The Faint of Heart (Peregrine x Aine)

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Peregrine, Mar 13, 2014.

  1. It was not an uncommon occurrence for a disposable phone to light up in the middle of the night, sending a baritone buzz reverberating about the room. More often than not, in truth, night was by far the best time to try and get in touch with the shadow that lurked in the room. The night was a place of safety, a place where prying eyes and ears would not try and watch and listen to everything around them, whether they knew they were doing it or not. That, and the people who might want to reach out so as to have something done often had tasks that were best completed in the night, when the lawful forces became blind to the happenings of the city.

    The person known from birth as Quinn to close friends and family, of whom none were left alive, was more commonly called Quebec, or simply Q. The person who was calling knew better than to expect an answer, and the phone only rang five times before redirecting to voicemail. Quinn stood slowly, walking over to the phone and picking it up with first finger and thumb, before flipping it open, pressing a button, and listening to the message that quickly reeled off.

    “Hey, Q,” the man’s voice on the other end of the line was slurred, almost as though he was drunk. It was easy to picture him, dressed in a loose denim jacket, stumbling out of some bar. But the drinks he had imbibed for appearances would have had absolutely no effect. As the only man with access to Quinn’s number, it would have to take a lot more than a few drinks to even start to throw him off his game. He knew the risks when he agreed to be the in-between man for Quebec and America, and had been forced to face them more than a couple times. The scars that littered his body were a testament to that fact. But he had never given up any information, which was the only reason he was still alive. Besides, being the only man in America who was able to contact one of the most sought-after contractors in the world had its advantages. Nothing got to Quebec without going through him first, and that meant a lot of people had to stay on his good side. Of course, the man wasn’t Quinn’s only set of ears, and if anything really important came up Quinn would know about it. But he still got to play selective service for most of Quebec’s contracts.

    “My friend in the Grand Cafe got ahold of me earlier today. Apparently the renovations aren’t going so well, and they are ready to contract out. They have the basics for the Madeleine Room, but apparently don’t have the brainpower to finish it themselves.

    “Anyways, they have to get it done by Saturday at noon, or Wash loses his job. Hope you can help.”

    The message was almost leaking cold, but Quinn didn’t even have to listen to the message a second time to get all the nuances. Grand was government, as opposed to mob, corporation, or private contractor. Combine the fact that the man who had called was Quebec’s American contact, it was a government job, and the fact that the mission was a “Cafe” meant that the contract was joint between the CIA and the FBI. And were they ever willing to pay. Madeline, MDL, 1,550 in Roman Numerals. Which meant that they would pay just over one and a half million to get the job done. Brainpower was interrogation, finish was assassination. Saturday, the second to last day in Quinn’s week, meant that they wanted him Tuesday, which was tomorrow. And Wash meant that they wanted him in DC. The final closing statement, hope you can help, was the last piece of information that Quinn needed. Hope you can help, 4334, which, when combined with Washington DC, could really only mean one place. They wanted to pick him up in Washington Circle Park. It would be up to the agents to pick Quebec out from the crowds. Since no group had ever been able to agree upon an appearance, or even a gender, for Quebec, most of the world now believed that it was an organization, rather than an individual. The fact that they were dead wrong did not matter, so long as they continued to pay. If anything, it was almost preferable, since sending a massive amount of money to a business was far more justifiable than sending that same amount of money to one person. But it also meant that those looking for Quebec could only rely on the classic calling card. A hat with a logo of the French National Flag, and a certain exchange of dialogue.

    The night was waning on, and there was little time to waste. Quebec had a flight to book.

    The young woman walked briskly along the path, high heeled shoes clicking against the asphalt with every step. Despite the uneven path that circled around a central grassy area she never seemed to wobble, but her blonde ponytail, pulled through a blue hat marked with the French flag, bounced with every step.

    Quebec settled herself delicately on a park bench, tipping the brim of her cap forwards over her cold, blue eyes. Her expression was all business despite the lazy atmosphere of the day, and the people around her unconsciously gave her a wide berth.

    There were very few reasons why Quebec did not hate working for American Intelligence organizations. The worst of which was, they were always asking questions. They believed that they had to know everything that was going on down to the finest detail. The mob and, to some extent, corporations were much more willing to let things be. The mob didn’t care how you got the information, and as soon as they were certain they had everything they needed, the interrogated was dead, no matter what state he was in. The mob certainly didn’t want to know how you got the information, just so long as you got it. The CIA was different. They knew full well that they weren’t allowed to watch, so they would swarm in as soon as her interrogation was over to see if they could decipher just what methods Quebec had used to get the person to spill everything. If they came in and found him completely normal questions would be raised. Questions that Quebec did not want to bother having to answer. Which meant now she had to go through the trouble of actually breaking the man, and it was almost certainly a man.

    That was part of the reason it was a young, attractive, almost delicate looking blonde sitting on the park bench, pulling out a compound mirror and carefully recoating her full lips with a bright shade of red lipstick. The person she had to interrogate would put up more defenses, not less, when confronted with her, defenses that, when shattered, might just shatter his mind with them. Leaving the man a gibbering mess fit for nothing but incarceration in an asylum seemed like a perfectly valid solution to her. It would keep the CIA from being able to figure out just what it was she did to the man.

    “Excuse me, miss.” Quebec glanced up at the voice, taking in the rather plain looking man standing before her. He was at least fifteen years older than her, the lines on his face somewhat more pronounced, and the smallest touch of grey staining his temples. At least they had the sense not to send someone conspicuous, although the quick run-down that he was giving her spoke volumes about his training. Quebec narrowed her eyes slightly, not deigning him with a response. Her turn to speak would come later. It was clear from his pause that, despite the clear instructions he had been given, the man could not believe that this young woman was the master interrogator he had been sent to collect. He wanted to give her every opportunity to break script, and prove that he had found the wrong person. When she continued to remain silent, he was forced to continue. “Would you come with me, please?”

    Quebec stood up delicately, smoothing out the creases in her slacks. “Where are you taking me?” She didn’t bother to prevent the cold smirk that crossed her face as a look of disappointment flickered over his expression. Selfish, and prideful. What a wonderful combination.

    “Quebec,” he replied. “I’m taking you to Quebec.”

    “Then shall we get going,” she replied, satisfied with his completion of the script. “I believe we are on a tight schedule?”

    The man waiting in the black SUV parked a couple blocks away had wanted to blindfold her when they had left the city. Her answering look had been enough to freeze his arms, midway through reaching over his headrest to place a bandanna over her eyes. She had left him frozen in that position for over a minute, relishing his clear conflict between his orders, and straight up fear. When it became clear that she was facing a bulldog, who would not so easily release any instructions he bit into, Quebec made it a little bit easier for him. She snapped out a hand, snagging the loosely clasped bandanna and tying it around her eyes. The agent at least had the sense not to check whether or not it was properly in place, and she heard him turn around with a relieved sigh.

    Of course, the bandanna had made absolutely no difference in Quebec’s ability to tell where they were going. Just to spite the men, she committed every twist and turn of the road, every bump, every dip, every stop and every acceleration into her memory. Even without any visual clues, she would have been able to navigate her way back to DC, or from DC to the facility, with little problem. It wasn’t so much that she had any intention of coming back to this empty corner of the woods, it was doubtful that the CIA would ever come back to this building again, no matter what precautions they had taken, as it was that Quebec was not fond of being treated as anything less than a superior. You most certainly did not blindfold your superior. She would sell the information on the facility's location, just as soon as she had finished working her job. It would likely get blown up, and her message would be clear. Treat me like a servant, and I’ll make you all my bitches.

    Above ground, the facility was little more than a dusty old shack. Once she was inside and underground, it opened up into a series of small living quarters. This was most likely a safe house of some sort, but it had been emptied and cleaned out, just for her arrival. There were a large number of people filling up the rooms, and it was almost impossible to tell the CIA from the FBI, although both were most certainly present. They watched her with a guarded wariness, her reputation, or at least the reputation of her “company”, clearly preceding her.

    One man stepped forward, and boldly shook her hand while offering her a charming smile. Quebec’s answering smile was just as charming, and just as false. They quickly exchanged some traditional pleasantries about honor, before the agent began to fill Quebec in on what was expected of her.

    They didn’t really want to reveal much to her, but the fact that they had contracted her to complete almost every aspect of this process meant that there wasn’t much they could reasonably hide. A terrorist cell had infiltrated America and spread out all over the country. They had apprehended this man doing a preliminary recon of the White House and several other famous landmarks of the capital city, and had spirited him away for questioning. Although they wouldn’t admit to it, two weeks in, and they had still gotten nothing out of him. And now they were almost certainly running out of time. The plans would have been made long before the men left their home base, all that they had needed would be a little bit of time to scout out the locations, and complete the construction of whatever explosive or destructive weapon they planned to use.

    Quebec’s job was to get the man to reveal where he was based, or where he would now be based, and work her way across the country, destroying every terrorist base of operation along the way. When the threat was removed from home territory, she would go after the head of the snake, and destroy whatever foreign base of operation was in use. It was a monumental task, one well worthy of her, and something it should have been almost impossible to complete within the limited time-frame of one week. Of course, both the CIA and the FBI were willing to give her “every possible aid”, which meant that they wanted her to tell them where the bases were located, and let them take all credit for the clean-up.

    Quebec, of course, had no such plans. This was her task, and she was going to see it through, start to finish.

    They led her to her target only a few minutes later. He had been sealed away in a back room, a reinforced shelter designed to withstand military assault. He had been tied down a chair, but Quebec was informed that they could put him however she needed him. Quebec dismissed the men escorting her with a lazy wave of her hand, and they slowly walked out of the room with more than a couple backward glances.

    Once alone, Quebec turned her attention to the man seated before her. Her face twitched slightly, and the expression in her eyes went from aloof disapproval to calculating sociopathy. There was no doubt what the government men wanted to see from Quebec. They wanted someone in control, someone authoritative and self-important. Most of them probably didn’t even realize that was what they had expected from her, but the look in their eyes said it all.

    The man seated before her was likely to be entirely unconcerned with any “boss” air that might come off of her. A rather standard looking Caucasian male, with brown eyes, sandy brown hair, and a square jaw, he practically looked right through Quebec as she walked into the room. He had been under interrogation for two weeks, and had resisted it all. Doubtless the CIA had already thrown everything that could even remotely be called legal at him, and more than a few that couldn’t. And he still continued to resist. That meant one of two things, either he knew nothing, which was highly unlikely but technically possible, or he believed enough in what he was doing that he would never give anything up. That was fine with Quebec.

