Wednesday, May 30, 2012

3/14/12 - The Last Flight of The Owl pt. 2

"So, where are we going?" Kaitlyn asks the two men in overcoats as they walk out the front doors of her school, each one still maintaining a hand-hold on either one of her shoulders.

"A safe place," one says.

"Somewhere they'll never find you," the other affirms.

"Just for a while," one clarifies.

"Until things blow over," the other reassures.

"Are my mom, my dad, and my brother there, yet?" she asks, trying one more thing before she has to do something she might regret.

"They're all there, sweetie," one says.

"Mom, dad, brother, all safe," the other clarifies.

They keep talking, their sentences overlapping in a rather creepy way, but she's already stopped listening. She's never had a brother, and while she looks up to Thomas (lucky jerk) she'd never call him that. And they should have known she was a little uncertain, and actually told her what she needed to hear.

They didn't give her any idea what's really happening. They aren't looking left and right at their surroundings. And they didn't think to take her out a back door and bustle her into a waiting car, so as to expose her as little as possible.

So no: these men aren't Agents. And this means that either the Government finally has decided to override her family's understanding with The COMPANY, or this is some kind of kidnapping.

(It would be just like Mrs. Fann to try and get her killed, wouldn't it?)

Kaitlyn takes stock of her situation, just like her mom and grandpa Joe taught her to. The men are walking her down the front walk towards the street. They probably have a car parked, nearby, and they're going to toss her in and drive her off somewhere. They may or may not try to knock her out, depending on how long the trip is, and whether they don't want her knowing where they're going or not.

(Either that or they're perverts, and have other reasons for knocking her out. Her mother's warned her about things like that, though she's never gone into a lot of detail.)

She's about to make a break for it when, just her luck, a police officer comes walking up the stairs, maybe thirty feet away, now. She's seen him before: he's an older uniformed cop who comes in after school to give talks to one of the bigger kids' groups about traffic safety and drug prevention.

Nice guy, means well, but not too sharp on the uptake.


"Help!" she screams, breaking free of the two men's grip and running at full speed towards the startled policeman: "These two men want me to touch their pee-pee! They said they'd kill my kitty cat!"

The cop blinks, and puts out an arm to stop her from running, but she's already changed course, left the walk, and sprinted through the grass and down the slop to the street as her legs will carry her. The two agents look at each other, then back at her, and walk faster.

"Is everything alright, here?" the policeman says, putting himself between them and her.

"Oh, kids these days," one says with a laugh, but not slowing down.

"We're from the government, officer," the other says, keeping the same accelerated pace.

"Bit of trouble with her parents."

"Homeland security."

"Nothing to worry about."

"Nothing at all-"

"That's nice, gentlemen," the officer says, standing his ground and putting a hand on his gun: "Could I see some identification, please?"

"Sir, you would do well to pretend you didn't see this," one says, clearly displeased to be having to stop.

"Very secret stuff," the other says, stopping in unison.

"You would do well to let us deal with it."

"If she gets away, it will be very bad for you."

"Very, very bad."

"I wouldn't want to-"

"Gentlemen, I think you know I have to take what that young lady said seriously," he says, taking a step back and getting ready to radio in: "Now I've asked you for ID. You will show it to me and explain what this is about, or I will be arresting you both."

"Our superiors-"

"Can complain all they like to my superiors," he says: "But the only thing I can do wrong, here and now, is to do nothing at all. Do we understand each other?"

The two men look at each other, and then back at him. They reach out their hands and step forward, in unison, very quickly -- so much so that he doesn't have time to pull his weapon before they're upon him.

Running as fast as she can, Kaitlyn is some distance away when she hears the policeman scream. She says a prayer for him as she runs, hoping to Jesus that he's the last person who has to die, today.

"Mom, please come in," she shouts at her watch, but nothing happens. Why won't it work? Why isn't she responding?

What's happening back home?

