listened to it all day long, but Johnny hadn’t gotten where he was without learning to recognize a slick talker when he heard one.  He blinked in the dim light as his eyes adjusted, making out the cloaked figure behind the very large desk.  It looked like a bit of a muzzle, like a coyote, or maybe a fox, protruded from the hood.  He caught a small glimpse of sharply pointed teeth that didn’t quite fit right with the plate of vegetable looking stuff that sat to one side on the desk.  Scattered small bits of green on the desk surface gave the impression that the alien was not a particularly neat eater.

    “Yes, Your Tir.  And I got your summons.  What can I do for you?”

    “We have come to the reluctant conclusion that our junior colleague, the Human Worth, has met with a misfortune.  This leaves us with an opening in a certain position.  A position we feel someone with your talents may be able to fill.”

    “You mean you need someone to coordinate your hits?”

    “We need someone to provide services managing awkward problems.”  The Tir’s voice was tense, and now sounded more angry than melodic.

    “Awkward problems like annoying people that need to be killed and gotten out of your way?”

    “That…that of course would be entirely up to you,” the alien squeaked.  Fuckin’ coward.

    “Right.  I’d need a raise for that.  It’s riskier than what I’ve been doing.”

    “If…if you…no, if someone were to periodically submit a request for reimbursement for reasonable expenses somehow incurred in something that is in our interests, reimbursement would…would be ordered.”  The alien was breathing deeply and shakily, as if even saying the words bothered him.  These damned elves were all cowards.  It’s why they had to hire real men to do their dirty work.  Johnny wasn’t above getting a little of his own back on the aliens by rubbing their noses in it a little.

    “So when I have some sumbitch killed for you, you want me to tell you how much I paid the guy, then you pay me plus my cut.  Say, fifteen percent on top.”

    “We…” it squeaked to a stop, shaking, and was silent a moment before trying again, “We believe you should…should use your best judgment, and are willing to pay you a seven percent overage on all service associated expenses.”


    “As you say,” it gasped, taking a silent moment to get its breathing under control.

    “Then you’ve got a deal.  You tell me who’s in your way, I send somebody to wax ‘em, I get my percentage.  Works for me.”

    “This…this conversation never took place,” it choked.

    “Okay, Your Tir.  Johnny Stuart’s your man.”

    “Wait.”  He choked, taking a few moments to breathe deeply.  After a few moments he looked back up and fixed Johnny in the eye.  His voice had resumed its melodious character and was almost caressing as he spoke.

    “The trouble with humans, Mr. Stuart, is that they are incredibly poor at maintaining the proper decorum around their betters.”  He addressed his AID, “AID, display Martin Simpson hologram, download full file to Mr. Stuart’s AID.”  He looked back up and very deliberately made fixed eye contact again, “Mr. Simpson is a perfect example of that lack of decorum, and it is unacceptable.  You may demonstrate your understanding of our arrangement by handling the problem.  You may go, now.”

    “Yes sir, Your Tir.”  He walked out the door, restraining the urge to whistle.  Damned alien cowards.  But he made a good living out of them.  You wanted to make a bundle, you had to work for the men, or whatever, on top.

    His AID, which was admittedly a damned nifty gadget, was disguised as a regular PDA, and seemed to think there was something funny about aping the behavior of one of the lesser devices.  He had barely gotten out of the building and down the block towards the valet deck when it started alternately beeping and vibrating at him.

    “What?” he asked the thing, irritably.  Machines shouldn’t have a damn sense of humor.

    “The Tir instructs you to find out what happened to the Human Worth.”

    “Gotcha.  Now cut that out!”  After giving his ticket to the attendant, he propped himself against a pole and waited for them to bring his car around.  A promotion and a raise.  Not a bad day.  Not bad at all.  He hadn’t much liked Worth before.  He liked him a lot better now.

    “Oh, Leanne,” he asked the AID, “By the way, what does ‘decorum’ mean?”

    “Decorum: politeness, the observance of proper protocol or etiquette,” it said.