    She walked towards him, entirely unconcerned, and spread her hand out over his face. He blinked, slightly surprised, but forced himself to resume the vacant expression he must adopt whenever someone was in the room with him. Quebec reached her other hand around to the back of his head and pressed, forcing as much of his forehead as possible into contact with her palm. Normally even a hint of contact would be enough, but this man was far too important to mess anything up, and as long as she had the luxury, Quebec was going to take it.

    In some ways, her mind was like a stack of boxes. Rows upon rows of tiny boxes which she could sort through, and store information in as she needed. When she wanted it back, all she had to do was find the correct box and open it, and the information was waiting for her. Some boxes were permanent unless emptied, some boxes faded away with time, fast or slow, until they were gone forever. And there always seemed to be another box.

    This time, when Quebec grabbed onto an empty box, she didn’t put what she was seeing into it. Instead, she slid the mental box down her arm, through the palm of her hand, and into her captive’s own head. His eyes went wide with surprise, and his mouth opened in a small “oh”, of surprise. For a moment Quebec shivered, and her eyes briefly flashed the exact same shade of brown as the man tied down before her. He gasped and tried to push himself away from her, but the chair only tipped slightly before rocking back into place. Quebec’s smile was ice cold, and the man seated before her began to sweat. She pulled her hand away lazily, rubbing her palms together.

    It was time to break him, to make sure that the CIA and the FBI couldn’t get anything out of him about what she had done. And now she knew his every sense of failure and every fear. She knew the things that haunted him, and what would bring him to his knees in a matter of moments. There was no hope for him.

    Quebec had walked out of that interrogation room a half hour after entering it, self-satisfied smirk lodged firmly in place. The men had raced into the room to check on their captive, only to find him leaning forward in his seat, a small string of slobber slipping slowly from between his lips and his eyes glassy. They had spent a few moments to try and get a response out of him, before checking him over for any signs of physical torture. They found nothing. The men backed away, awed expressions on their faces, and hurried out of the room to get one last glance at the infamous Quebec.

    They had tried to get her to hand over the information she had managed to retrieve, but they let her go willingly enough when she refused, and escorted her back to DC. What they didn’t know was the five microphones and three cameras hidden in the room had all been destroyed, courtesy of that welcoming handshake the Director had offered her when she walked in. They were getting nothing from her. But she would do her job, and they would pay her. That was the way that it worked. They knew that if anyone in the organization dared try and renege on that promise, no one would make it home alive. Because those were the rules.

    Quinn spent one night, and one night only, in DC. There was too little time for the mission to be postponed any longer than that. The terrorists situated in the capital were preparing to strike, and were days away from their grand arrival. Quinn was there to make sure that they did not succeed, and most of that night was spent in planning, and in learning everything there was to know about Jan Srocki, a Polish man who had crossed the seas with a large group of his countrymen; countrymen who had been planning a complicated terrorist attack against America for the past five years.

    The CIA had gotten lucky. Jan had been one of the first groups of men to cross the ocean, and was among those who were to launch the leading attack, the attack that would set off all the others, crossing the country so quickly that no law enforcement would ever be able to keep up. With the preliminary group soon to be eliminated, it was likely that Quebec would be able to cross the country and destroy all the chapters before they could do any damage.

    Jan got dressed very carefully the next morning, fingering slowly through the wide variety of clothes that Quinn had packed before leaving for DC. He needed to blend in, but he also needed to stand out enough that the man from the terrorist cell, who would undoubtedly arrive at some point during the day to continue scouting the White House, to recognize him. The cell had set up a base of operations in a small sandwich shop called the Potbelly, which was within viewing distance of the White House.

    He finished getting dressed quickly, ran a hand through his short sandy brown hair, and then left the hotel. It was not that far from the hotel to the restaurant, and Jan shoved his hands deep into his pockets and walked briskly, making no eye contact but always remaining generally polite. It had yet to get busy in the cafe-like shop this early in the morning, but the smell of freshly baked bread and sandwiches was drifting enticingly out over the street. Jan ordered his favorite sandwich, ham, mushroom, egg and swiss cheese, before sitting down in a corner of the restaurant to enjoy the food, and wait for one of his “friends” to arrive.
    #1 Peregrine, Mar 13, 2014
    Last edited: May 30, 2014
  2. The sun had barely climbed over the horizon, but Washington, D.C. was already pulsing with life. The proud citizens of America's capital city were making their way through the concrete jungle in complicated patterns that closely resembled march of ants, only significantly less organized. A hypothetical medium trying to attune himself to the emotions hanging in the air would be asking for a severe headache; just like every morning, precipitous rush to make it to the work before the peak hour rendered streets impassable without a tank to blast your way through charged everyone with stress. The engines of passing cars were howling, a horn of some impatient driver could be heard from time to time, a hot dog seller luring the customers in with promise of a cheap yet tasty meal; it was the unmistakable symphony of a giant city. Crazy, confusing abomination of a symphony that could fry your brain quicker than visit in a nuclear reactor if you allowed it. In fact, Svetlana Semyonovna Nazarova would swear on the memory of her deceased grandma that this city was sentient and deliberately attempted to shatter her sanity. Orientation in foreign places had always been her personal nemesis, but she had a feeling they had built Washington specifically to antagonize her. Everything looks the same here; was vanquishing any signs of originality their intended goal or a side effect of being American? Take this souvenir shop, for instance. It's the spitting image of the one I saw about half an hour ago... Oh. The short woman let out an exasperated sigh, mumbled few juicy curses in her native language and reached in her handbag for a map.

    A typical tourist would be panicking now, and not entirely without reason; numerous catastrophic stories began with sentence 'and so she got lost in a city far from her homeland, completely without money.' While the stories focused on broadly different topics - they covered everything from prostitution to black market with organs - their endings were exclusively of the 'downer' variety. Sveta, however, didn't even blink; sure, the Russian was annoyed, but definitely not frightened. When your profession involved traveling a lot and you possessed a sense of direction usually reserved for an empty cola can, not knowing where you were stopped being a novelty really fast. Good thing she was in no particular hurry today. Work had brought her to America, but the ecological conference she needed to attend with her client was held tomorrow. 'Ecological conference', of course, was just a fancy name for meeting of ridiculously rich women with nothing decent to do who considered throwing a glass bottle in a container for plastics a grave crime against existence. Svetlana almost gave in to the temptation of buying a fur coat just for this occasion, but in the end, the desire to actually get her payment prevailed. Still, even though unspeakable horrors awaited her tomorrow, there was no reason not to enjoy some sightseeing today. Running fingers through her curly, ginger hair instinctively, Sveta deciphered the map more or less successfully and headed for the new directions.

    Her 'To see' list included the usual tourist baits, such as the famous White House and Washington monument. It wasn't an exciting journey by any definition, but since Svetlana didn't like engaging in shopping sprees, she didn't have many other options on short notice. Gawking at centuries old buildings still beat sitting on your palms and spitting at the hotel's ceiling. Sveta walked in a relaxed pace, high heels announcing her every step, and tried to suck in the unique atmosphere as her tourist guide suggested. The only thing she felt, though, was a seductive scent of freshly baked pastry coming from little, pleasant-looking restaurant. Her stomach growled, reminding her she had skipped breakfast today, and begged for her attention. Why not, actually? It's not like those monuments will collapse if I deviate from my plan. Svetlana entered the bistro, threw her coat at the closest rack, and went to the counter to make her order. "What will you have, miss?" young waiter asked, wearing a trained smile on his face. "Coffee. Coffee so strong it could raise dead. And a chicken sandwich. Thanks," she beamed, only the faintest of eastern accents tarnishing her otherwise perfect English. "Sure thing, miss. Wait just a moment and I will serve you your order." Svetlana muttered another 'thanks' and went to sit to one of the empty tables. Her gaze flickered over the room before stopping on a brown-haired guy; there wasn't anything eye-catching about him, but she found it highly amusing to just stare at strangers creepily for no apparent reason. Watching them squirm from mere eye contact was simply hilarious.
  3. Jan bit into the sandwich with unconstrained delight, his eyes closing with joy as he chewed slowly. The CIA hadn’t starved him, but the purpose of their food was to keep him alive. There was no pleasure in those meals. This sandwich, on the other hand, was spiced to perfection, and after a month of grits, oatmeal, and cereal it was the closest he had been to heaven in a long time. He took his time chewing the mouthful, listening to the general buzz of the cafe, the sound of voices, the happy murmur of people delighted by the smell of well prepared food. Jan allowed himself the luxury of relaxing, something he had not been able to truly do in a long time. There was no guarantee that he was safe here, but the CIA had caught him outside the White House, and he had never told them anything about this restaurant. They would not know he was here, and the “visitations” would begin soon. By then it would be too long to stop them. He had done his job. He had remained silent. Now all he needed was for one of his brothers to find him, and, once he convinced them that he had not done anything to betray them, they would let him back in.

    Quebec noticed the eyes that had locked onto Jan far sooner than the man ever would have. One of the most deadly and desired mercenaries in the world could not afford to ignore such a thing. Jan gave no sign that he noticed the eyes on him, only taking another, almost desperate bite of his sandwich. They weren’t going to come for him. He was safe here. And if he wasn’t, he wanted to finish his sandwich first. Quebec, however, was preparing for whatever might be necessary. Jan had no weapons on him, this was a reconnaissance mission, one designed to rebuild potentially lost trust. Besides, a man just returned from the CIA would not have had the opportunity to get his hands on any such things.

    Finally, Jan turned around slowly, locking eyes with a woman sitting at a table across the room. Neither Jan nor Quebec liked it. Both were paranoid, although for different reasons. He quickly averted his eyes, before glancing back, hoping that the woman had been staring at him quite by accident, and would now have looked away. She hadn’t.

    Why was she staring at him? He could feel his body tightening up, preparing to fight or flee, he couldn’t tell. It was Quebec, however, who forced his body to relax, one muscle at a time. Quebec was fully prepared for anything that might happen, no matter how extraordinary. And Jan calmed down as well. He had said he wanted to finish his sandwich before getting arrested again? Well, he would make sure he could do just that.

    The sandwich was just as delightful as it had been moments before, and Jan, if not Quebec, forgot about the woman until he was swallowing down the last bits of sandwich and washing it down with a last sip of cool, clean water.

