A Good Man

by

verus

Chapter 11: The necessary rescue of Antoines de Puissance

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Five years ago.

Three separate explosives went of simultaneously and three teams moved into the office building in the first district. It was the sort of operation Charles had performed many times, only now he was leading it, instead of being a member of a team. At a first glance not that much had changed, the operatives were all wearing the metal masks and armor Cabaneri Incorporated had used. They operated with the same surgical precision and moved within the same formations. Even the mission was the same.

However, everything had changed. He had been lifted from his old position and placed at the top of a hierarchy he didn’t fully understand yet. After his rescuer had taken under his wing he had explained some things. August Cabaneri had been part of something much bigger than just his corporation, a brotherhood of kings and queens. A legacy of individuals dating back to a time before the bureaucracy was installed, back when Mercia still had a royal family and a noble hierarchy.

The King of the West had explained to him that August had been grooming Charles to be his successor. “He recognized a certain quality in you, the ability to see through complex machinations, to recognize all the parts of a plan and the ability to counter each individual part.” It wasn’t a quality Charles recognized in himself. He should have anticipated Eli turning against them. There had been signs, the fights, Eli’s insistence that they were being lied to, his friend’s drug abuse. Yes, there had been signs, and he should have acted accordingly, but he hadn’t. His hand stroked the ISB insignia, which was stitched on his armor.

The sound of gunfire broke the silence of the night. He saw the police shift uncomfortably, they weren’t used to these kinds of procedures. In the future he should see about obtaining some soldiers. He was approached by a member of his staff. “Director, we’ve eliminated two of the three targets, but there is a complication.” Charles turned to look at the woman, his single eye narrowing. “What kind of complication?” The woman shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. “One of the children wasn’t feral, like the others. She’s also older and more capable than the other two targets. She downed a man and is threatening to kill more, if someone in charge doesn’t talk to her.”

Charles raised his eyebrows, this was highly unusual. The experiments he had taken out over the years had been unstable at best, but more often completely feral. One demanding to speak to someone in charge was unheard of. “Tell the men to stand down, I will speak with it. Maybe something can be learned.” He didn’t waste more time, marching towards the building.

A few minutes later he reached the team, now consisting out of two operatives. “She’s inside?” He asked. The second he got the confirmation he stepped inside. Even from the other side of the room he could hear the electricity’s low buzzing. The girl in front of him couldn’t have been older than fifteen. Not that age meant anything, he was living proof of that. “Who are you?” The girl asked, revealing sharpened teeth. Those teeth were a hallmark of the Monarchy’s experimental line of Electromancer terrorists. It was crude and barbaric, much like the Monarchy’s leadership.

“My name is Charles Kingsburg, I’m the director of the ISB, you asked to see me?” The girl shifted nervously on her feet. “I don’t want to die.” She said decisively. Charles nodded. “I understand, but you’re a danger to my nation, and we can’t be sure we neutralized you until you’re dead.” She shifted again. “Then why did you come to talk?” She grimaced. “I was curious, I haven’t talked to one of your kind before. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if you could talk at all.”

The girl cracked her neck and licked her lips. “They did something to us. It is hard not to try and kill you. Can you make it less of an effort?” She grinned. “I could offer you a way out. If you relax and let us take you, we might be able to reverse what they did to you.” She shook her head and hit the wall with her fist. “No, it can’t be reversed. It is broken,” she pointed at her head, “in here.” She hit the wall twice more. Slowly Charles reached for his sidearm, but the girl wasn’t born yesterday. “Hands off!” She yelled, and a lightning bolt sizzled past him. “Don’t you dare!” She followed up. Slowly Charles raised his hands and started moving towards the girl. “I think we can work something out. Everything will be alright if you just relax.” His tone was soft, but his one eye was locked in hers.

She had warm brown eyes, which were spread in anger and fear. He kept talking to her as if she were a crazed horse, until he got so close he could touch her. Softly he took her hands in his gloved ones. “I’ve been working with your people for a long time.” He said, flashing her a charming smile. “I’ve learned a couple of things.” The electricity disappeared, to the girl’s dismay. Before she could do anything further he knocked her clean out. As his two operatives came in he looked at her unconscious body. “Always wear rubber gloves.”

The girl woke up somewhere around noon, they had kept her sedated until a cell could be readied for her. Waking up in an unfamiliar room was enough to set her off. Electric static crackled through the air as she readied herself to destroy the room she was being kept it.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” A voice said, from an unknown source. She searched the room until she found the origin of the sound, a small loudspeaker attached to the ceiling. It didn’t take her long to figure out that the mirror above the washbasin wasn’t just a mirror. It was the only thing she could think of that let them have a clear view of her. “Explosives have been placed beneath your cell. Attempts to escape are futile, so I suggest you get comfortable.” Slowly the girl calmed down, eventually settling on the bed, her arms clasped around her knees.