    “Okaaaay.  So what did this Marvin Smith do to piss the Tir off so badly?”

    “Martin Simpson.  Employee of Terra Trade Holdings.  I think the offense was telling a Darhel joke in a staff meeting.”  The AID’s voice was unusually dispassionate.

    “Jesus H. Christ!  What the hell was the joke?”

    “How many Darhel does it take to change a light bulb?”  The voice playing from the AID was a young male, pure Chicago, “Twenty-one.  One to change the bulb, and twenty to curl up and die in the corner at the cost.”

    “Okay,” he chuckled, “What else did he do?”

    “Nothing.  Well, he did take home a pen from the office once.”

    “I’m supposed to kill a guy for making a bad joke?”  He paled briefly.  Poor bastard.  Still, better him than me or mine.  Shit.  Lord, remind me not to needle Darhel.

    “That would be an interpretation consistent with the Tir’s request.”

    “Yeah.  Okay.  He’s the boss.  Thanks, Leanne.”  And I hope you report that polite answer to your real boss soon, you spying bucket of bolts.



Charleston, Tuesday, May 14

    Cally spent Tuesday morning shopping for the extras she'd need in her pack and case. While most seafood going inland was canned or frozen at the big Greer's processing plant, monopoly pricing made it barely affordable for a small fleet of vans carrying live delicacies like fresh crab, scallops, and oysters to make a reliable profit selling to restaurants for the wealthy, well-connected, or families enjoying the occasional special occasion.  While technically a violation of the National Emergency Food Supplies Act, the trade survived and even thrived largely because federal inspectors liked fresh seafood as well as anyone.  Their share didn't really add more overhead than the old pre-war health inspections had, anyway.  It was a perfect way to travel anonymously.

    She could take the bus, but the middle seat in a live crab van was not only more discreet but would be cheaper, especially for someone who was young, pretty, and friendly.  Not that money was a problem, it just made a good excuse for preferring a fishy van over the bus.

    The bright, new beach t-shirts and some garish souvenirs fit the picture of an inland coed who'd spent too much on vacation.

    After lunch she found a pay phone and dialed the number Shari had provided.

    It answered on the first ring, “Cally?”

    “Hi, Grandpa.”

    “You're a bit late,” he reproached.  “Trouble finding a phone?”

    “I'm late?” she choked.  “Yeah, five minutes, not three hours and forty-five minutes.”

    “Um...yeah,” he cleared his throat and was silent for a few seconds.  “We had no idea the damned elves had that kind of jammer deployed with any of their human people.  I know he was modest about it in the debrief, but the algorithm our largest friend put together on the fly to filter out the false images was nothing short of genius—until then, you could have been anywhere in the city as far as we knew.  You would have found us before we found you.  If it's any consolation, you improvised brilliantly.”

    “It's a living.  What did you want to talk to me about?  And why a telephone, of all things?”

    “People do still use them, you know,” he said wryly.  “It's still the most popular means of talking over a distance.”

    “And insecure as hell.  Quit dancing, Grandpa, what's up?” She added suspiciously, “This doesn't have anything to do with Wendy and Shari cornering me for purposes of matchmaking, does it?”

    “Well, not ex.…” he stopped and started again, “I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to see some great-grandkids before I die.”

    “Talk to Michelle.”

    “You know damn well why I can't.”  He sighed, “I just don't know what the problem is. For awhile I thought if I just waited...and you seem to like kids well enough. Honey, I just don't have a whole lot of wait left.”

    “Well, I'm sorry,” she sounded a hair more indignant than sorry, “but I just haven't found the right man.  What I do have is a job, an important one that not just anybody could do, and I'm damned good at it!”

    “You can't let a job take the place of a life!”  She could hear him take a deep breath and sigh, “It's eating you up, and it's not good for you. There are plenty of fine men out there, and plenty of places other than bars to meet them.”

    “Now wait just one fucking minute, I may look twenty, but I'm....”