    She was still staring at him.

    “Do I have something amusing taped to the back of my shirt,” he finally asked the woman, after a moment’s deliberation. His tone was light and amused, but there was something, something almost undetectable buried under it. Quebec had resolved to figure out what this woman wanted, whether she was an innocent bystander or not. Conversation was the first step towards getting close enough to her to be able to touch her.
  4. Svetlana basically promoted staring from mere annoyance to a form of art; art that could potentially earn you a black eye if you followed its teachings too enthusiastically, but the same could be said just about any direction. Her gaze remained glued to her chosen victim's forehead at all times, her expression blank enough to give the unsuspecting man chills yet not empty enough to warrant calling the nearest mental asylum whether a patient had escaped recently. It was a classical look of a b-grade horror movie demonic child before she pulled out an axe and started chasing the protagonist. Svetlana was firmly convinced it could actually kick-start her acting career if she ever desired to become a part of brainwashing squad known as film industry. She took a careful bite of her sandwich; it tasted great, but to be honest, even the infamous school cafeteria food would taste like a heavenly ambrosia in comparison with the trash they had served in the airplane. Pay of a translator couldn't cover a first class ticket and the airline's policy was apparently punishing all the plebeians with horrible slipslop so they would never think of trying to cut expenses like that again. Bringing a warm mug of coffee to her lips, Sveta began to evaluate results of her little social experiment.

    So far, the reactions to her unorthodox fun had been pretty standard; few moments of sweet ignorance until the realization dawned on him, then hesitant confirmations and nervous glances. Their eyes met several times, but Svetlana withstood it without the tiniest wobble. No matter how many times she'd already done this, it never ceased to be funny. Stepping out of boundaries of etiquette just to probe someone's paranoia may have been childish and inconsiderate, yet her empathy wasn't developed enough to actually feel guilty. She stirred her coffee in a carefully calculated gesture and started placing bets on the man's next move; the most probable course of action was him paying for his meal and quickly retreating from reach of the potentially dangerous psychopath staring a hole in his head, but her gut feeling whispered her otherwise. Sveta couldn't quite wrap her mind around it. The guy seemed absolutely normal, maybe even a little bland - the kind of person you wouldn't look twice at in the crowd - yet her instincts claimed there was something odd about him.

    Maybe I'm developing some new and exciting mental disorder. It may be karma getting back at me; years of inducing paranoia in fellow human beings triggered the very same affliction in me. Poetic justice! Before she could diagnose herself further, her target actually gathered courage to approach her. This didn't happen very often; if she recorded statistics, only about ten percent voted for direct contact. Stretching her lips in a smile, Sveta quickly devised the most ridiculous answer she could come up with just to see how he'd react. "No, not at all. You see, mister, I can see people's auras and yours is particularly eye-catching. The colors look like straight out of a psychedelic dream. Have you been dabbling in the dark magic lately?" she asked, her voice completely serious.
  5. Jan might have blanched, but Quebec relaxed at her words. The deadly, coiled-spring tension that had been imperceptibly building within Jan's body vanished. Government people were trained to blend in, to be a part of the crowd. And while the stares might simply be the mark of a novice, her reply was so outlandish and attention drawing that there was no way she could be anything but a fool. Strange conversations were one of the best ways for a person to remember another person's face, and that was the last thing any intelligence gatherer wanted. That, of course, did not mean that the strange woman was in the clear. Not in the least. Quebec was not so much a fool that he would allow anyone out of the ordinary to pass by without a full inspection.

    He twisted in his seat, fully facing the strange woman. How to react now? All Jan wanted to do was get away, even if he had to stay in this place until one of the members of his cell showed up. Disassociate from the oddball, let her go back to her staring, if she wanted to. But that was not an option. Quebec had a task to perform, and that task had to be accomplished with as little delay as possible. There was no telling when an interruption might arrive.

    Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to simply walk up to her, sit down, and grab her arm very firmly. Jan was not a small man, and there was no reason for him to act intimidated by her. He could simply express his irritation with a firm shoulder-grab. And that would be more than enough for Quebec to satisfy any lingering paranoia.

    But it was too late for that. Jan had already clearly displayed his unease, before Quebec was able to regulate the expressions that crossed his face. They were so instinctive from mind to body that controlling them was something that needed the strictest attention. Quebec had not been paying attention for that, and now the opportunity had passed.

    There had to be some sort of middle ground. Something he could do that would allow him to draw closer, but was still reasonably within the bounds of Jan's character.

    "D.. dark magic?" he stuttered out, while Quebec laughed inside. Of all the things for her to pick! "What?"

    Now, there was a suitable reaction, and one entirely within the bounds of Jan. He could get angry. Jan's brow wrinkled, his lips pressing together. The tin foil that had come with the sandwich suddenly found itself in a crumpled ball within his fist, before being forcibly dunked into the tray. He stood up, moving towards the trash can that was near her, and emptied the tray into the trash can with sharp, jerky movements.

    "I don't know what kind of game you are trying to play, but it is just rude."
  6. You didn't need to have supernaturally keen senses to notice the sudden change in the atmosphere; even a blind person could detect the black cloud of anger suddenly hovering above the man's head. On the other hand, no, that wasn't right. At least not entirely. Svetlana had gathered abnormally vast experience in dealing with angry people during her excessive trolling escapades, so certain details didn't escape her. Rage as a response to such innocent stimulus usually came in two flavors; uptight annoyance commonly associated with overzealous businessmen in expensive suits who thought every minute wasted in casual conversations cost them millions of dollars and pointless wrath stemming probably from lousy mood or deep seated emotional problems. Either way, those reactions had one thing in common. They struck hard and fast when they appeared, just like a storm could suddenly seize a hot summer day and transform it into an impressive display of weapons in mother nature's arsenal. Those emotions were unpredictable and volatile; the very definition of spontaneity.

    Sveta somehow discerned strange hesitation in this guy. His posture seemed a little too tense, even for someone who had just been approached by a loon prattling about forbidden arts of dark magic, and he certainly took his sweet time with answer. It almost looked like he had consciously decided to be angry, but that was a pretty nonsensical conclusion. Very few people actually chose to lose their cool and yell at someone. Very few people actually pick random strangers for social experiments for their amusement, too. Who am I to judge weird hobbies? Or maybe he is just really superstitious and I've offended his religion by mentioning unholy rituals? That's certainly a possibility. He seemed to be perfectly content to laugh at my eccentricity until I brought up that topic. Hmm... Religion still played a prominent role in life of an average Russian despite the recent boost of atheism, so that explanation sounded logical to her. Overly devoted believers could go to crazy lengths for their shared imaginary friend. She calmly drank from her cup of coffee again, apparently entirely unaffected by his indignation. A professional poker player could envy Svetlana her current expression, her body language spoke of nothing but openness. The Russian truly wasn't alarmed by his behavior in the slightest; if she didn't possess nerves of steel and slightly muted instinct of self-preservation, she would have found less stressful ways to kill boredom. It was the latter that forced her to continue in this little charade; well, that and growing curiosity. One could argue those were synonyms.

    "Game? This is no game, mister,"she remarked, her features embodiment of solemnity. "You've meddled in matters far beyond your understanding and now you need help." Svetlana knew her big mouth was going to get her murdered, but she guessed it wouldn't happen in a public place during early morning hours and used that knowledge to her advantage.
  7. Jan’s face may have been furious, but inside Quebec was laughing. It was a rare occurrence to encounter someone as unusual as her, and in some respects it was actually enjoyable. Far beyond my understanding, is it? Try reading Hamlet, dear.

    But there was little time for Quebec to play games. Jan, after all, had a role to play. At least, of course, until he managed to touch her. As soon as he did that, he would put an end to this little game. Either she would die, or she would be insignificant. The outcome was entirely dependent upon who she was, and what she was doing staring at him. Quebec was inclined to believe it was innocent, but it did not pay to ignore possibilities. Especially not when the answer could be found so easily.

    The tray fell with a harsh clatter onto the top of the trashcan, and he spun around, his eyes locked directly onto the young woman’s face. He moved over to her table, placing his hands on the edge and leaning forward aggressively. “You want to help? Keep your nose out of my life, and your pointless speculation to yourself.”

    This was the moment, all he had to do was stretch out and grab onto her forearm. Then he would know how much he would have to concern himself with this strange person. But just as he was about to reach out and complete just that, Quebec noticed someone important, moving just outside the periphery of his vision. HIs eyes flicked sideways, and Quebec’s beliefs were confirmed by the strange fluttering in Jan’s heart. This was someone he knew. This was the person he had come here to find.

    All of the anger drained from his face in an instant, leaving it perfectly emotionless. He turned away from the table without even sparing a glance for its occupant. After all, he had far more important matters than playing games right now.

    Halina Senkowska walked into the shop comfortably, settled into the motions of a frequent visitor. The cashier, distracted by the quick argument occurring between the two patrons, looked away when the bell on the door chimed lightly, and a grin spread across his face. “The usual?” he asked, a slight glow in his eyes.

    It wasn’t surprising the young boy was infatuated. Hala was beautiful in the subtle, perfect way that meant she wouldn't draw undue attention, but it would be easy for her to draw in those people whom she wished to impress. If they weren’t a group of terrorists in America, Jan would have made his feelings known to her. And Halina very possibly would have reciprocated.

    He had never dreamed that she would be the one they sent to replace him. It would have been one thing to try and convince Pawel that he was ok. The two had never been particularly close, and the man would have been just as eager to take him back, if only to see what exactly Andrzej would do to him, upon learning that the CIA had let him go. But Halina had trusted him, and then she had been forced to accept that he was either dead or gone for good, destined to rot away in some stinking American hellhole. She would not easily accept his returning.

    When she saw him she stopped dead in her tracks, a look of complete surprise crossing over her face. He saw her lips forming into his name. And then he saw her eyes go hard. Jan hurried forward, latching onto her arm and dragging her out into the street. Hala, unresisting, followed along behind, but every muscle in her body radiated tension.

    And Quebec was laughing. What would Jan have done if he had known exactly how much this beautiful little Hala loved him? What would she try and do when the young man she believed she could trust implicitly tore down everything towards which they were working? It was delicious, a little soap opera running inside a grand tale of espionage and international terrorism.

    As soon as they were far enough away from everyone that no one would easily overhear their conversation, Halina ripped her arm out of Jan’s grasp. He turned to her, his eyes wide and pleading. She dropped her eyes to the ground, unwilling to meet his gaze.

