Avalanche – Snippet 58
I have learned that it is very difficult to watch one’s friends suffer when there is little to nothing one can (or is allowed to) do to help them. And of course, I was handicapped by the fact that I could not reach into the world to affect anything. All I could do was watch and gather information through the limited channels I had.
I have gathered much, much more since, as I am sure you have seen in these narratives, oh putative Reader. But at that time, there was oh so very little I could do.
Mercedes Lackey and Dennis Lee
Was it possible to feel more helpless than this? Vickie stared at the feed from Red’s cell, (because, of course, no one on this planet would be able to keep her out) and thought, Maybe. Maybe Mel feels more helpless. I dunno.
But the screen showing Djinni’s cell was only one of too many gone live with feeds from Krieger fights, and she couldn’t spend more than a few seconds at a time staring at it. Her fingers danced among the five keyboards she had spread out around her workstation, and it was her voice, commanding, reassuring, warning, coordinating, that was the one people on the now-extensive Overwatch Command Network listened for. There was a fight over Lyon in France that had just turned in their favor, and she let Overwatch Paris know it a few seconds before they would have seen it themselves, so Noelle in Paris could get the French Air Force to press the advantage. Overwatch Hamburg was bracing for an incoming wave, and she quickly fed all the data she could scrape off the net to Joachim’s feeds. The Colts were handling three fights, one over Chicago, one over Indianapolis, and one over Albuquerque, but they were doing just fine on their own and she didn’t jiggle their elbows. Overwatch Bombay was quiet, but 8-Ball alerted on them, and she widened the radar in time to catch the weird flickering pattern that preceded a wave of Death Spheres, out in the Indian Ocean. “Vishwathika, you’ve got incoming!” she pinged the operator. “Vector 9-8-9, they’ll be on your radar in 30 seconds!”
“Roger that,” Vishwathika responded, and then the radar cleared and there were the Spheres, and ECHO Bombay went hot.
She lost track of time, lost herself in the work, and only when the last of the fights ended, and ECHO and the various armed forces of the planet retreated to lick their wounds, did she look back at the screen that held the Djinni. She rubbed eyes gone sore and tired…but she wasn’t exhausted enough yet to sleep. And there was no point in trying to sleep before she was seconds from getting keyboard-face, because she’d only lie there, staring up into the dark, her hands clasped over the claw she wore around her neck. His claw. All she had of him. All she dared have of him. Because he was not for her. Even if, especially if he were still free, he was not for her.
She didn’t have the sound on, but he was pacing, pacing like an animal in a cage. She tore her eyes away from the screen and dove under her desk. She started installing cables to 8-Ball…another problem to tackle while she had a moment, but at least a positive one. She hadn’t hooked 8-Ball up to the full real world, or to her Overwatch rigs yet. She was stalling on it, really.
Like I’m stalling on talking to Red.
But at least she could get all the cabling in place so when she finally decided to bite the bullet, it could be done in five minutes. Eight had a camera of his own in the upper corner of the Overwatch room now, and it was under his complete control. She could hear it whirring as she worked, watching what she was doing, watching all the monitors. Sipping the analog information stream that he probably wanted to gulp down in huge, digital swallows.
Not yet. Not until I’m sure….
She came out from under the desk satisfied that everything was in place, all neatly color-coded. Tiny victory. Go me.
And another thing occurred to her. Add…talismanic-type preset spells. Something Eight can trigger when I have my hands full. The easiest one for that would be a “location” spell based on the Laws of Contamination and Unity. Just to see if it was possible, she spent a few minutes putting one together, and tucked it in a kind of memory-module in Eight’s m-space. Once she plugged Eight in, he’d have access to all the CCCP and ECHO spell-packets that were wired to her Overwatch rig, so he’d be able to trace anyone in that bank of packets. Then to see if she could really make this practical, she did the same thing a half dozen times. It seemed to work. It would be ready to test when she was ready to pull Eight’s trigger. She knew he could see everything she did in m-space. He was probably itching to try these things.
Her eyes went to Red’s monitor, as faithful as a compass needle. Red had stopped pacing, and was back to sitting on his bunk. She reached absently for a meal can, and rested her chin on one hand, and stared at him while she sipped. Because this isn’t stalkerish and weird at all….
Had he done everything Jensen claimed he had? Killed that poor kid of a guard? No doubt. Shot down the rest? Certainly helped. Stolen stuff out of the Vault? Absolutely. Pushed Amythist into that energy-weapon? Not a chance.