    “Cally, I don't want to fight,” he interrupted.  “I know you're a grown woman, and I love you.  Just...think about it, okay?”

    “Okay, fine.”  She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, “Actually, I'm taking a vacation for a week. I've got our next mission brief, can't share, but we'll have more than enough time to put it together after my trip.  In fact, you take care of rounding everybody up and meet me at the wind farm at eight a.m. on the twenty-third.  I love you.  I'll be in touch, okay?”

    “Vacation?  About time.  Where to?”

    “I haven't decided.  I'll decide each day as I go,” she reasoned.  “If I had to plan it, it wouldn't be a vacation.  Are you clear on meeting me?”

    “Yeah, yeah, eight and twenty-three.  You're really not going to tell me where you're going, are you?”  He sounded a bit put out.

    “Nope.  Love you, Granpa.  Bye.”

    She hung up the phone and grinned at the receiver for a minute before picking her bags up off the sidewalk and taking them to the car.  Her mouth tightened for a minute.  Okay, so it's a working vacation.  I can't believe they've been protecting the son of a bitch.  Hell, yes I can.  Fucking pragmatists.  Okay, so I'm no dewy-eyed idealist, myself, but there have to be standards.

    She spent the rest of the afternoon and evening cracking the public records of Sinda Makepeace--DMV, credit, frequent shopper cards, the property-management files for her apartment complex, internet postings.  Jay and Tommy would do a more thorough job next week, but since she couldn't brief them in yet, she might as well get a head start on the easy stuff now.

    A couple of hours with the buckley running pattern analyses and she had a tentative character profile to start building the role.

    “So, do you think you could manage to do a full backup on me before we go off on this mission?  No reason for both of us to die, is there?”

    “Shut up, buckley.”


    Next came the prelims for her vacation mission.  The target was not much of a player, so it should be an easy job, but Cally was habitually thorough in prepping for a mission.  It was the main reason she was still alive.

    Having memorized Petane's facial features years ago, when she was young and eager and fully expected to be handed the mission, it was a simple matter of self-hypnosis to bring the details back to the surface.  He could have been changed, but if he had been it was likely that Robertson would have said so.  If Robertson’s telling me the truth and not playing his own game, that is.

    A three-D facial modeling application let her put the face into a form the system could use.  From there it was a simple hack to download the bank camera records for Chicago ATMs and set another little utility sifting through the images for matches.  Normally, she would have left a bank hack to Jay, but she hadn't been in this business for thirty-plus years without learning a few tricks outside her own specialty.  Sure, she got a load of false positives first run through, but she was able to identify one true hit in the first dozen and fed it back to the facial app, modified it and ran it through again.  That eliminated half the hits.  Going through those for a few more true positives and refining the app again got her down to a couple of hundred true positives, from which she weeded a handful of false positives and doubtfuls by hand.  Loading those into a database and running a third app, telling the buckley to assume a standard Monday through Friday daytime schedule localized his work to a probable area of a few blocks and his home to one of two possible areas.  One was probably the home of a girlfriend.  A quick look at a map made the probable work location the Fleet Strike Tower.  Well, Robertson was telling the truth about that much, anyway.  The scumbag sure doesn’t look dead to me.  That’s fixable.  I’d love to crack his accounts for a full profile, but there’s way too much risk of leaving tracks.  I would really prefer for my bosses to get used to the idea of Petane being dead before I fess up to the hit.  If I ever do. Hrms.  Isn’t that interesting.  He was never taken off the Targets of Opportunity list—just automatically flagged inactive when he was entered as dead.  She took a risk and hacked the Illinois tag database to get the make, model, and tag number of his car, and downloaded the analysis results and raw hits onto a cube, setting it not to erase after the first reading.  It was a calculated risk, but in a pinch her own stomach acid would destroy the cube as effectively as the more usual glass of vinegar.

    “Congratulations!  You’ve come up with a fabulously inventive new way to get us killed.  Have you even considered the possibility that this might be a really bad idea?”