    “You’re dead,” she told him bluntly.

    “I thought so too. But I didn’t tell them anything.”

    “Am I supposed to just believe that? And, even if they didn’t, how can I know that they didn’t let you go just so that you could tell them where we moved to?”

    A touch of pain flashed in Jan’s eyes, but Halina was far too busy studying the ground to notice. “They didn’t get anything from me, and they let me go. Look, I’ll prove it to you.”

    “How could you do that?”

    “After I didn’t come back, the group moved base. If I know Andrzej, and I do, he took the base to a small apartment about a half-mile to the northeast of the House. Far enough to throw off suspicion, close enough to not interrupt anything.”

    The look in Hala’s eyes told him that his guess had been spot on. Not that it had really been a guess at all.

    “If I was going to betray you, I would have just told them that, and the CIA would already be banging at the door. But I didn’t.” I have something far better planned for you.

    Tears filled Halina’s eyes, and she briefly flung her arms around his shoulders. “I’m so glad you are safe,” she whispered quietly into his ear. He wrapped his arms around her back, and briefly pulled her close to him. And then they separated, and were perfectly professional again.

    “We should head back,” Halina said matter of factly. “The others will want to know you are safe.”

    No one had been expecting Halina back from reconnaissance so quickly, so there was naturally flurry of activity as soon as she knocked on the door. Pawel’s suspicious face peered out at them, and he practically slammed the door in their faces when he caught sight of Jan’s face. Halina’s hand, placed firmly on the door, prevented that particular action.

    Jan’s reception was not warm, but he hardly expected it to be. Andrzej hurried out of the back room at the sound of the commotion, but came to a sudden halt when he too caught sight of Jan. He cast a furious look at Hala, but she fought vehemently for him, more vehemently than Jan himself could have. And then Andrzej moved forward and wrapped him in a hug as well, a wide smile splitting his face. Jan pounded him on the back fondly, even as something sinister gleamed in his eyes. He now had all the information he needed to move on his next target.

    But he bided his time through the evening all the same. Despite the protests of his “family” he helped prepare the dinner, and when no one was looking he placed a heavy muscle paralyzer in the dish. It would affect Jan as well, but when it became essential it would take barely a heartbeat for him to heal himself.

    Dinner was a noisy and enthusiastic affair, and for a while Quebec slipped completely back from the surface of Jan’s mind, leaving the man to enjoy one last evening before he vanished forever, shoved into the back of Quebec’s mind to sit with the thousands of other, unused personalities, unless Quebec needed to pull out a chunk of his personality to use at a later date.

    The paralysis hit Halina first. One moment she was laughing along with the rest, the next moment she was sitting limp in her seat, eyes wide and surprised. The others all looked over at her, laughing at her antics, before they began dropping like flies.

    Andrzej was the first to figure out what was going on. He always was clever, which was why he had been chosen as the leader of this particular group. He bellowed hoarsely, pointing a limp finger in Jan’s direction, who was sitting perfectly still, a lackadaisical, almost cruel smile spread across his face. Andrezej dropped before he was able to do anything but Pawel, the largest of the group, drew his pistol quickly and fired three rounds into Jan’s chest. The silenced pistol hardly made a sound as the three bullets sped in his direction. And Jan didn’t even flinch as one by one they collided with his shoulder, chest, and then the center of his head. Pawel shouted in victory, the gun falling from nerveless fingers, but his eyes went wide and his mouth slack as Quebec stood from where he had been sitting. His face rippled, bone drawing back together and smooth flesh covering the raw, red wound. Now his smile was undoubtedly cruel, and he walked slowly over to Pawel, bending forward, reaching with strong hands, and then violently twisting his neck to the side. There was a strange, dull pop, and then silence.

    He worked his way through the remaining cell members, all of their eyes wide, every one of them unable to lift a finger in their own defense. He did not want to leave a mess behind. At least not one that would be found anytime soon. He would turn the AC on high, and the landlord would come in when it was time to collect rent, which was easily two weeks away. By that time, his task would be completed. This would be Quebec’s calling card, proof that he had completed his job, as promised.

    He had left Halina for last. She watched him with terrified eyes, her body vibrating slightly with the effort to move. He kneeled down next to her and then kissed her, hungrily, greedily, savoring the sweet taste of her lips before snapping her neck. It did not make much of a difference; her kiss had been no different from that of a corpse.

    Standing next to the table in the middle of the room, surrounded by corpses, Quebec fished out the cell phone that was stashed away in Andrzej’s pocket. The man had been placed in charge of the terrorist attack that would launch the whole tidal wave, and he was one of the few who could contact the base back in Poland. The man was dead and his memories were gone, but his body was still intact. And that was all Quebec needed.

    “Boss, it’s me,” every word, every inflection he made after he finished dialing the number that was only written down in a dead man’s head, mimicked Andrzej. His own mother would not be able to tell that it was not him on the phone. “We’ve had a slight delay. Someone tried to do something at the White House, unconnected to us, and security is all riled up. Luckily for us, they now have their eyes peeled for suspicious Mexicans, and their minds should be well occupied. Give it a week, maybe two, to calm down. If you could pass down the word to the other cells, it would be good. I wouldn’t want us to miss the White House if someone gets antsy.”

    He hung up, snapping the cell phone in half and tossing the broken pieces towards Andrzej’s body. Then he stood up and leisurely strolled over to the temperature control, dialing it down to 45 degrees, as low as the thermostat would go. THat would keep the bodies from becoming overripe before it was time for them to be found.

    And Quebec? He had plenty of time. Time to tear everything down before anyone knew anything was wrong.

    And so Quebec danced across the country, heading east to New York City, and the several cells that were planted there. And then there was Philadelphia and the Independence Hall, Saint Louis and the Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Hoover Dam in Arizona, Seattle and the Space Needle. No one person in America knew every target that was going to be hit, they only knew the one that came before and the one that should come after. But that was more than enough for Quebec.

    Most of the cells greeted the delay with a touch of relief. It was one week they had not counted upon, one week to make sure their plans were perfect. One week in which one individual would crumble everything. None were as sweet as the destruction of that first cell in Washington DC, but everywhere Quebec went there was a trail of bodies left in wake.

    The final hit was supposed to be San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Had the attacks proceeded as planned, the terrorists would have managed to wipe out almost every noted landmark in the continental US, and America would have suffered a humiliating defeat. But such was not the case.

    San Francisco went as smoothly as any attack, and this time Quebec allowed a little bit of fun. This would be the first crime scene wet with blood, and two garish, bloody bars slashed down the wall from ceiling to floor. Only those who knew of the operation would recognise Quebec’s calling card. The two colored bars of the French flag, painted in the only colors Quebec knew.

    The airport was abuzz with activity, no one knowing that, had things gone according to plan, every flight in, out, and through the US would now be canceled. A large, slightly overweight businessman sat in one of the waiting chairs uncomfortably, a briefcase placed at his feet. He stretched slightly, glancing irritably at the clock which was moving far too slow for his tastes. He scratched absentmindedly at the large moustache which adorned his upper lip, but pushed his weight a little farther into the seat. Of course the flight was delayed. Flights were always delayed.

    But Poland waited with bated breath, not knowing that her glorious plan of attack would soon be rendered null, pushed away into oblivion and lost forever, except in the mind of someone who could not care less.
  8. Svetlana's curiosity was similar to a forest fire in more than one aspect; it hungrily devoured everything in its way without any concern for consequences, extinguishing it demanded a tremendous effort and all it took to activate was a single spark at the wrong moment. The victim of her amateurish psychological vivisection only poured whole gallons of oil into the flames with his ostentatious anger. The question 'what-is-his-damn-problem' was now flashing in her mind in big lime green neon letters. Sure, Sveta knew the reasons behind his exaggerated reaction were probably completely mundane - loss of a job or death of a loved one could put even a relatively nice guy into a positively foul mood - but that couldn't stop her imagination from mass-producing outrageous explanations. She didn't actually believe the man was a dark sorcerer she had accidentally exposed in public or an enemy alien spy stuffed in a human body freaking out about having his cover blown by a random stranger, yet the wacky ideas genuinely amused her. They were a spiritual version of laughing gas, albeit much safer and cheaper. Well, 'safer' was a relative term; while it didn't involve ravaging your organism with potentially dangerous substance, you risked having few bones broken in a friendly attempt to convince you of error of your ways. Svetlana shook her head in pretended exasperation as he recommended her to care about her own business. "People are so ungrateful nowadays, refusing a helping hand in such crude manner." The ginger guessed the absurd shift of blame towards the annoyed guy would push his buttons even more, but the cruel fate apparently conspired against her and blocked her operation with a distraction. A pretty, long-legged distraction she certainly couldn't compete with.

    Drat... And it looked so promising. Oh well. I shall weep bitter tears for this wasted chance, but I'll accept my defeat gracefully. Sveta instantly moved her attention back to her coffee and meal as if the guy had been erased from reality itself by some advanced computer program. Dwelling on failures wasn't her style and she harbored no intentions to start that trend now. Back to the tourist traps, I guess. Not as funny as irritating unstable psychopaths, but still better than succumbing to the shopping fever. An inspiration suddenly kissed her; perhaps she could use her rare sight-seeing trip for greater good and mend some broken relationships within family. Her father, a stern man from old school, didn't particularly like the idea of his only daughter traveling all across the globe just to make some money. He still lived in the past century where women should be allowed to leave the kitchen exclusively in the case of military aircraft dropping bombs on the house and Svetlana usually did everything in her power to keep at least fifty kilometers between them at all costs. The guilt sometimes reared its ugly head, though; they may have been as different as a night and day, but he was still her father and abandoning him didn't feel right, especially after her brother's departure. Maybe she could take few cheesy photos of those monuments people drooled over and send it to him as a proof that she still hadn't forgotten him; it would probably offend him, but then again, their whole interaction composed of stealthy insults. Cheerful photographs from a country that held a special spot in his personal hall of hatred would definitely qualify for that. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Why not?