* * *

The next few minutes fly by insanely fast.

The family's prepared for this moment, several times. There's been timed drills and surprise tests, most of which have been aced. But this is the real thing, here and now.

The Samuels are leaving the Owl's Nest, and nothing will be left behind.

Mark is getting Owl 10 ready to fly. Rachel is causing all the computers to melt down and self-destruct. And Grandpa Joe is seeing to the building, itself, which will be the saddest and most crucial duty of all.

That leaves Martha and Thomas to run downstairs to collect a few, final things from the safes in the estate's library, and try and contact Kaitlyn, who's not answering her communicator. Neither is Hargreaves, for that matter, though it could be because he's too busy rocking out at the stove on his headphones, again.

(He thinks they don't know, and does his best to hide it. They think it's rather funny, and don't ruin it.)

They've been so busy and rushed that Martha hasn't even had a chance to change into her uniform, and she's kicking herself for not having done so. She feels positively naked, standing alongside Thomas in his full-on Talon gear as the elevator takes them back downstairs.

"If we can't reach her, should I get on the bike and get her?" Thomas asks.

"Would you know how to find her?"

"The tracker in the watch should be working even if the communication's not."

She smiles: "Good thinking. I'll get Hargreaves, and he and I can get the documents. You try and raise her. If you can't, go get her. And you know where to rendezvous with us?"

"I do," he says as the elevator stops, and the doors start to open.

"Good, then-" she's about to say, but before she can get the words out she's smelling acrid smoke and hearing the tell-tale sounds of flames. She's about to ask why the alarm hasn't gone off when Thomas quickly pushes her down to the floor.

There's two naked, sexless men standing in front of the elevator. Their faces are bare skulls with baleful, silver eyes. And they're both carrying very large rifles, which they fire right where Martha was standing just a second ago.

The rapid-fire projectiles are white hot, and melt through the metal of the elevator like it's ice.

Thomas lies flat over his mother, and kicks up and out at the closest target, aiming to disable. The man's ribs crack but he doesn't cry out, much less step back. Instead he changes his aim, pointing his gun down at them.

"One two," Martha says.

Thomas rolls and flattens himself to the floor, allowing his mother to leapfrog over him. She knocks the gun from the man's grip with one hand while slamming her other palm into his face. The blow should have broken his nose, but a hard, clear plastic barrier lies atop the skull. Still, it cracks, though what damage that's done has yet to be determined.

While she's puzzling that out -- and landing a flurry of blows to critical points on the man's throat and ribs -- Thomas has jumped up and performed the same maneuver on the other fellow. He's not as successful as disarming the man, though, and the gun fires wild. White hot flechettes spray the ceiling and a nearby wall, blossoming into flame.

Martha doesn't have to say it. Thomas instinctively pushes the gun in the other man's direction, just as his mother's squatted down to avoid the pulsing, white stream of fire. Her attacker is run through with dozens of the flechettes, and falls down, squirming and twitching as his insides catch fire.

He does not scream. This is perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.

After that, it's just a question of hammering the other would-be assassin until he falls. This takes much longer than it should, especially with the two of them working on him simultaneously. But before long (maybe three seconds too long) he's on the ground with a throttled throat, broken arms, a dislocated hip, and a smashed face.

"Falsefaces," Martha says, anticipating his question.

"Are they alive?"

"They're heavily altered, so don't hold back," she says, tapping her watch to try and raise Rachel and report in. Nothing happens.

"That's not good," Thomas says, trying his watch, too.

"Have to find Hargreaves the old fashioned way, then..."

"The  kitchen" Thomas says, seeing that the smoke is coming from there and running into the thick of it. Martha moves to catch up with him, knowing she's not going to like what they find.
Their ancient family butler is lying in a smoldering heap, there by the burning stove. He was clearly shot several times by the guns the men were packing, most likely from behind. His chest smolders and sparks, and blood pools around his legs. 

