Hollowed Memories, chapter 9, part 6

July 5, 2015

A current image did not actually reach her until Mrissa had already staked out Yarec’s arrival.  It arrived on her pocket lamina, which bleeped softly to alert her, but she did no more than glance at the file to make sure it was the picture she had been expecting.  Then Mrissa peered back down at the wharf.  She had perched herself—along with her high-powered scope, which was still perfectly focused, in spite of the dents and scuffs on its casing—on the roof of a three-story warehouse, just over on the mainland.  The little boat, laden with its cargo of exotic human and animal fluids, pulled up to the passenger dock.  The daylight was failing, but the occupied areas of the pier were well lit.  Under the large gray-white lamps, Mrissa could see the crewmen—and Yarec—relatively clearly.  The others looked rather anxious, but Yarec seemed impassive.  He showed neither the severity of an agent on a mission, nor the typical glee of a man on vacation.  To Mrissa, it seemed almost as if the muscles of his face were only halfway connected  to the nerves that were supposed to control them.

Yarec stepped away from the heavy lights of the pier.  Mrissa bounced down off the warehouse roof and was ready to follow him when he hit the street.  She could hear several different strains of music coming from different performers.  Their distinct rhythms competed for primacy in her mind, as she mimed a casual stroll, far behind her quarry.

He was not especially difficult to follow as he drifted toward the core of the festivities.  His gait was casual, until he ducked abruptly out of sight, and Mrissa heard a brief but noisy struggle.  Yarec swiftly disabled a pair of mesh-shirted toughs.  Then he exited the scene, and probably no one but Mrissa even noticed which way he had gone.

He checked into a hotel located next to a Austronesian-style dance club, from which twangs and rumbles tumbled out into the street.  As they walked, Mrissa had edged closer and closer to Yarec, and now, under the silver and pink neon of the hotel’s facade, she got her first clear, unaided look at his face.  He resembled many of his earlier personas.  Straight brown hair—artificially bleached, making it look as if he had lately spent a lot of time outdoors—hung down over his forehead.  His eyes were dark, and the way they were set in his face suggested something different than his otherwise largely Caucasian features.  Yet as always with a new with a new body, there were subtle differences.  The line of his jaw was softer than Mrissa had expected, and his nose was longer.  The slight changes from his default appearance made Mrissa wonder:  How much of what she saw was Yarec’s original appearance?

From across the street, Ris watched the hotel.  Yarec gave away which room he was in by adjusting the curtains in his third-floor window.  Security was evidently not his main priority right now.  Mrissa could have broken into Yarec’s room and waited for his return.  However, that would not have been the safest way to introduce herself.  If he found a stranger in his room, there was a reasonable chance that Yarec might just shoot her dead without even bothering to inquire why she was there.  If she was going to accost him in his bedroom, Mrissa would need to make it instantly clear that she was not armed.  She could be completely naked, but even that might not be sufficient.  To show that she was not about to attack him with her fists or reach for something concealed nearby, she should probably also have her hands cuffed behind her back.  However, if Yarec found Mrissa in his hotel room, hands tied and stripped naked, that could lead to an entirely different kind of misunderstanding.

So she waited until he left the hotel and then followed him along the boulevard, as it pulsated with lights and sound.  He seemed to be growing impatient, as if he was already finding the festivities tiresome.  He found the first bar that did not seem like too much of a dive—a red-lit establishment called Sloshed, Sloshed, Sloshed—and stepped inside.  Mrissa gave Yarec a little time to get situated; then she followed him in to make her pitch.

Once Yarec was on the job, Mrissa followed his lead.  She observed him at work, trying to tease out the traits that had made him so effective.  It would obviously never be possible to distill out the perfect essence of his technique, but after they had been working together for a while, Mrissa found there were two things about Yarec that really struck her.  The first—his arrogance—was not much of a surprise.  A polite way of describing it would be that he took a great deal of pride in his work.  He generally had a particular way that he wanted to do something.  When he had thought something through and come to a decision, he did not like to have it questioned.  He liked to see things done his way.

Mrissa’s second observation, however, was more subtle.  It surprised her to see how much he hated doing this kind of work—but apparently, he hated not doing the work even more.  He could conceal his distaste when he chose to, but at close quarters, Mrissa could see the constant frustration simmering inside him.

Sometimes, Yarec’s attitude really worried her.  His behavior never quite fit what she had expected.  She had to talk to somebody, about they way the job was turning out.  She was not quite sure what conversation she really wanted to have, but she had to say something.  So she signalled the FAF that she needed to communicate, in private.

A day and a half before the final assault, Ris went out to run some last-minute mundane errands.  She stopped to eat in a cramped blue-walled diner, where all the various natural and artificial foodstuffs were being seared on a single flat-top grill.  She sat down and waited, picking at the edges of a thin fried patty, until an irritating plinking noise indicated someone was trying to get in touch.  Mrissa excused herself to the ladies’ room and locked the door.  The restroom was a single unit.  The crude deadbolt, which had been affixed to the door by hand, would not keep out a determined intruder, but nobody in the diner had seemed suspicious of her in the slightest.  She knocked the lid down on the commode but did not sit on it.  Instead she stood in the center of the room, eyes of the door, and pulled a small communicator out of the side pocket of her pants.

She checked that the lamina was in an audio-only mode, then held it up near her face.  The voice was a conspiratorial purr.  “Do you need further assistance?  Is something going wrong with the ranking agent?”

“No, no,” Mrissa found herself assuring the voice briskly.  She wondered though, What would they do if I said “yes”?  “I’m just concerned that there’s going to be a lot of violence.  Are you ready for the fallout from a really big kaboom?”

“Do you mean you need more people?  ’Cause I can file a request, but I don’t think—”

“No, no” she said again—more firmly, but not loudly.  It would not do to be heard yelling in the toilet cubicle.  “There’s just going to be a lot of carnage.  As you prepared to deal with that?”  And how much carnage am I prepared to deal with?

“How many casualties are appropriate is left to the discretion of the senior on-the-ground operatives,” the voice intoned.  “However, we may review the mission outcome later, to see whether the methods used were appropriate to the situation.”

“Fine.  But are you prepared to protect the operatives on the ground—like, you know, me—when stuff gets nasty afterward?”

“Do you need additional Field Army Faction resources?” the man on the other end asked.

“Just some more money, I think,” Mrissa answered.  “And you all need to understand that I may not want to stick around after the job’s done.  If you need me afterwards, you may have to wait a while.”

“Hold on,” he said.  “How much money?”  As soon as she answered, he promptly transferred the call to someone else with more authority.  Ris dickered with the second man for a while, until they found a new number that suited both sides.

And evidently, that was all she needed right then.  After the call was over, she flushed the toilet and carefully washed her hands.

“I had told myself I was worried about your performance,” Mrissa told Yarec, “but I think I was really worried about getting close to you.”

She had exited the restaurant, with barely a glance at her uneaten food, and returned to where Yarec was waiting.  It was time to help him get in and out of the factory.

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