    The next few weeks were rather hectic, to put it lightly. Svetlana was used to never staying in one place for too long, but it seemed like all her clients had decided to give her hell and toss her around like a hot potato. From Bangladesh to Sweden, from Sweden to Zimbabwe; she never really found the time to actually slow down and breath. Today wasn't an exception. Sveta was sitting in a plane right next to a stressed out mother with an exceptionally naughty child and tried to sleep. Later, when it became obvious the kid wouldn't shut up, her humble wish slowly transformed into a desire for new law legalizing chloroforming bratty children in a public transport. I should have taken the easy route and started translating books instead of this. Living as a recluse in a hut deep in the heart of wilderness and working on a book must be so nice. Maybe I'll actually give up on this lifestyle to become a hermit, Svetlana thought, yet it was obvious to her even in her sleep-deprived state she couldn't go through with her plan. The lack of finances wouldn't even be the biggest problem; Sveta simply needed human contact as much as she required an air to breathe. Words on paper were dead to her. Moreover, translating a book was a laborious, tedious work which asked for as much skill as actually writing one.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to San Francisco International Airport," announced a captain's voice from the reproductors. "Local time is three pm and the temperature 25°C. As we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. Please turn off all electronic devices..."

    A look of pure horror settled on her face as she straightened up in her seat, suddenly fully awake. Three pm?! The airlines were notorious for late arrivals, but such delay would totally mess up her schedule. Great. Now should the company lose my baggage and my happiness will be complete. Svetlana listened to the instructions idly, her mind already occupied with weaving alternative plans that would enable her to meet her timetable. How far is the damned hotel? Skipping that stop would be pain in the ass, but it would also buy me... an hour, maybe. And I don't have many bags with me. Hmmm... The plane slightly bumped as it landed on the runway and the passengers erupted in an obligatory applause. She had never understood this particular custom; statistically, it was way more probable to perish in a car accident than in a plane crash and yet nobody bothered to praise a bus driver for managing to avoid the trouble.

    The time seemed to run like the wind and everything else slowed down to the point of agony. Sveta could only grit her teeth in a silent helplessness as she waited impatiently for her bags to appear on the baggage carousel. Well, I can at least call myself a taxi, she thought and rummaged through her handbag. Of course, every handbag was actually a black hole in disguise, so it took her whole ages to dig up her cellphone... Only to find out the battery had died during the flight. How typical. Svetlana closed her mobile phone with an irritated sigh; the universe evidently thought turning her in the butt of the joke today would be hysterical. The suspicion was confirmed when she found only rupees and euros in her purse. Trying to jam the foreign currency in the nearby pay phones might have been funny, but it would likely brand her as a confused terrorist in the eyes of paranoid Americans. The line in front of the currency exchange office looked to be as long as the fabled queues for bananas in the communist Russia; she would lose her youth before getting the few cents she wanted so desperately.

    Time to activate my superpower: shameless harassment of unlucky passers-by. Looking around like an experienced hunter, Svetlana saw a suitable candidate for her needs. The overweight gentlemen seemed to be of the weak-willed sort; the kind of guy who always bought a girl scout cookies just to make them go away. The ginger forced her facial muscles to form into a polite smile and approached him. "Good day, sir. I'm sorry to bother you, but could you perhaps give me a change for a dollar? I really need to call a taxi and I don't have any coins on my person..." Sveta suddenly frowned, resembling a student attempting to remember an important fact from a lesson from two months ago. There was something awfully familiar about the man, yet she couldn't wrap her mind around it. "Wait a second. I promise this is not a cheap pick up line, but don't I know you from somewhere?"
    #8 Aine, May 7, 2014
    Last edited: May 9, 2014
  9. Albert Rotham was not a patient man. However, through a series of harsh training exercises he had taught himself the patience and charming grace of a viper. This valiant self-control had led him far in the business world, and he was only a few promotions away from earning himself a seat as one of the Chairmen of a Fortune 500 company. He was a ruthless man. Someone to be feared.

    But, for some reason, passers-by never seemed to recognise that fact. There was something undeniably affable about him, no matter how hard he tried to crush it. Whatever it was led passers-by to exchange words with him, children to wave at him, and random women to walk up and ask for change.

    For Quebec, the cover was perfect. Men like Rotham were the kind who were said to change moods on a dime. They kept the people around them on their toes, making them easier to manipulate. And they made strangers relaxed, until a sudden, apparently unprecedented shift caused them to break. It was an identity that he had been slowly building for years, using his massive wealth to create a man who somehow managed to do everything without ever actually having to do anything. It gave him an in into almost any business operation in the world, one that he could then exploit shamelessly for whatever purpose he needed. This was an identity that he often used for travel, because while no one might look twice at a random man, passing through, Quebec did not wish to be treated as an “average man.” There were complications that went along with that. For one thing, no airport official would wish to search his suitcase, and he could walk right past a good portion of security. Of course, there were many other options open to Quebec, but Rotham was by far the most convenient.

    He glanced up rather irritably from the ground, his eyes squinting into something that anyone would mistake for a smile. And, were it not for the rigid control present in both Rotham and Quebec, the man might have gagged.

    Her eccentric words might be gone, but there was no mistaking the woman from the sandwich shop in Washington DC. What was she doing here? How had they crossed paths again. He could not believe that she had followed him. He was untraceable, and there was no way that anyone in the world would be able to connect this overweight businessman to the lean, haunted young man he had been a week before. Yet, here she was. Could he be missing something?

    Of course, there was always the chance that it was coincidence. Stranger things certainly happened. He was about to lean forward, agreeing to make the change, and in the process clasp his over-large hand over her soft wrist, when her expression changed. Only rigid self-control kept his expression from flickering even an inch. He didn’t trust her. A part of him violently regretted allowing himself to be waylaid before that first slaughter, when he had been so close. Well, he would not make the same mistake this time.

    He gave a quick, thin-lipped smile, his eyes going dark in a paradoxical contrast with his personable appearance. “I know many people,” he told her, blandly. “Perhaps you are one of them. But I do believe I have some change on my person.” He slid forward in his chair, a hand scrabbling slightly at his front pocket. When he was apparently unable to extract the wallet from his pocket he stood.
  10. "Yeah, maybe. The world is certainly small these days and I'm practically a nomad. And thanks, mister. You're a lifesaver." Svetlana took a few steps back to give the corpulent man some space; when asking for a favor, it was generally a good idea to behave as politely as possible. She carefully separated time reserved for games from her working time and her professional mode had been activated the moment the plane had touched the ground. Her inner filter removed all the frivolities with precision of a surgeon... Well, aside from the nagging feeling of familiarity Sveta couldn't shake off. The thoughtful pucker on her forehead deepened; the suspicion was like a cat scratching on the door of her consciousness and trying to force itself in. It didn't make sense. The Russian had met many people on her travels - so many she couldn't name them all even if someone held a knife to her throat - which resulted in her having a horrible memory when it came to human faces. They were fused together in her mind into one giant indistinguishable formation, swirling and changing constantly like a scene from a surreal movie. Hell, Svetlana had problems recognizing her classmates from high school sometimes... And yet this man who didn't show any signs of knowing her caused her radar to bleep endlessly.

    Perhaps he was just a lucky owner of a really generic facial features, but that didn't strike her as an explanation for the strong aura of déja vu radiating from him. Sveta struggled to describe her impressions accurately - another small miracle considering her love of words - yet his visage didn't play a big part in her conviction they had already met before. No, there was something else usurping her attention. Something hidden beneath the surface; something that ran far deeper than an outward appearance. A half-forgotten reminiscence. It felt like connecting dots, but failing to spot the bigger picture created by them. Needless to say, the feeling frustrated her to no end. Mysteries without a clear answers had always bothered her; her natural tendency to stick her nose where it didn't belong drove her to find out more. Why do I even care? It's entirely possible I'm just hallucinating from the lack of sleep. Moreover, I don't really have time to question him right now. A client eager to sponsor my expenses is waiting for me, Svetlana thought as she pulled out her own purse to give the man a paper money in exchange. The dollar bill rustled in her hand quietly. All she had to do was to reach out to him and accept the transaction, but his expression stopped her mid-movement. The spark in his eyes certainly didn't match the friendly smile and while such triviality couldn't throw her off balance, the repressed anger reminded her of someone. The memory was there, buried under tons of unnecessary information, but she couldn't access it. Svetlana raised her eyebrow questioningly, suddenly deciding that few more wasted minutes wouldn't make much of a difference in the long run anyway.

    "But seriously, this is bugging me. Haven't we worked together before? Because the only other explanation I can think is that we knew each other in one of our past lives, and that would undermine my whole life philosophy since I am not a Buddhist. Reincarnation is a pretty lousy concept, if you ask me. The thought that the world is occupied by the same souls who have to learn the same things over and over until some kind of grand realization is rather discouraging."
  11. Rotham heaved himself to his feet, his attention apparently fixated on digging out his wallet, and then reaching the small handful of loose change that was underneath it. However, his attention was truly focused on the woman with whom he had now crossed paths twice. In a world such as his, repeated meetings were to be distrusted. However, most of him still accepted the fact that this truly was sheer coincidence, even if he did not believe in coincidence. Quebec had been at this job for long enough to know that it was impossible for anyone, no matter how powerful, to keep track of him. He had to trust in his own ability, for, if he did not, there was nothing left in which to trust.

    Still, he would be glad to get this disturbance out of the way, and fully prove to himself that coincidence did happen. He fished the handful of change out of his pocket. Of course, Rotham knew that it would not be enough to fully exchange for a dollar. He was not the kind of man who carried around loose change, except when a passing urge convinced him to buy an apple fritter for the drive to the airport. But it certainly sounded like enough change in his pocket, and that is what he was counting on. All she had to do was extend out her hand...

    But, for some unknowable, untellable reason, she hesitated. She hesitated, and she started speaking once more about knowing him. Why did she not allow him to touch her? What kept her from that one, crucial moment? But Quebec was not one to let the unexpected fluster him. He could take advantage of almost any situation. If she didn’t want to hand him the dollar, he would simply have to contrive some other way to touch her skin.

    “I think I would probably remember you,” he replied, slicking invisible honey into his words, sweet enough to lure in even a rabid bear. “But we know each other now. Albert Rotham,” he offered, sticking out his right hand in a warm motion to shake her hand. It was a move that was designed to inspire confidence, and he had honed it to near perfection. “And you are?”