His music player keeps going, but then those things were made to take a beating.

"Are you alright?" Martha asks, kneeling down to turn his music off.

"Not really, no," the old man says, sighing through perforated lungs: "The nasty things shot my spine out. I'd have given them what-for, but I fear my legs won't stand up for themselves."

"I'll check to see if the respawn's working," Thomas says, about to run off.

"No," Martha reminds him: "I'll see to that. You see to Kaitlyn."

"Well, don't everyone just rush off and leave me," Hargreaves says as Thomas runs to the garage: "It's bad enough I'm going to have to clean up this mess, too."

"No cleaning," Martha says, taking the android's hand in hers: "We've been made, Hargreaves. It's a retreat. We're leaving and not coming back."

The android blinks, and opens his mouth to say something, but stammers: "I... I can't... we're leaving?"

"We are, yes. So if you could transfer to your backup, and help me get the documents from down here before we run out of time, that would be good."

"Young lady, I promised your grandfather that I would look after this mansion to the end of my days."

"Well, you'll just have to look after the next mansion," she says, smiling: "And we are your mansion, Hargreaves. The estate moves with the family. You told me that, once."
"I did not."
"Yes, you did. It was the last time we thought we had to abandon it? When I was Thomas' age? Remember?"

"Yes... I did, didn't I?" 

"Yes, you did."

"It was a pithy saying from one of my conversational subroutines. You shouldn't take it so seriously."

"Go respawn," she laughs, getting up to go see about those documents from the library. She just has to empty two safes, get their contents upstairs, and have them aboard Owl 10 before they take off. How hard could that be?

She doesn't even see the fist that clocks her as she exits the kitchen. She rides the blow and rolls across the floor just ahead of a stream of white hot flechettes, and ducks behind something both expensive and heavy to consider her next direction. By the time the mostly-ornamental piece of furniture's been turned into smoking debris, she's already well past it and heading deeper into the house.

As she runs, she realizes there were four more of them, back there. She also realizes that not only has the fire alarm not gone off, but that both the perimeter alarm and the alarm that would indicate strange moment in the house have remained quiet, too.

No communications outside the mansion, or between the main building and the Owl's Nest. No alarms of any kind. And a house crawling with armed antagonists.

"I really should have gotten dressed," she laments as the wall behind her is turned to smoking plaster.

* * *

Upstairs, in the Owl's Nest, Rachel sets tower after tower to purge and burn. 
All the notes and files on every case The Owl has ever worked on -- many scanned in from the handwritten and typed originals -- are deleted, and their physical data storage units melt down shortly thereafter. No one will be able to read anything off the hard drives, ever. The Owl will be taking all secrets with him when he goes.

"Him." it's really "Her," these days, though the suit's built so that no one would know. You can still tell, provided you can read body movement, but not a lot of Chicago's police force are that sophisticated.
(And so far the criminal element doesn't seem to have noticed the change.)
But the whole gender issue still rankles her. She was always one step ahead of everyone else in what she wanted, but one step behind what they would allow. 

When she was young, maybe Thomas' age, she wanted to be the Talon. She trained and worked towards that goal, and did very well for herself, but was told that only men could put on the costume. It wasn't until much later that they changed their minds on that, and then only because of what happened to Mathew...

She sighs, stopping in mid-burn to think of him. She tries so hard not to be jealous, and to be thankful of the opportunity to serve that she created for herself, here in the computer core. 
Who took the old filing systems and computerized them all? Who turned those computers from clunky, old things to state of the art wonders? Who made their communicators and tracking devices? Who alarmed the entire estate, put in the defensive grids, installed internal security sweeps and countermeasures, and fine-tuned Hargreaves' ability to move between spare bodies?

That would be her. And while she realizes that pride is as bad a sin as envy, she takes much pride in what she's been able to do for the family mission. 

(She especially likes the fact that, in one of the last conversations she had with her grandfather, before he died, he told her that she was the most valuable person on the team.)