She’d slowly dug up quite a bit of that past with Amythist that Jensen had pulled up like an evil rabbit out of a hat. And…no. There was nothing in that past that said to her that Red would have done anything other than throw himself between that fatal weapon and the ECHO Op if he’d known what was about to happen. I saw his face when that thing in New Orleans tried to impersonate her. It wasn’t Red that broke things off between them, it was her, and he was still carrying a candle, if not a torch, for her. She sighed. She probably figured out she’d never change him until he wanted to change. And she wouldn’t settle for a Bad Boy. Which is why she fell for Bulwark. Lots of practice writing romance novels got you pretty good at analyzing relationships. Well, as long as they didn’t involve angels. Then all bets were off.
And there was something else she was sure of–as sure as Bella was, in fact. The Djinni in that cell was not the same man who’d killed those guards. The man who’d killed those guards was someone she wouldn’t have allowed near her door.
The man who’d kept her from killing herself that horrible night was one she would trust with her soul.
After all, he already had her heart, even if he didn’t know it.
She just wished he’d talk to her. Ask her for something. Anything.
Including, truth to tell…help in breaking him out. She sighed, and her eyes stung, and she wiped at them with the back of her scarred hand. It’s going to be a long night.
In the bare confines of his cell, Red Djinni was putting on a show. This was Top Hold, a rather nice step-up from the last time he had been incarcerated in an ECHO jail. While the cell was just as bare, the security here was considerably higher than the simple concrete and steel accommodations of the last, with reinforced, gleaming white walls of some unknown indestructible polymer and heavy security measures humming through high-tech, sliding doors.
At least the solid platform that served as his bed was padded.
Red had spent the last couple of days doing calisthenics, eating sub-par meals that a guard would slide through a small slot in the door, sleeping and generally pacing about, as if terribly concerned over whatever the fates had in store for him. It was the sort of behaviour one would expect from an inmate who had just been charged with multiple counts of breaking and entering, theft, assault and murder. At the mercy of a military and peacekeeping organization like ECHO, especially during wartime, the future looked bleak to put it mildly. Red was fairly sure the death penalty would be on the table. And really, who could blame them? The destruction of the Vault on the day of the Invasion was one of many heavy losses to the once vast ECHO armory, and the loss of one of their most celebrated officers, Callsign Amythist, had struck a major blow to the already devastated morale of the inhabitants of Atlanta. Here, in seclusion, Red could only speculate what was happening beyond the walls of his simple cell, but he had a good idea.
One of ECHO’s new heroes, the elusive Red Djinni, a man with a mysterious past who had changed his ways and was now a fighter for the people, was responsible for the death of Amythist. The Amythist. The poster girl for all that was good and pure in meta-powered law enforcement. The girl who had never in her entire decorated career forgotten the plight of the common man, woman and child. The girl who came from a poor upbringing in Hell’s Kitchen, battled countless villains first in Manhattan and then across the breadth of the vast expanse of America and even the world. The girl who had humbly come to make Atlanta her home, had chaired numerous charity organizations that fought everything from poverty to disease to breaking down social boundaries of race, creed and sexuality.
Yes, that Amythist. And Red Djinni had killed her.
People would be screaming for his blood, right about now. He figured it probably would save everyone a lot of time and effort to just let him out, drop him on some busy corner in downtown Atlanta and let the populace tear him to pieces. They could even televise it, make a few sponsorship bucks.
Welcome to Justice in Atlanta, the execution of Red Djinni! Brought to you by Sharpett, the closest shave a man can get without slitting his own goddamn throat! And by Dry-Zee-Pads, when a gal just needs to be sure!
But, knowing ECHO, Red Djinni was certain he was in for some prolonged time in isolation, perhaps an even longer trial where the prosecution would present some extremely damning and bloody evidence, and they would hang him, figuratively speaking, following their usually quick and efficient protocols. Even now, with the world in the balance against a renewed onslaught of Krieger attacks, ECHO would make an example out of him. They really didn’t have any choice. And for his part, he would let them. He had known this day would come, eventually. He had hoped it would come later, y’know, perhaps after a time when humanity wasn’t fighting for its very existence. At that point, they would either be standing victorious and he couldn’t say he really cared what happened to him at that point, or they would be defeated, defenseless, and it wouldn’t really matter then, would it?