It didn’t take her captors long to send someone in. It wasn’t the director, instead it was a woman. “Do you have a name?” The woman kindly asked. The girl shook her head. “How do you feel about Olivia, the director picked the name himself.” The girl shrugged. “Excellent. Well then, Olivia, my name is doctor Meier. Before we start our session I want you to know that nobody is blaming you, and that with our help we believe you can be recuperated.” Olivia shrugged. “I will start by stating the following; Olivia you are a good woman.”

Now.

I’m not the only one waiting for the prince’s arrival. At least a dozen bureaucrats and officials are standing on the same platform. Soldiers have set up a tight perimeter to keep the curious masses away. Nobody who isn’t already standing next to me is going to get to the prince. I made a sweep of the surrounding area earlier, looking for vantage points, and found nothing. I’m reasonably sure the prince can at least get off the train without getting shot, stabbed or poisoned.

I sigh, this is all going to be very tedious. A horn in the distance alerted me of the train’s imminent arrival. “Attention!” The guy in charge of the assembled soldiers calls out as the train grinds to a halt. My eyes search for anything out of the ordinary, but everything is as it should be. The doors of the train are thrown open and a squadron of soldiers gets off. They’re all wearing Armes’ navy blue uniform, classic disc helmets. They are all using carbines, standard issue, mass produced by the Hispanic traders league in the southwest. The soldiers set up a perimeter with practiced ease.

More than a few bureaucrats shift uneasily at the sight of enemy combatants. They are however reassured when our own men make a show of emulating the Armerian. Mercian uniforms inspire fear, not just because they represent the nation’s might, but because the gasmasks are a promise. Mercia has not qualms about using toxic gasses in combat. Anything that will end the war as quickly as possible is authorized by the government. It is why the Monarchy is always hesitant to start a conflict.

After a number of cabinet members, advisors, CEO’s and lobbyists get off I finally get a first look at the man I’m supposed to protect. He is a thin, bookish looking man, wearing a navy blue suit, his country’s coat of arms embroidered on his heart. A longwinded exchange of greetings starts and I tune out. I’m neither a politician, nor a bureaucrat, diplomacy isn’t one of my strong suits. Something that became clear to me when I told Jesse she couldn’t come. She didn’t take it well, nor the fact that I was going without her. We yelled at each other for a while. Me about worrying that she would get caught in the crossfire. Her about me being one of the targets. Somewhere during the shouting match I realized she had a bit of a point. She had then acknowledged that I probably knew better about some of the aspects of the situations. Eventually we had settled on a compromise.

My eyes scanned the crowd of well-dressed citizens, somewhere amongst them was Jesse, carrying two pistols and a submachinegun. If she was determined to be in the crowd he wanted her armed. “And this is Eli de Winter, your chief of security while you reside in the country, your highness.” One of the pompous bureaucrats says, prompting me to pay attention. “A pleasure your majesty.” I say, bowing my head. I refuse to actually bow before the prince, monarchies are detestable and should be banned. I lock eyes with the prince who has a polite smile fixed in place.

“Mister de Winter, I was told you had a shadier profession.” The prince says, his voice curious. Before I can answer the pompous bureaucrat from before interrupts. “The ordination of assassin is a holy one, your majesty, like any other. All are needed in God’s eyes. The assassins are all in service of the government, their activity is closely regulated.” The prince slightly tilts his head. “Is that so, mister de Winter?” He asks. Behind the prince’s back the bureaucrat gives me a pointed look. “So it would seem.” I say, keeping my voice neutral. “Very interesting, I would ask a few more questions about this topic later. The ordinations greatly interest me.” I nod. “If that’s what his majesty wishes.”

The bureaucrat shot me a glare. “Your highness, you and your delegation will be under the protection of the Mercian government. You will stay at the Cullingham Hotel, which you can secure as you see fit. An event has been organized in your honor tonight, negotiations will start in the morning.” The prince shook the bureaucrat’s hand and started his descend of the platform. I half walked, half ran after him. “Mister de Winter, do you intend to accompany on my short drive to the hotel?” It was a genuine question. “Yes your majesty, in fact I intend to stay by your side during your stay.” The prince scowled. “I wasn’t aware that the danger was imminent. These negotiations are a minor event for the grand bureaucracy, are they not?”

The prince’s gaze was piercing, as if he could see straight through me. “Our intelligence suggests that several attempts from different parties might be made on your life. I’m here to stop that from happening.” The prince tilted his head. “Which is rather odd, isn’t it?” He waved dismissively. “Not the possible assassination attempts, those were expected, although not immediately. No, you being here. According to our information ordained assassins aren’t in the business of protecting foreigners.”

