“Stop that, dammit!” She pauses. “Um, at ease.”
The salute is dropped, the legs assume a slightly wider stance. All three are still stiffly posed.
One doesn’t ever stand truly at ease around Father, I suppose.
She remembers this, to some degree. Mass gatherings with clashing heels on concrete, salutes, allegiances shouted in unison. Walking with her father along ranks of soldiers. It seemed like millions to her at the time, but it couldn’t have been more than a few hundred, wherever she was. Probably the Urumqi cell –
She snaps back to the present, her mind racing. “No, stand truly at ease. Casually.” At their visible reluctance to commit such lèse-majesté, she says, “You attract attention, and endanger the mission.”
Ah. That got their attention. Now they just looked like three vagabonds or street people, more relaxed outwardly (if not inwardly), though each is smiling.
My God, they expect me to lead them.
Alycia’s brain, on the other hand, is anything but relaxed. Processes and trains of thought are spinning out in all directions, taking advantage of the spatial map she formed when she thought she was being ambushed. She realizes her mask is off, and sets it back on again.
She needs much, much more information – who these three are in particularly (the woman’s name sounds familiar), how they got here, what they’ve been doing …
… Aditi on a Velocipede, if they were able to find me …
… and, most important, what to do with them, short- and long-term.
“What is your current status – location and embed?” She feels exposed here, even though it’s a pretty damned private spot. On the other hand, she can’t exactly go traipsing into a diner in full costume, let alone before she determines what she has to do with them.
Their departments – Intel, Research, those are probably okay. The DAs might be a problem. Those units were sometimes rife with the most violent psychopaths her father could pull together. Ramirez having survived this long without going berserk or off-discipline is probably a good sign.
“We found a spot in a warehouse near Wildey Rd. and Hamilton,” Rodriguez replies. “It’s presently secure, has access to power, water, and data, and is defensible. If our MIstress wishes, we can take her there.”
“Later. Perhaps. Continue.”
“I am drawing income via day labor and petty theft. We have identified several possible targets for greater profit or social disruption, but are adhering to covert protocols and not drawing excess attention.”
Nyobé picks up. “I have also engaged in petty theft, but have been mainly focused on maintaining our cover and finding you, Mistress.”
“Well, that seems to have been a productive effort. And you?”
“I am working off-book at a small, independent coffee shop here in town,” says Chernikov, “close enough to our base to not require public transportation.”
Alycia considers asking which shop, then pushes the thought aside for a much more important consideration: What am I going to do with these guys?
Premise 1: She has no use for minions. She is not her father’s daughter, and the last thing she wants or needs, professionally or personally, is a trio of soldier-acolytes, ready to kill (or die) on her command.
Premise 2: They are her responsibility. Her duty. Yeah, I should turn them into AEGIS, for processing and rehab, at the very least. Who knows what they’ve done in the past in my father’s name, what crimes they have committed, what lives they’ve taken? She knows that the Arlington cell was most focused on espionage against the US federal government, but also had a vague sense that there was some targeted theft and killings there over the years. Even if he’s not a lunatic, Rodriguez could be a fanatical killer.
But for her to turn them in would be – a betrayal. Not of her father, God no, that would actually be an incentive in this case. But of these three who are expecting her to somehow … give meaning back to their lives. Who have sought her out. She’s no princess, but she feels an almost medieval sense of obligation to those who have sworn fealty toward her.
If I caught them robbing a bank or blowing up a government office, I’d have no hesitation taking them down, hard. But they came to me. I can’t just throw them in jail. That would be wrong.
But that means if they do anything else illegal, it’s on her head. She can’t imagine Parker would be very sympathetic over the matter.
Assuming that AEGIS isn’t already aware of them. Shit. Can’t second, third, and fourth-guess myself here.
“Mistress?” asks Nyobé.
Oh for the love of – “Stop that. No 'Mistress’ing. Got it?”
Ramirez throws Nyobé a glare. “What title would you prefer, M–ma’am?”