But it's hard. Lord Jesus is it hard, sometimes. 
When she was younger, she'd watch Martha go out with Uncle Joe, time and again. And she'd realize that could have been her in the suit, if only she'd been born later, or if things had been different.
If she hadn't been a girl. 

And now that it's her cousin being The Owl, she feels horrendously jealous. She tries hard to suppress it and not let it color things, and works harder to make up for it, and prays to God every night that the bad feelings will be lifted from her. 
But it remains there, still -- a black, oily nugget of especially envious jealousy, wrapped in self-hatred and dismay.

"Focus," she tells herself, redoubling her efforts. She's only got a few more minutes before the portable drive has all the information on it, and the entire past, present, and future of her family's operations rest in her hands.

The drive dings, indicating it's copied everything. She turns to regard it, and sees that she's not alone in the room.

Two naked men with skulls for faces and large guns have entered the computer core. She has no idea how that was possible with the door triple-locked from this side, as a precaution. But as they raise the guns, she realizes who they are, and what they're here to do.

"Nest, protect me!" she yells into her watch as she dives for cover. The lights flicker and go out, and she makes her way over to her desk, where she keeps a number of interesting devices for such occasions. 

She was counting on the internal security to realize there were two unauthorized persons in the room, and work to disable them. But a half-second into her crouch over to her desk, she realizes that the countermeasures she designed have not engaged.

This could mean a number of things, none of them particularly good. She's about to call for help but, just before she can get to the desk, the men overcome their problems seeing in the dark -- if indeed they had any -- and open fire.

It's something of a mercy that they aim for her head, so that she doesn't suffer through the horrible pain of having her extremities riddled with hot metal. But there, at the very end of her life, Rachel doesn't feel anger or envy or regret. She only feels blessed to have served, and hopeful that the rest of her family will survive this day. 

Especially her daughter, Kaitlyn, who -- she just knows -- is not only going to be a Talon, someday, but the best Owl the family has produced yet. 

So Rachel's last thought is a prayer for her life, rather than her own. May she be rescued, today. May she be cared for, tomorrow. 

May she be magnificent for all time. 

* * *

The Samuels' extensive garage houses a number of very nice cars and vehicles, most of which are either highly mundane in appearance, but house amazingly sophisticated gear, or are dedicated crimefighting devices that are hidden in or around the less flashy forms of transportation.

The motorcycle that Thomas is running towards is one such vehicle. It's usually hidden beneath a false tool station, which can be winched up to the ceiling when it's time to bring it out. The winch does its job as soon as he signals for it with his watch, and as it goes up he prepares to jump on it at the perfect moment, turn the thing on, and rocket towards the city.

He still can't reach his cousin on her communicator, but he has her location. She's too far from her school, and moving in such a speed and manner as to indicate that she's on foot and fleeing. With any luck, he'll be at her side in fifteen minutes.

She'll just have to hold on until then, but he knows she'll be fine. 

Bursting with confidence, he leaps into the air and comes down perfectly on his bike. The lights turn on, the turbines engage, and the heads-up display synchs with his goggles.

Then it explodes, right out from under him, and flings what's left of him up onto the air.

He's barely aware of bouncing off the ceiling, and only slightly aware of how hard he strikes the floor. For a moment he thinks about getting up, but then he sees that his shredded, blackened legs are nowhere near where he is.

He could call for help, of course, if the communicators were working. But then the other vehicles in the garage begin to explode too -- one after the other, like firecrackers -- and it's all he can do to wonder if this could have happened any other way. 

"Kaitlyn," he breathes, blacking out from the wave of pain that's finally hit him. The rest is a strangely warm darkness that enfolds him like a too-warm blanket, and threatens to stop him breathing.
At some point, he lets it. 

(SPYGOD is listening to Nimrod (Elgar, by way of William Orbit) and having a Lake Shore Lager)

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