My brain hurt worse than a bad BTL run. The throbbing ice pick pain only intensified when I lifted it up off the floor and realized I was still leaning against my window. My body was ice cold and I shuddered and shook in the chilly morning air.
Reluctantly I opened the channel so that the message could come through but set it to private so that I was not visible in the reply.
“Renata.” The calm, almost morose tones of the Pastor Clemons arrived in my ear as I pushed up from the ground creakily. Faking a sunshine I did not feel, I sweetly answered, “Father Clemons, so good to hear from you.”
I listened to his small talk about the church-goings while I found a blanket and wrapped my shivering nearly naked body in it. Moving toward the bathroom I gave him the performance he required with only a small amount of attention to the details.
It was only after I stepped into the shower and let the warm water begin to pinken my nearly blue skin that I realized what I’d agreed to.
“Yeah so, it’s an easy run.” I didn’t really give them much of an opportunity to argue. In fact, I deliberately kept my tone brisk and nonchalantly commanding, with an air of assumed compliance. It was a trick my father had taught me long before any of my fancy acting classes. I’d seen him use it on shamans, generals, presidents, and chummers alike. You just spoke like you expected everybody to already be in agreement. Most wouldn’t even recognize that they were being corralled.
Sure enough after a bit of bitching and griping they all fell in line. I didn’t mention the pittance the church was going to pay us for our protection. When the pastor had spoken glowingly of the collection drive I nearly lost my façade for a second. Cushioned soft pillow pets. They had no idea the amount of danger they were in or the way the darker side of the world around them functioned. Any runner would have been insulted by their offer, it wasn’t even worth the cred stick purchase it would take to move the money around.
But, they wouldn’t be in this mess if the spell Shane had cast hadn’t made the van invisible to that biker gang that got in our way in one of our very first heists. The Badgers were angry and a church was an easy target.
Frack. I couldn’t blame the caster. As much as I wanted to shift the guilt and responsibility to him, I was the one that had borrowed the church van for the run. It had seemed like an easy solution to a lack of transport and one that leant us the air of respectability that had allowed me an out if the Lone Star got involved. The last thing we needed was a Heatwave. But, of course, that’s exactly what we got. Lonestar crawling all over the scene. That Detective hadn’t fully cleared me but with my tie to the church he didn’t dare push too hard. It pissed him off that he could smell the scent of my running on me but couldn’t get past the surface to find it. He’d stopped by the Typhoon three times since that incident: “for coffee.”
Pulled from my thoughts I realized that I’d left the line open and that Wesley was still talking to me.
“Hoi, yeah go ahead.” I had to do something about my lack of attention and soon. It was starting to become a regular habit.
“Confirmed. You and Donegar just stand around and look bad ass. You’re supposed to be military related so act it.” I’d used my supposed connections with Axel’s former commander to set this up, or at least that’s what I let the good pastor believe.
Donegar grunted. I took that for assent even as Shade said, “What about us?”
“You and Shane just mingle in the crowd. You’ll fit right in. It’s a street urchin thing.”
They weren’t thrilled with my description of them and as they started jabbering at me I disconnected, with a “See you at 10.”
The street was crowded with church folk and street folk alike. It wasn’t every day that there was a ceremony of something worth celebrating in this part of town. The Reading Center was the pastors newest pet project and one he thought he’d get me on board with. As he’d coaxed and cajoled me about working with kids being good for me, I had imagined snapping his arm at a 90 degree angle and thrusting the heel of my hand in the exposed nerve center to dislocate the joint.
Fuck that drek. I wasn’t working with any fucking kids.
Briefly I considered how old AJ would be now as I looked at the kids streaming in and out of the crowds, chasing and laughing in excitement at this excursion.
Yeah. Fuck that.
In my mind’s eye, I twisted the pastor around with his back to me and drove my knee into the back of his thigh, forcing him into a kneel. I would then use my free hand to grab him about the throat and—
Fuck, I was doing it again.
I blinked in the sunlight at the smiling face of the Pastor as he waved me up toward the stage, “Why don’t you come on up here and cut the ribbon!”
Everyone started applauding and I felt my body jolt forward even as I plastered the sweet unassuming smile of the former pastor’s wife on my face. I just might slip into his room tonight and kill him. The thought warmed my smile considerably as I reached the stage and scanned the crowd.
Donegar cut an imposing figure. He didn’t have to pretend to be military-affiliated. In his riot suit he looked like he was there to kick ass if anybody got out of line. Across from him on the other side of the crowd Wesley was harder to see due to his height but as the crowd parted I could see him studying everything with the keen eye of a trained bodyguard.
I’d seen the teens earlier. Mav had skated by on his Twenty-Cent skateboard—why he was so attached to such outdated tech I couldn’t begin to understand but he certainly drew the attention of the teenaged girls. Of course, so did Shane. For all of his elven status, he was a pretty figure and I hadn’t been able to ignore the way he’d effortlessly slid himself into the group of teenage parishioners. In fact, they were all laughing it up on the outskirts of the crowd even now. I bet
the ass was making jokes about their religion. Rebellious teens would eat that up.
With a wave that would do any beauty pageant queen justice, I said a few dulcet words about the importance of reading and how proud I was of what we’d accomplished here.
All of which was promptly forgotten when I saw Donegar jerk forward and begin striding toward the street corner. I scanned the crowd and couldn’t see Maveryck anywhere either. What had they heard?
The crowd had paused expectantly as I had frozen in mid-sentence and they began to look in the direction I was when the unmistakable sound of bike engines cut through the celebratory noises.