“No titles. It’s --” She’s about to tell them the truth, when she realizes that’s a horrible idea, old saws about honesty and policy aside. “-- too dangerous to my cover. If someone should hear you …”
Ramirez nods. “Understood, ma’am.”
“No. Nothing like that. Just ‘Understood.’”
He grins, a fierce expression on his face. “Understood.”
Yeah, these guys are fanatics. True Believers. Whether they understand and support Father’s global social agenda, or simply saw him as a messiah who gave their life meaning, the worst thing I can do is tell them that I’ve given up on leading the Great Mission any longer and that they should consider the Chin dynasty as ended.
Well, no, the worst thing I can do is tell them what happened to Father, and my role in it.
She thinks quickly. Which she can do because she does actually think quickly. “All right. Your loyalty does all of you credit, as does your resourcefulness. Now that you’re here, my long-range plans will be that much easier.”
“Order us, M–” Chernikov cuts himself off before he can say a forbidden “M” word. “-- order us, and we will obey.”
I would actually feel sorry for these people, if I didn’t know what they were capable of, what they’ve probably already done. “Here are your orders, then. I need you to --” No, I can’t tell them to go to ground. They would, but that’s only in the short term, and sitting together in their little warehouse bunker will only get them to speculating. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. “-- I need you to become self-sufficient. But no lawbreaking without clearing it through me, first. If the authorities were to learn of your presence here, it would cause a grave disruption in the next phase of the Great Mission.”
She turns to Chernikov. “You’re covered – you have a job. Ramirez, day labor is fine, but that’s it, no more theft. I will be arranging papers and perhaps better cover employment for you, soon. Nyobé, I have an assignment for you until I can do that: can you go back to some of the feeds you used to track me down, some of the records, and scrub them – subtly, not mass deletions but glitches in the imagery, things like that, sufficient to prevent someone from following the same trail?”
She nods, sharply. “The equipment I have is primitive, but it will be done.”
I hope so. If you lot managed to find me, there may be others who want to. Speaking of which … “Rodriguez. You mentioned others claiming to be my Father’s heir. Name them.”
I have some clues. She had tried holding her father’s empire together after his disappearance, to protect his interests and to maintain the resources needed to search for him. Some parts just melted away. In other cases, lieutenants carved out their own territories, like Alexander’s generals.
Ultimately, I didn’t care enough to try to stop them. I was just looking to save Father, idiot that I was.
Ramirez cocks his head, clearly surprised by her question. After a few moments he starts, then smiles, more relaxed. “My loyalty is to you …” He cuts off, unsure now now how to address her. “But if you wish to test me, I can but comply. I do not know all, but there are some whose communications came to our cell, demanding obedience and subordination. We refused, of course. Then we were attacked, and had to flee. We --”
“Yang Shaoqi.” Father’s top lieutenant in Asia. He had always bowed and scraped to Father. He was better organized and ambitious than anyone thought. I already knew about him.
“Hector Callado.” Fuck. Callado was Father’s bodyguard and trouble-shooter (figuratively and literally). He supposedly was sucked into the Sepiaverse. If he wasn’t, or if he found his way back – and if he was claiming Father’s throne … The man was extraordinarily dangerous when I knew him, and we’d never gotten along.
“A rabble of smaller groups.” That was no surprise. When I was trying to keep things together, it was like a sandcastle before the incoming tide. There were major collapses, like Yang, but much of the damage was individuals and individual cells just melting away.
Ramirez draws a breath, then pauses.
“I – it’s --”
“You’ve been commanded to report.”
He still hesitates.
Nyobé pipes up. “He fears to speak to you of the third individual we know of. He has taken over the Master’s operations in Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe.”
I raise an eyebrow to Ramirez, then turn to her. “And do you fear to say this name?”
“It is intelligence, M–” She cuts off, then continues, “Intelligence should play no favorites. It is data, analysis, and interpretive presentation. You must be able to trust your intelligence to be giving you accurate information.”
“Then tell me the goddamned name!”
“His given name is unknown. He calls himself the Son of Chin, and claims that he is the elder heir of the Master.”
[to be continued]
author: *** Dave H.