    “Shut up, buckley.”




Under a cornfield in Indiana, Wednesday, May 15

    Indowy quarters were about a fourth the size of quarters for a normal human.  It wasn’t that they were agoraphobic, exactly.  It was just that they felt much more secure in groups.  Still, Aelool had made the sacrifice of having a room by himself because of the necessity of occasionally entertaining humans.  Even in Chicago Base, most of the Indowy would rather not deal with carnivores unless the meeting was necessary, except for the few human children apprentices in Sohon whose families had been carefully selected even among the Bane Sidhe for adaptability.  The human children were vegetarians.  It wasn’t exactly their fault that they had been born in a species that hadn’t abandoned its carnivorous roots yet.

    His solitary quarters also seemed more comfortable for human visitors, who tended to be okay in duos or small groups, but had an unfortunate tendency to react badly to crowds.  The few scholars who had studied their history, despite a natural distaste for the violent subject matter, were about evenly divided, after observing human behavior in crowds of their own species throughout history, about whether humans were pathological loners or closet xenophobes.  He tended to lean towards the former hypothesis, and acted on it.  It had worked well for him so far.  Honestly, so long as you kept them out of crowds, many humans were basically okay people.

    At the moment, he was preparing for his most frequent visitor, Nathan O’Reilly, who had been entrusted with the care of the main base of Bane Sidhe operations on Earth.  Although most information gathering and other operations were best handled through a cell system, once you got above a certain level of complexity, a certain bureaucracy was inevitable.  O’Reilly’s particular philosophical discipline required that he not marry and bear offspring, so he had no clan to speak of, but his learning and position equated to a sort of senior elder.  Aelool respected him.  They had a mutual passion for logic games, and Father O’Reilly had been teaching him chess.  It would take at least a century to master.  Perhaps then he could return the favor and teach his friend aethal.

    Proper hospitality towards human visitors required the ritual preparation of a bean broth highly prized among their species.  He had learned the art from the best expert he could find.  A perfectly clean pot and apparatus, a tiny pinch of salt, run the beans, which could be purchased dried and pre-roasted, through a coarse grinding machine, bottled Spring water, add the components to the right parts of the machine, and it prepared the soup perfectly every time.  He did not understand how water could have a season, but when he ordered it from Supply, they always knew what he meant, so he chose not to argue.

    Aelool had learned that some chess sets were more abstract than others.  The one he had chosen had pieces of wood, carved in intricate detail.  He liked the horse.  He had met them a couple of times.  They weren’t quite sophonts, but he would like to have one in his quarters-group some day, if they could be bred small enough.

    When everything was ready for his guest, he sat quietly for a few minutes, working on the design for his latest project.  When the light shifted slightly yellow-ward, announcing the scholar’s arrival, he put the project away quietly and keyed the intercom.

    “It’s open,” he said.

    “Aelool, how are you this afternoon?”

    “I’m fine,” he offered the ritual greeting.  “May I get you some coffee?”

    “Yes, please.  Black.”

    The Indowy placed a cup of coffee and a glass of water, with an olive, on the tray.  Actually, the coffee was not black.  It was a dark brown.  And adding fat and nutrient-fortified mammalian sweat did not make it white, but more of a light brown.  He had noticed humans tended to exaggerate such things.

    They began their chess game.  He had white—which was, in this case, actually white—so he opened the game.  Currently, he was learning the variations on the Knight’s Gambit.  As they played, O’Reilly updated him on the current state of Earth operations.

    “Worth won’t be easy for them to replace.  Most of the combat vets around are used to killing Posleen, not fellow humans.  Sure, they still have the professionals he recruited and trained, but the Darhel have always tended to rely on data mining and hacking for intelligence more than actual sophont operatives or agents.  Their training systems are weak, and any loss hurts.”

    “I am more concerned about the leak.  We need concealment.  The plan is very long term, and premature exposure could defeat it.”

    “Team Isaac has an impressive success rate.”

    “They had better.”

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image