    If she did not take his hand right now he would grab her, and be damned to respectability. By the time airport security got to the area, he would be on the next plane to Poland.
  12. "Well, I guess it would be difficult to forget my semaphore colored hair and annoying personality," she chuckled, though the feeling of familiarity didn't disappear. If anything, it only grew stronger. The newly discovered paranoia within her also cooked up a rather nonsensical theory that Rotham was deliberately hiding truth from her. She had no idea why would he lie about such matter - honestly, even the famous Sherlock Holmes would have problems coming up with a satisfying deduction - but the man seemed to be somewhat insincere. Perhaps she was slowly spiraling down towards the madness, but the ginger truly believed her hunch on some unconscious level. An average person's instinct would surely command its owner to withdraw as this situation smelled like a week old fish, yet it only encouraged Sveta's curiosity to learn more.

    Almost without thinking, Svetlana extended her right hand to greet her mysterious acquaintance with a good, solid shake. It didn't even occur to her to question his motives; while the men in her fatherland often refused to shake hands with women, preferring to kiss them on their cheek when getting to know each other, it was a habit so deeply ingrained in a Western culture and she had embraced it as her second nature. Furthermore, a single handshake could reveal a lot about her companion's personality. Of course, it was impossible to compile his entire psychological profile from a single touch, but the intensity of his grip would be a good start. "The pleasure is mine. Svetlana Semyonovna Nazarova," she smiled. Their hands were seconds from meeting now... When someone suddenly grabbed her from behind, picked her up like a rag doll and put her back down far from Rotham's reach. The surprised woman found herself staring into unshaven face of her friend Arkadiy.

    "Hey, Sveta. Harassing strangers again?" he asked in melodic Russian, his voice full of genuine amusement. Arkadiy was well aware of her unconventional hobbies; he also belonged to the minority who found them funny rather than simply disrespectful.

    "What, me? Never. And stop embarrassing me in front of... well, random people!" Svetlana jumped to another language with elegance of a professional ballerina and slapped his shoulder playfully. "Look, as much as I'd love to chat with you, the delay of my flight kinda screwed up my schedule, so I'm in a hurry. If you still have the same number, I can call you later, but... What part of 'stop embarrassing me in public' haven't you understood?!" she complained loudly when her friend picked her up again, this time bridal style, and started walking away casually as if it was the most normal thing under the sun. "I get it, you're a giant and I'm a midget. The difference in strength is enormous. Gods themselves tremble at sight of such brutal display of power. Now can you please let me go? And where do you think you're going?"
    "Well, I was thinking I could give you a ride to your destination since I have a car here, but if you don't want to..."

    "No, no! That would be awesome. Have I mentioned recently how much I love you? Thanks, man! I'll invite you to a fancy dinner once I'm done with my job here. The menu will be full of snobbish meals with unpronounceable names, I promise... But for the love of all that is beautiful and good, put me down already. Come on, I just need to collect my stuff..."
    Arkadiy granted her wish and once Sveta felt a ground under her feet, she practically ran to the baggage carousel.The whole affair with Rotham slipped from her mind like yesterday's news with magical appearance of solution to her issues and even if it hadn't,he was out of her sight at this point. Sure, Svetlana could always go back and try to find him, but he didn't interest her that much. Luck finally smiled at her today; Arkadiy was a gift sent from heavens. Barring some kind of catastrophe like a traffic jam, she would succeed in arriving... well, not exactly in time, but at least not terribly late.'Fashionably late' would be the best term to use. Throwing away such unique opportunity just to appease feelings of a stranger would have been stupid.

    "Who was that old fart?" asked Arkadiy as he escorted her to his car, one of her bags in each hand.

    "Hell if I know, but let's not dwell on pointless matters. What are you doing in the states anyway, Arkadiy?"
    #12 Aine, May 13, 2014
    Last edited: May 13, 2014
  13. Rotham’s smile spread subtly when she extended her own hand. There was always satisfaction in an ending, even if it was something as subtle as an end to Quebec’s questions. And then... his hand closed on empty air. In front of him stood a giant of a man, wild looking and unshaven. He cast an apologetic smile at Rotham, and threw in a conspiratorial wink, before hurrying away, speaking quickly in Russian to... Svetlana. Well, at least now he had a name. If that even was her name.

    The whole thing seemed twisted. All of her actions spoke of a random passer-by, someone who had absolutely no real significance. And yet twice she had gone out of her way to make herself known to Quebec. And she had said that Rotham looked familiar. He clenched his teeth tight, a scream of frustration building in his throat. One had balled into a fist, and he looked about for the retreating figure of the two Russians. He would go after her. It would be easy enough to grab either her or her companion, and then it didn’t really matter what he said.

    With that he took off, leaving his suitcase unattended by the chair. He moved quickly through the crowd, regretting Rotham’s bulk that made it impossible for him to slip between crowds of people. But, by the time he reached the terminal exit, he still hadn’t found the two.

    With a sudden sigh, every tense muscle in Rotham relaxed as Quebec forcibly pushed the memories of Svetlana out of his head. There was nothing he could do about it now. Besides, what could she really do? There were no bindings could hold Quebec bound, no weapon that could do any permanent damage. What did it matter if she found out some secret? There would always be people in need of Quebec’s services. Even if she knew for certain about Quebec’s ability to change skins and minds in a heartbeat, no one would believe her.

    If she found him again he would not hesitate. It did not matter if she found him by chance or by design, whether she was a nobody or a secret agent, he would not allow anyone who traced his footsteps to survive. And, if she did not find him again, then that would be that. He would accept the coincidence for what it was. A coincidence.

    That settled, Rotham returned to his seat, an unfelt smile spread across his lips. It was time for him to go to Poland.

    There were enough people in the world who were suspicious of Rotham that it was impossible for him to go anywhere without someone tracking his travels. Yet, to the furious indignation of pretty much everyone who tried to trace his passage, Rotham would often simply disappear. He would make a fight, make a transaction, and then he wouldn’t reappear for weeks to months at a time, and when he did it would be in a completely different part of the world. This had caused many groups, most notably the IRS and Homeland Security, to try and figure out what exactly Rotham was doing in his times of absence. But they could never figure anything out, and his money was always perfectly clean.

    Not that Quebec would do anything else. In his head rested the memories of one Jonathan James, a famous teenage hacker who committed suicide at the age of 25, and several other of the world’s most skilled hackers, famous or not. If Quebec did not want to leave a trail, no trail would be left.

    Those who tracked his movements watched as he rented a car from the John Paul II International Airport, just outside of Katowice, Poland. Every muscle in their bodies were tight, for these were always the times that Rotham would vanish. And vanish he did. Almost all of the major roads out of the city were toll roads, but there was no record of a transaction on his account. And, one week later, the car would be found abandoned near downtown Katowice.

    Quebec borrowed the identities of two locals to get him where he wanted to go. The first, only a little ways outside the airport, was a man named Edward Szymanski. Edi had politely donated his wallet, to pay for the tolls on the way to Racibórz. A complete stranger was also polite enough to donate a car to get Quebec from Katowice to Racibórz.

    Racibórz was a mid-sized town, with somewhere near sixty thousand people. It was large enough that it was impossible for everyone to know everyone else, and that made it possible for a secret band of terrorists to hide in it. However, it was also small enough and far enough off the map that it was rare to have visitors. The police force was small, and most of its attention was focused on the border, which was just over 10 km away.

    Quebec spent the night outside the city, sleeping fitfully in the back seat of the stolen sedan. In the morning he parked the stolen car a mile or so outside the city, in front of a random residential house. They would report the car in the afternoon, when whoever occupied the house came home from work. Satisfied, he wandered up to a house with a car still parked in the driveway. When a man opened the door, Quebec punched him in the face.

    Quebec’s guessing skills were always good, although most of the time it was far better not to use them. Cyryl Zielinski was a bachelor and a night shift worker. He was not real well known around town, but was very familiar with the city in which he had been born and raised. His memories of the city, combined with Andrzej’s knowledge of the group, allowed Quebec to easily pinpoint the warehouse the terrorists were based out of.

    But first Quebec had a few house visits to make. This group was not stupid, and only about two thirds of its total members had been sent to America. They had not anticipated failure, but they had also accepted that things might go wrong. More optimistically, should the attack succeed, they would need the rest of the members here in Poland, to secretly spread word and swell their numbers once more. Most of those who were sent to America would never be coming back, whether they got captured or killed, or simply had to spend the rest of their lives in hiding. That was the outcome that both Jan and Halina had been secretly praying for. A quiet life in Maryland, where perhaps they could have a few children.

    But, right now, the group was still collected in a single city. As soon as word of the attacks reached Poland, then they would scatter. But not yet. They wanted to be able to quickly recollect if anything went wrong.

    However, a good half of the third who had stayed behind would not be at the warehouse at any given moment. They had to be taken care of first, just in case things at the warehouse got messy. At the moment, Quebec would be perfectly happy to have things get messy. He was getting tired of this job. Complete wipeouts could only retain his interest for so long.

    The houses were easy. People were always so willing to open their doors to strangers, even if it was only part way open. But that was more than enough for Quebec. He spared those who knew nothing of the group, but that wasn’t many. A five year old girl who might have been better off joining her parents in oblivion, a random roommate of one man, an elderly woman who tried to hit Quebec over the back of the head with a frying pan when she wandered out and saw him crouched over the dead bodies of her nephew and son.

    And then all that was left was the warehouse. It got messy. Quebec enjoyed it immensely.

    He left the boss, the man who had organized this whole strike, for last. He wanted the man to witness the destruction of fifteen years worth of work. And then, just before he killed him, Quebec stole his mind, to make sure that there were no loose ends he had failed to tie up.

    And that was the end of it. A group of terrorists who had only been days away from destroying all of the most notable landmarks of the United States of America, and sending the country into a state of total panic, obliterated in just under two weeks. It was a nice feather in his cap. All that was left now was to wait for the CIA to get the news, and make sure that they completed their payment.

    He left the city noisily, feeling a small taste of sympathy for the man from whom he had borrowed the body. The police were going to be coming to speak to Cyryl, there was no doubt of that. But if Quebec made more of a show of leaving, it might lighten some of the eventual pressure that would fall on the man.

    He ditched the car in the next city over, and picked up another one, only to drop that one several miles back outside of Katowice. He altered the features of Cyryl slightly, pulling appropriate but attractive elements from some of the many, many other bodies and minds stored away in the mental boxes.

    Poland was not a bad place, all things considered, and he was in no hurry to get back to America. Quebec had contacts all over the world, Eastern Europe was no exception, so there was more than enough time to wander the streets.