“QUICK! INSIDE! EVERYBODY GET INSIDE!” I pushed the Pastor, probably harder than I needed to yank open the door to the new building and step to the side.
They were still registering my words when the roaring noise of semi-assault rifles cut through the air. The sudden surge toward the door was manic and people began to bounce about, stumbling, some falling as the crowd turned into a beast of its own making.
Over the Coms I heard the crew devising and describing the plan as they began to return fire. My attention was on getting people to safety.
Insanity. Too many sights and sounds. People screaming and crying. Bullets pierced flesh and spun them to the ground in their church finery. Kids, children, were the quickest hit as they’d been toward the edge of the crowd, teenagers who didn’t want to be a part of their parent’s displays. Horrified, I realized all I had on me was my Fichetta in its concealable holster. What I wouldn’t give for a rocket launcher. Burn these hateful bitches to ash. Pushing past people I kept shoving them toward the stairs into the building as I tried to get to the firefight on the street. Return fire was evident by my trained ears and I knew that the rest of my companions were able to at least make them suffer for their atrocities.
I’d just made it to the edge of the crowd when a searing whinny pierced the air and a raging horse composed of blue white light charged into the formation of bikers driving up the street. Mavryck and Wesley were spraying the oncoming with bullets as Donegar had somehow flanked them and was shredding them from behind.
I wanted to help insure that not a single one of the bastards survived but even as I closed my fingers around the grip of my gun a small body crashed into my legs, blood pooling from their mouth.
I swept the child up and turned to run for the church. Weaving on his feet I saw Shane scoop up another one.
Over my coms Donegar coldly announced, “Last one down.”
Street bikes and bodies lay in disarray along the street and the injured crawled or limped their way toward the building. In the distance I could make out the sounds of approaching sirens. I didn’t have papers confirming their military IDs and not willing to risk it, I barked back, “Wesley, Donegar, Mavryck, get gone.”
Inside the scene was even more chaotic. I left the injured to Shane as I tried to bring peace and calm to the frightened, “They’re gone. They’re not coming after you. No, they’re all gone. Yes, yes they are dead.”
The Pastor was offering prayers and his words were far more comforting than mine. I tried to pull upon my background as pastor’s wife but I couldn’t find her, that role I had inhabited for years. She was hidden beneath the icy cold rage of a runner. I wanted to hurt someone. I wanted to kill someone for the pain that they had inflicted. In my shoulder holster the Fichetti felt like a throbbing weight of welcome. I needed to shoot someone.
As if echoing this sentiment I was startled from my weak attempts to be comforting by gasps and squeals. Not far from me, Shane had drawn a gun and held it against one of the old parishioners. He seemed incongruence with a gun in his hand. It seemed awkward and ill-fitting. Even as I considered this I was already moving to diffuse the situation.
“We don’t need his kind here. Damn dandelion eater. Doin’ god knows what to these children.” I glanced past the old man to the injured children and the blood soaked shirt of Shane to realize that he had witnessed him casting.
He was healing the injured. But how did I explain that to this old guy? I made soft assuring noises as I moved him away from Shane’s work and left the elf to his task.
“Yes, yes, we should talk to the Pastor about it. I’m sure he could put a stop to it.” I maneuvered through the crowd, gently persuading the grouchy old fucker to follow.
“We can’t have no Keeb casting magic on the kids. That’s what we get for having a Stuntie to protect us. What were you thinkin’ hiring a dwarf to oversee the guarding of this church? I know, I know that the Pastor says we have to be welcoming to these Tolkeniese folk but this is a sign from God that he is displeased with us, opening this place up and letting Tuskies in. As if they’re goin’ to do any readin’. I just have’to say that the Pope is wrong. Ain’t none of those kind have souls.”
I had continued to make the agreeable noises even as they choked off in my throat and my smile had frozen into a rictus of its former self. The arm that I had draped around him in an assuring hug had stayed light and gentle despite the iron anger I felt stiffening my spine. I found an empty hallway.
“I’m just gonna let the pastor have a piece of my mind, I’m gonna tell him that he’s listenin’ to heresy and that this new Pope will realize he’s bein’ swayed by evil.”
“I tell you what.” I gently turned the old man around to face me, my arm sliding slowly from his shoulders, “Why don’t you just discuss it with God himself?” My hand found his throat, “I’m sure he’ll love to hear what you have to say about it. You can argue the merits of souls in person.”
It took one sharp satisfying thrust to crush his windpipe. His eyes bugged out as he gasped and his hands flew to his neck. He wobbled back and crashed into the wall, staring at me in horror.
“It’s so incredibly sad that you were so injured in the firefight. I wish I had some way to help you. But we wouldn’t want a dirty caster to heal you with his filthy elven hands, now would we?”
The tension I had felt, the burning need to wreak death was subsiding. My smile was soft, warm, welcoming and peaceful. My expression that of the perfect wife of churchly subordination. Warm golden green eyes watched as he choked out and the life fled from him and I delivered his benediction, “Blessed be your passing, my your soul find ever-lasting peace.”
I turned and left his soulless eyes staring up at the ceiling. I caught sight of the Lonestar officers moving through the crowd questioning people and a quick call to Mavryck over the comms had him pulling Shane from the building and out the back door.
I was in good spirits when the Lonestar officers collected me. Invested fully in my role of Renata Teschke, sweet former pastor’s wife. There remained no hint of the turbulence from earlier. Hell, I even offered to pray for their souls during the interrogation.