I was spared from answering by the cheers of an ever growing crowd. The prince himself was distracted by the sight, surprise on his face. After a second of hesitation he waved and the cheers grew even louder. “Very odd, I’m not even this popular in my own country.” I heard him mumble to himself. “The people have a rather romanticized picture of royalty. In their heads you’re a prince on a white horse, who in due time will become one of the kings of old.” I raise my voice so the prince can hear me. “Tonight they will think about the war and laugh at the idea of having a king. You will see at the gala tonight your majesty, you have very few allies here.”

The prince shoots me an amused look. “You are a pessimist, aren’t you mister de Winter?” I shrug. “Just calling it as I see it, your highness.” The prince nods. “Very well, shall we go?” He opens the car door as I walk around the vehicle to enter from the other side. Before I get in however something catches my eye. On a building in the distance a shadow moves. It is too far away for me to identify defining characteristics, but somebody is most definitely there, watching us. East and his accomplices? Oliva? Or maybe somebody else? The shadow disappears and I decide to let it go. Protecting someone is very different from trying to kill them.

“I think he saw you.” Muninn says, following the moving car with her scope. “He knows we’re coming regardless, so it doesn’t matter.” Huginn responds. His voice is rough, he’s been drinking too much. Her brother is easily distracted by drink and narcotics. He often says he needs it to keep up with her bloodlust. It is an unfair statement, dissecting has an educational purpose, while drinking and drugs have no use at all.

“But our orders” Muninn starts. “Fuck our orders, I’m not some dog that gives a paw on command.” Huginn interrupts. He’s a very angry person, but she knows how to cheer him up. She throws her arms around his neck, laying her head on his shoulder. He smells nice, of gunpowder and oil. He relaxes and gives her an affectionate pat on the head. “One last job, afterwards he will help you become a surgeon and give me what I deserve.”

She releases him once he is completely calmed down. “You want to play?” She asks. He shakes his head. “Are you sure, I invited that girl from before. You remember how much she liked our games?” Huginn considers it, but then shakes his head again. “You go play with her, make sure she has some energy left so that I can play later.” Muninn smiles, only when her brother gives up on pleasure there is something really wrong. She leaves him to his brooding as she goes to see to her visitor.

Fearlessly she jumps over the edge of the roof, catching herself on a gutter. For those with the right knowledge the rooftops of Kinestorm are a quiet road, unpatrolled by troublesome policemen. It takes a little acrobatics from time to time, but Muninn is nothing if not nimble.

After about ten minutes she’s made her way home, the Cullingham Hotel’s rooftop just a jump away. She jumps, landing silently in a crouched position. What kind of theme should she go with today? She’s in the mood for leather and skirts. Didn’t she have a corset lying around somewhere?

Back on the roof Huginn is contemplating the job. He has seen the target, but something is off. It isn’t anything concrete, but he has a gut feeling that something is very wrong. In this business it is smart to follow your instincts, they have saved him on numerous occasions. The money however doesn’t lie. One last job and both him and Muninn would get what they always wanted. Yet, the unease remains, making him both angry and worried.

We arrived at the hotel without complications. The place was a lot nicer than the one Jesse and I were staying in. A lobby made of white marble, with golden chandeliers, all very tasteful. The entire staff seemed to have been selected on their beauty and grace, giving the entire place a rather utopian feel, which going by the owner’s explanation was the entire point.

As the prince was talking to the owner and some other people I made a sweep of the building. I in this consisted out of me and an entire squadron of soldiers, it was rather odd. I am just about to report to the prince when I notice a woman. She is stunning, but that isn’t what attracts my gaze. It is the way she walks, it reminds me of predatory animals. I shake my head, I’m imagining things, seeing threats were there aren’t any. I watch as the woman greets another one in the lobby. Both woman smile and talk, before they take one of the elevators.

They don’t have a more than a passing interest in the prince, which is suspicious, until you remember that Cullingham Hotel is the host of almost every foreign dignitary. A prince might sound like a big deal, but Armes is just a minor nation, not even a tenth of Mercia’s size. The People’s Republic of Manchuria sent corporate missionaries with estates larger than the Armerian nation every two months. Any regular of the Cullingham has probably seen about a dozen princes, or people with an equal level of power, before.

“The hotel is secure your highness.” The prince smiles. “My gratitude for your thoroughness mister de Winter.” I incline my head. “Shall we reconvene here in an hour? I would like to see some of this wonderful city before attending the social event this evening.” I think about it. Sightseeing is not a bad idea, it is public, not on the prince’s schedule and divert us from the regular route. However, it also gives opportunity for less conventional assassins, like Olivia to make a move. “As you wish your majesty.”

Mister East is standing in front of a mirror. Tonight is a big night, chances are good his career will be made tonight. He straitens his tie, fixes his cufflinks and lastly puts on a ring. It is a new one, with a special poison compartment. Now, personally he has always detested poison, it is a coward’s weapon. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. He looks in the mirror again, a smile automatically fixing into place. He frowns, it is his polite smile, it doesn’t fit the occasion. His smile broadens. “Much better.” He should lighten up, tonight is going to make his career.

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verus

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