    And that was exactly what Cyryl did.
  14. Damn the fucking timezone differences, Svetlana thought with a yawn as she squinted into the blinding sunlight. She could successfully play a role of a zombie in a cheap horror movie even without spending a single minute in a make-up room; the dark bags under her eyes contrasted sharply with her almost translucent skin, her usually gorgeous hair was somewhat greasy and only the members of parliament could match her in emptiness of her expression. Father was right all along, I wasn't built to do this. Nobody is built to do this. The human race simply doesn't have the prerequisites for not sleeping. Of course, her plans would have worked out nicely if it hadn't been for Arkadiy completely derailing them. Coincidental meetings of childhood friends weren't all that common in Svetlana's life, and so she had sacrificed the time previously reserved for reducing the enormous sleep deficit that was slowly, but surely piling up on her to chatting with the guy instead. She had learned many juicy rumors, the most prominent of them being that the eternal bachelor Arkadiy had proposed to a certain American lady and she had said 'yes'. Sveta had jokingly remarked he must have drugged her to actually receive her permission, which had, in turn, prompted Arkadiy to tease her about her own love life relentlessly. Questions like 'When are you going to give your dad grand-kids, huh?' and recommendations similar to 'Hey, if you like girls better than guys, you shouldn't be in denial about it,' had made her laugh so hard her mouth still hurt. Talking with him like during the old times had been a blast, but she regretted they had drunk so much. Splitting headache was never a good addition to your day, and it felt like a pure torture when combined with the sleep deprivation.

    At least nobody had hired her to do some translating today; that fact served as a small consolation. Svetlana had originally meant to fly directly to Russia to enjoy few weeks of a deserved vacation filled with sweet lounging and low-quality soap operas, but then she had remembered the fiftieth birthday of her aunt Irina was quickly approaching. Irina was definitely one of her more favorite relatives - a cordial, motherly figure, but a bit of a rebel on the inside - and visiting her personally in her home in Poland would also give her a convenient excuse to delay the inevitable meeting with her father. Sveta didn't expect him to greet her with a smile on his fact; in fact, he was probably already rehearsing for another memorable speech about inappropriateness of her lifestyle. It was probably a parent's job to criticize their children mercilessly in order to whip them into shape, but it didn't work so well without any positive feedback. Hearing different variations of 'you're wasting your life' whenever their roads crossed was rather depressing even to her.

    I need a coffee before knocking on her door or she might think I've decided to visit her posthumously as a ghost and spray me with holy water. Irina possessed many admirable characteristics, but when it came to superstitions and urban legends, she generally failed to take them with a grain of salt. They weren't loose guidelines to her or an interesting part of a local folklore; no, her aunt practically worshiped those rules as if they were set in stone. Her father had always claimed Svetlana had inherited the loony gene from her, which only made her like Irina more. The ginger approached the stall that was surrounded by the delicious aroma of a freshly roasted coffee; it attracted her almost involuntarily, just like moth would always be lured in by a lamp. "Double espresso, please," she murmured when the queue finally moved. Young, smiling seller with green dreadlocks all over his head gave her a sympathetic nod, probably acknowledging her almost catatonic state, and handed her the divine beverage. "That's good, you can keep the spare change," Sveta declined the coins quickly and headed to her aunt's house, occasionally sipping from the cup to simulate replenishment of her energy via caffeine. The sun still hurt her eyes, so she kept her gaze glued to the ground, which... didn't prove to be the best idea when she bumped into a male figure, spilling her coffee all over his shirt. "Oh crap, I'm sorry," Svetlana uttered in Polish before lifting her eyes to meet his face. "I have a relative living close, so if you want to, you can go with me and I'll wash it for you... Hey, you seem somewhat familiar. What's your name?"
    #14 Aine, May 23, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2014
  15. He caught the lady who walked into him by instinct, his hands closing over her upper arms. The hot coffee burned his chest slightly, but he didn’t even bother to gasp in surprise and pain. No, the entirety of his attention was focused on the red hair just below his chin. At that moment a sniper could have shot him in the back, and he probably wouldn’t have noticed. She had found him again.

    Quebec’s hands tightened to almost painful measures on her arms, preventing her from moving even an inch. He pulled her in towards him, until their faces were so close together he would have easily been able to kiss her. One hand crept up from her arm, and closed around her neck. And finally, finally he got a peek at her mind.

    “Sveta,” he practically crooned. “It is good to see you again. And so soon after our last meeting. I’m impressed.” His hand tightened on her throat, preventing her from making any noise.

    “Now, you are going to come with me, or I will break your neck right now. I’d rather keep you alive, but you’ve gotten irritating enough that either option would work for me. No screaming, now.” And, ever so slightly, his grip relaxed. “Will you behave yourself?”

    It was as he had suspected. She was no one. A civilian, who just had the most unfortunate luck as to run across him twice. That, and her uncanny ability to recognize him, even as every aspect about him changed. That was what kept him from killing her now. He did not believe in fate or magic, but if there was something about her that allowed her to track him, consciously or not, he needed to know what it was. Before it got turned against him.
  16. Sveta wasn't normally averse to human contact, but strangers hugging her without any sort of warning lay far outside of her comfort zone. Sure, the man had probably caught her by instinct when she had stumbled, yet there was no reason to prolong the touch deliberately. If he thought he could grope her as a compensation for few coffee stains, Svetlana would show him the error of his ways. I said 'you look familiar,' not 'hey, you're my long lost lover, let's make out,' if my memory serves correctly. "Okay, hang on. Don't you think you're going a little overboard?" she spoke in an annoyed and tried to take a step back. 'Tried' was a good way to describe it, since her new friend captured her in a crushing grip. Her eyes widened in a mild panic; nothing about this behavior resembled a relatively innocent attempt to examine her body from up-close anymore.

    "What the hell are you..." The hand around her neck silenced her effectively, and her mind suddenly went blank. It didn't feel like running out of oxygen and fainting; in fact, it didn't feel like any known sensation in the humanity's vast repertoire. She was still conscious - conscious and mostly aware of her surroundings - but something foreign was creating an irritating buzz in her head. Her vision temporarily distorted and the world dissolved into what looked like pixelated pictures from television with an extremely bad reception. The ever-present static crackle in her ears intensified, triggering a headache. And then it ended as abruptly as it began with the only reminder it had ever happened being a bitter aftertaste in her mouth.

    Svetlana stared at him, now legitimately scared. Maybe her perplexed brain made a bizarre association, but she believed it to be his doing somehow. The mini seizure could have very well been a side effect of sudden stress or first symptom of a brand new mental disease, yet her instinct told her otherwise. Conspiracy theories about humans with superpowers masquerading as common folks in the nameless crowd had seemed even more absurd to her than the futuristic idea of non-corrupt politicians, though personal experience was notorious for overcoming greater obstacles. The number of questions practically burning a hole into her tongue only multiplied when the man used her name, implicating that they really did know each other. So soon after our last meeting? What did he mean by that? It was hard to think clearly with his hand still clutching her neck; Sveta felt like the answer to that question lurked somewhere in the shadows of her subconscious, but it jumped out of her reach every time she tried to grab it.

    The man finally allowed her to breathe properly. The stereotypical badass Russian from action movies would have stopped listening to his demands at this point, kicked him in the nuts and beat him on the spot, but Svetlana was very far from the definition of the stereotypical badass Russian. Her chances of overpowering him were non-existent, her chances of escape abysmally low and the streets practically empty. She could scream, yes, but no random hero would appear out of nowhere to prevent him from fulfilling his promise. "Fine," Sveta replied, her voice slightly raspy from the rough treatment. Her best shot at surviving was talking her way out of this mess; trying his patience with token resistance wouldn't help her cause much.
  17. “Good,” Quebec replied, releasing his hold on her neck and quickly spinning her around. His one hand was still clamped just a little too tight on her upper arm, reminding her exactly who was in control of this little meeting, but now, from a distance, it would look like they were boyfriend and girlfriend, walking down the street with his arm over her shoulder. “We are going to find a car and go for a little drive. Be a good girl, and I’ll let you ride in the front seat.” He left the alternative unsaid.

    And then, with no more ceremony or threats, he took off down the street. His arm, looped around her back, forced her to step forward with him or risk being completely knocked over. They walked one block, and then turned onto a side street lined with houses. He walked past the first several cars without even seeming to cast a glance at them, but inside his head he was quickly studying every aspect of it.

    He came to a stop next to a car with as little warning as he had started walking a few minutes ago. He glanced quickly around the neighborhood, checking for anyone nosy, before turning to Svetlana. “Quiet now,” he reminded her, before turning to face a car.

    It was an old model, the paint slightly peeled, and the windows left open just a crack to keep the car from completely overheating in the sun. Quebec slipped his fingers into the gap and began to gently rock the window back and forth. It only took him a couple of seconds to get the glass off track, and then only a few more seconds to get the gap big enough to admit his arm. He reached in and unlocked the door, politely holding it open for Sveta.

    “After you,” he told her politely, eyes hard. He stood right next to her as she sat down, before instructing her to unlock the door on the driver’s side. His expression brooked no delay. “No heroics now.”

    He locked the door before closing it on her. It wouldn’t create much of a delay in her ability to escape him, but it was a mental deterrent. One more reminder that she was not welcome to try and leave. He then settled into the drivers seat, pulled the ignition wires out from under the steering column, and hotwired the car. One sharp jerk on the wheel to the left and the steering lock shattered. Quebec stuck the car in gear, and then they were off, rolling down the street.

    The drive was perfectly silent. It was so easy to see the questions burning within her, but every part of Quebec seemed to deter questions, or any conversation at all. They drove out of Katowice to the southeast, quickly leaving the city behind and getting into the forest. The drive was just a half an hour, and a good portion of that was off the main roads. Quebec had an old safe house on the outskirts of Katowice. Normally he would not have gone there, as it had been so long since he had last visited it that he was no longer certain it was secure, but there were certain things that could not be done in a hotel room.

    “Out,” he told his unwilling companion. “And I suppose, if you want to do something stupid and reckless, this would be the moment. I’d rather not have to deal with it later.”
  18. Sveta just followed her kidnapper's instructions obediently like a marionette, her head strangely light. Her kidnapper. She could feel his uncompromising hands on her neck, she could feel the blood rushing to the slowly forming bruise, but one part of her still thought she would wake up in her bed soon, laugh at the absurdity of her dreams and maybe visit a psychoanalyst to find out what was it supposed to mean. The whole concept of this situation just seemed so outlandish. Eccentric translators weren't the most common candidates for kidnapping; the dubious honor to occupy first places in those statistics belonged to the journalists in war zones, children of millionaires and people of general significance. It was just her luck, really.

