The rest of the ride towards Rome went in relative silence. Every once in a while, the very faint intonations of Nipponese echoed in the background, half-drowned out by engine noise. Mitchell was able to pick out choice curse words among the sentences spewed in their direction. Apart from one instance where they tried to fire at them, the Yakuza seemed to be hanging back.
Richard, sitting down at the foot of the gurney, was watching the readings on the touchscreen flow by as nanomachine solution slowly knitted him back together. Most of the immediate internal damage was over and his condition was no longer critical, but there was still some mending to do. It left a bitter taste in his mouth.
The memory of a monomolecular blade wound made the scar on his thigh ache.
But still, he was in it, for better or worse. Years ago, in the weapons testing ground that was supposed to have been a battlefield, somewhere Sierra Leone, he had draped himself over a gurney of the same build to protect a Colonel. He had been rewarded with an extra zero on his pension and a wound that always told him when the weather would change – first among equals, the deepest among all his other scars.
Now, wedged into the back of his old war van, he felt that he was right back where he had started. The more things change.
Mitchell could feel the stim burning through him. He had taken the interim to calm down, to slow the metabolization of the chemical mix, just enough to get him over the hump. It would last him another encounter, maybe two if either was brief. Beyond that, he had no doubt that exhaustion would set in quickly. Then, one of those Yakuza punks would get very lucky.
He glanced at the assassin in the driver’s seat. He wondered if he would be amenable to carrying Alex Nothing all the way to Frank No-R’s penthouse if he wasn’t around. Decided not to dwell on it.
“How much longer?” Mitchell asked.
“Two clicks until we get off the intersector.” The assassin replied, his voice emotionless.
“How’s Nothing, Rich?”
The assassin glanced over his shoulder and through the broken rear windows. The Yakuza van took a sudden left and disappeared into the residentials lining the outer rim of the Rome sub. He would raise an eyebrow if his eyebrow was in place.
“The Yakuza just turned into Rome.” He said and clicked his comm-link, “LG?”
“I’ve got ‘em. The kyotai abandoned their vehicle somewhere near the promenade. The crowd is too thick for me to track them individually, but they are there.”
Mitchell reached and tapped on the windshield, only to remember that with the holes in it, the PDA system wasn’t working. He leaned back and started working the geomnemonic. Rome, he pictured as a square. He got to work, ripping off portions with his teeth, eating the subsector into shape. Once he did, he took to seeing where its blood veins were: vehicle access, pedestrian sidewalk, the main promenade. He recalled and marked separate pathways leading into the Vatican road, also known in Virusalem as the Penance Road – or, at the very least, one of the many Penance Roads. The easiest way, Mitchell figured, was to go directly into the heart of Rome, cross the promenade and enter through there. With enough civilians around, it might’ve even given the Yakuza pause.
The assassin made the turn. Mitchell re-adjusted his mental map.
The periwinkle blue war van, full of bullet holes on the outside, cruised through the outer layer of Rome, the residential district. Surrounded by featureless, functional buildings painted with lively designs of glow-in-the-dark holo-graffiti, they moved through unimpeded. Gradually, the residential district started to clear in favor of the resturants, the bibliotech, the back-alley holes in the wall.
It was when an intersection leading directly to the promenade came that everything changed.
The assassin cut speed, getting ready to cross the promenade. Mitchell caught movement out the corner of his eye, immediately followed by shots that landed on the door frame. He didn’t think, or look to see. He pointed and pulled, hearing two agonized groans to his four shots. He pressed his back against the seat and turned the gun the other way, prompting the assassin to duck. Four more shots, three more screams. As a startled Richard screamed in the back, the assassin pulled to the side and stopped.
“What are you doing!?” Mitchell asked as he unbuckled his seat belt and slithered into the back.
“Start detaching the gurney.” The assassin instructed Richard, who sprung into action and began uncoupling the clamps around the frame. “You, get your sword.”
“They’re trying to drive us into the promenade. It’s an ambush. A public execution.”
“Yeah, that’s what they think.”
“The kyotai will be waiting,” the assassin continued, “They want to do this the old fashioned way.”
“Heard the man, Rich.” Mitchell said.
“There’s no point in going over civilians when we can use them as cover. We can drag Nothing right through them.” the assassin said.
He reached over and started uncoupling the gurney on his side. Mitchell reached down and pulled out his jian. With some difficulty, he clasped the scabbard to his belt just as Richard and the assassin cleared the last of the clamps holding the gurney in place. Richard’s fingers danced on the main keypad. With a loud clank, the wheels of the gurney unfolded.
Mitchell got off, gun ready. Four shots left. He went along the van and stood, back to the door. He knocked on the door with his elbow twice and stepped forward.
The gurney pushed the van’s back doors open, allowing for the ramp to be extended. Richard and the assassin rolled the gurney down, Mitchell moving in tandem to keep ahead of it. Nothing happened.
“Go.” Mitchell instructed.
Richard pulled the gurney until it was on the asphalt and then began to push. Mitchell took his place on one side, the assassin on the other. Richard couldn’t help but smile as they slowly rolled down the street; there he was, years later and far away, back where he had started; monomolecular blade wound aching, hands on a gurney, patient strapped down, soldiers by his side, preparing to move through a dense crowd.
The more things change, he thought.
Mitchell clicked his comm-link.
“I’ve got eyes on you.”
“Keep ‘em there. We’re about to cross the goddamn Rubicon.”
“No-R knows you’re coming. All you need to do is get to Penance Road.”
“All we need…” Mitchell couldn’t help but chuckle. Something clicked in his head. “Actually, come to think of it…”
Thank you for reading!
Below you can find a glossary of terms for clarity purposes. Above that, you will find the previous entries.
This is the first time I am doing the A to Z Challenge – I tried last year, but couldn’t get the A off the ground, let alone continue. This year, I came with a bit more preparation, and am hoping to make it to the end in one piece. Well, okay, making it to the end – one piece is optional.
A is for Ante
B is for Blood
C is for Cut
D is for Dummy
E is for Exit Card
F is for Follow Suit
G is for Grand Slam
H is for Heading a Trick
I is for Incorrect Deck
J is for Joker
K is for Kill
L is for Left Bower
M is for Marked Card
N is for Natural
O is for Overtrump
P is for Pot Limit
Q is for Quads
R is for Real Deal
S is for Suck Out
T is for Tonk Out
U is for Under the Gun
GLOSSARY OF TERMS:
Geomnemonic: A military mental exercise that allowed soldiers to determine their pathways through memorized maps of settlements. It is a useful tool in the endless territorial warzone that Africa has become in the time of Landsend.