    Svetlana walked with her head bowed down, silently praying to the god she didn't believe in for someone to appear magically and save her. Of course, her atheism was only invigorated since the streets of Katowice remained just as empty as they had been few minutes before. She contemplated suddenly stepping on his foot, exploit the moment of surprise and run for it, but the promise of breaking her neck stopped her; Sveta wasn't confident enough in her ability to escape him, especially not with such massive sleep deficit. Even though the current turn of events had awakened her like a splash of cold water, she was still tired and very much incapable of a high physical performance.

    I guess it's late to regret my lack of enthusiasm when it comes to sports, the Russian thought as he broke into the car expertly. The unwavering self-possession inscribed into his movements chilled her to the core; the man must have been a seasoned criminal, someone who had plenty of experience in his trade. Sveta hesitated for a second when he invited her to enter the stolen car, but she ended up complying with his request without further prodding. After all, the front seat was certainly way more comfortable than the trunk. I still don't get this! Why me? Where have we met? She took the opportunity to examine his features carefully for the first time, but the face didn't ring any bells to her. Well, that wasn't the whole truth. Nothing about him seemed familiar, yet Svetlana could swear she knew him from somewhere. Come on, brain, work! He said 'you've gotten irritating enough,' which suggests we have met not once, but few times. And I probably did something especially heinous to him because not even the greatest sociopaths kidnap people over stepping on their toe. The list of people she had wronged was remarkably long, but none of her innocent jokes could provoke such violent reactions; moreover, Sveta always chose random strangers from all around the globe for her mean-spirited social experiments. Making fun of the same person twice would be a coincidence so immense it would have to be some kind of a divine intervention! Svetlana looked at her kidnapper again, intending to ask him right away, but the freezing aura surrounding him sealed her lips.

    Ugh, this is so frustrating! Why can't I remember aggravating a dangerous crook? It's exactly like with that fat man from the airport; there's the same feeling of familiarity, but... Wait. Can they be connected somehow? The logic behind that theory wasn't strong - hell, even calling it 'logic' could be perceived as a bit of a stretch - but she couldn't see any other pseudo-explanation for this crazy scenario. Then the engine suddenly stopped growling; the car stopped on a forest road far from civilization. Awesome. It's getting better and better." Sveta exited the vehicle just as he ordered and hugged her arms to keep the cold away; her short-sleeved shirt didn't do much in terms of warmth isolation. Yeah, like I'm going to attempt something when he clearly expects it. "No, thanks. I'd rather prefer not to have my fingers broken slowly as a punishment or whatever you'd probably do." The long silence had dulled the edges of her fear a little, and it showed in her speech. "Now that we have a privacy, could you at least tell me why I'm here? Or what you did to me when you grabbed me?"
  19. Curiouser and curiouser. It was very possible for people to feel what Quebec did when he went rooting about in their minds, people are intimately familiar with their own thoughts, and even a small discrepancy can be noticed. Jan had felt it when Quebec had stolen every secret from within his mind, there was no doubt of that. But he had been subtle about his investigation into Sveta’s thoughts. Nothing invasive, not yet anyways. All he wanted was enough to make sure of who she was. Yet she had still felt it. More importantly, she had somehow connected it to him. There was no doubt he was going to have to study her, and study her carefully. He would have to pry at her until he understood every fold in her mind, and somehow understood exactly how she was able to consistently make impossible connections.

    “Don’t worry,” he told her politely. “There will be plenty and enough time for conversation. It is a good thing that no one is expecting you for a couple of weeks. That will give me plenty of time to figure out what exactly I am going to do with you.”

    With that cryptic threat, Quebec resumed dragging Svetlana towards the house. He fished up a key from underneath a flowering shrub, unlocked the door, and pushed Svetlana in. The house was mostly bare, old furniture carefully pushed up against the walls. There was a faint smell of mildew, which was entirely unsurprising as the house had not been aired out in years. Luckily, it appeared that no unwelcome house sitters had come to stay since the last time he had been here; there were no rat droppings scattered across the floor, and the piles of trash were exactly as he had left them. That made it almost certain that no one ever came by to check up on this place. He was not, however, particularly inclined to leave the car parked outside. This neighborhood was relatively empty and quiet for being so close to the ever-growing city, but there were still neighbors. Neighbors who might get curious at seeing a car parked outside of a house that had been abandoned for seven years.

    He ran a quick inspection of the house, dragging Svetlana along with him. The place was still secure. The small, unopenable windows were still secure, and it was impossible to break down the walls, which had been supported with concrete and rebar. The place could still serve as a bomb shelter.

    Quebec escorted Sveta into the one room, which was bare of all furniture except for a small bed. He pushed her down onto it, increasing the pressure on her shoulders until her knees were forced to fold. “Wait here,” he told her, before turning and walking out of the room. He locked the deadbolt from the other side, before exiting the house.

    It wasn’t until he was about a mile away and leaving the car that he remembered the key to the bedroom deadbolt was hanging on a hook on the backside of the headboard. It was doubtful that Sveta would find it in the time he got back, but he didn’t know what to think when it came to her. Letting out a small sigh, he began to jog back to the house. He really hoped that she hadn’t run. It would be such a pain to track her down.
  20. Svetlana wasn't so naive as to actually expect a straightforward answer to her questions - kidnappers usually didn't let their victims browse their database - but it still irked her. "A couple of weeks? Oh gee, you should have told me sooner. I would have packed some fresh clothes." The sarcasm dripping from her voice effectively sabotaged the operation with a working title 'be-a-good-girl-and-talk-your-way-out-of-this'; it probably also reduced the brownie points she might have gotten for being so docile earlier, yet her temper demanded an outlet, no matter how short-lived. The abyss between the availability of the information about him and her was too enormous. He talked like he knew everything about her from her marital status to her most favorite movie while she could only boast about the knowledge of his gender. It just wasn't fair; her inner five-year-old wanted to stomp her feet. Well, that's not exactly true. You also know that he's a dangerous maniac that harbors a weird, completely unjustified fixation towards you and probably stalks you since he remembers your schedule better than you do, said a helpful voice in the back of her head as he pulled her to the abandoned house. Sveta didn't put up much of a resistance; there was no point in wasting her strength on a meaningless struggle when he could simply pick her up from the ground and carry her inside if he wanted. An average teenage boy would have been capable of the task with her short build, so presuming that a grown man wouldn't be able to lift her would be just foolish.

    A realization flashed through her mind, as sudden as a storm appearing to ruin otherwise beautiful summer day. Wait. Why did he deflect my second question like that? Mere unwillingness to share the details with his prisoner could be blamed for not answering the first one, but the same argument couldn't be used for evading the second query. Perhaps he was just ignoring her attempts to communicate altogether, yet natural curiosity would have driven the vast majority of people to at least attempt to find out what they had been accused of, especially since she had used such vague wording. Does that mean he already knows precisely what I'm talking about? Sveta decided it sounded legit; maybe she was leaping a little too far with her conclusions, yet 'remaining perfectly logical' didn't dominate her list of priorities right now. Wonderful. So now it turns out my kidnapper either has access to a futuristic device of unknown purpose that is so small I didn't notice it or he has command over supernatural powers like mutants from X-Men.

    The smell of mold irritated her nose as they entered and Svetlana sneezed loudly. She didn't have much time to admire the house's rustic embellishment since that bastard dragged her deeper into the bowels of the rundown building. The courage from before faded just to be substituted with the old fear growing in her stomach; the fact that she was alone in the woods with a potential murderer, vulnerable and subject to his every whim, finally settled in. What kind of madness had possessed her that she hadn't even tried to escape in the streets of Katowice? The city was huge; someone would have definitely heard her screaming. What the hell made me think following a strange thug would be the best course of action?! The aforementioned thug forced her to sit on the bed, gave her clear instructions and then left, accompanied by the sound of a key turning in the lock.

    Sveta breathed a sigh of relief before practically jumping out of the bed, her legs trembling with nervousness. She wasn't going to make the same mistake and obey him blindly; Svetlana would find the way out of here if it meant kicking that fucking door down. Actually, it can't hurt to try. Taking a deep breath, the Russian ran to the door and kicked it just below the doorknob only to find out that not only it could hurt, it did. Terribly. "Fuck!" Sveta shrieked in her mother tongue and grabbed her leg, sparks of pain dancing in front of her eyes. The door, of course, didn't even budge. A-alright. It seems I have to devise an alternative plan. She limped back to the bed, ready to fling herself on the soft mattress, when something caught her eye; a shiny piece of metal hanging on the headboard. A key. Really?! Svetlana almost couldn't believe her luck. Her hands shook as she seized the ticket to her freedom and inserted it into the lock. The quiet 'click' that resonated throughout the room was the sweetest sound she had ever heard in her entire life. Sveta opened the door carefully and looked around. Her kidnapper was apparently still busy either buying groceries or preparing a torture chamber for her, so she walked out, putting slightly less weight on her injured leg. Even so, every step reminded her that her foot remembered the contact with the hard wood in vivid colors, and it wasn't going to forget it soon.

    Damn it, I will never make it out of here like that, Svetlana lamented. Simply running away wasn't an option anymore; even a turtle would have a greater chance at actually succeeding. I... I must find something to defend myself. She started rummaging through the various cabinets scattered on the floor feverishly, praying for a miracle once again, when her hand touched a handle. Sveta pulled out an axe that was - despite years of neglect - still rather sharp. Not even a discovery of a machine-gun would have made her happier. She had grown up in a small town far from modern civilization and every Russian villager had to get intimately familiar with an instrument like axe. It didn't matter whether you were a boy or a girl, a youngster or an old man; if you didn't want to freeze to death, you would have to gather wood eventually. She knew how to use that tool, and knew it well. It would be a premiere for her to actually turn it against a fellow human being as a weapon, but it couldn't be that different from chopping wood. Okay, I bet it will be very different, but it can't be too complicated. Idiots murder all the time. Sveta leaned against the wall next to the front entrance, awaiting his return. Her heart was beating a wild staccato, her breath breath getting more shallow. Would she be able to hurt him? She felt guilty even after accidentally running over a rabbit!

    Then the door flew open, and the moral dilemma was gone like last year's leaves. Svetlana grasped the axe tighter, stepped towards her kidnapper unexpectedly and buried it in his chest.