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cathyn: (Johnny!)
[personal profile] cathyn
So, once upon a time there was a thing that went around on Live Journal, the “False Memories of Me” meme. The rules were simple, your friends would tag you, or somesuch, and you would write a memory you two shared, which never actually happened. I really got into this meme, and wrote a good number of them. They are mostly short, mostly genre pieces, some which are wholly original, some of which you might offer you a seed you recognize. I saved all of mine, and now I have gathered them into a single document, which I hope you enjoy reading. I am rather shy about my writing, and trotting these out in this format is as much an exercise in conquering a fear I have as it is a chance for some digital housekeeping.

What follows under the cut is my work. Some published here in 2005, some in 2010. Mine. Probably not technically copyrighted, but it's mine. Show some respect. :)



=====

1

September, 1853. Our parent's summer estate outside Arkangel'sk. You, 17, freshly returned from your second year at the Tsar's Imperial Riding Academy, your eyes all aglow with the thoughts of your Commission, two years hence, but still completely dominating your thoughts and words. Me, 25, already bored of The Social Circle, as all heirs were obligated to navigate, the slow gyration of palaces, dances, hunting, small talk, and the never ending search for a marital partner only slightly above your level, at least in income, but certainly not prestige.

Rumors of war tainting everything.

There was that one bright perfect day. In a week you would be back at the Academy. In a week, I'd be heading for Nizhny Novgorod to romance the Count's daughter, the insufferable thing. But on that day, the last good weather before May, we were brothers again. We drank, we danced, we fenced, we talked deep philosophy and shallow gossip, but we were brothers. Brothers again after so long apart, and so soon to be parted.

Who could have known that a year later to the day, a fresh-faced Lieutenant of Horse, newly commissioned, and commanding 65 fellows, would lead a charge to silence a platoon of English cannon, those same cannon smashing the Lieutenant and his men to bits instantly, and mothers across Velikaya Rus smashed for the rest of their lives.

I sit now at your cenotaph, as I have every year for the last nineteen, which is longer than you lived. I write you this letter while I drink the bottle of Starka I brought you, first my portion, then, when you don't object, yours as well. I remember you, brother, and think of what might have been.


Oleg Kirilov Putin, Count of Nizhny-Novgorod, 20 September 1873


=====

2

I remember seeing your face in the porthole window as I drifted away from the ship.

Three months earlier we'd finally made The Score. Every sad rock miner out here in the Belt dreams of it. The had scientists finally announced that the Belt actually *had* been a planet before us monkeys had come down from the trees, and something had smashed it up but good. The miners like us had figured whatever had been under the surface of that planet was now much easier to find, but we'd forgotten what anyone who's ever dug for riches knows implicitly but never remembers until they've gone bust. There's tons of dirt and rock covering all those riches. Out here, they've spread both the riches and the dirt around, so while there's less real digging, there's a lot more sifting through space looking for promising rocks.

We'd been flying along scanning the spectrum for the tell-tale signatures of valuable minerals, with the sensor-returns blocked in the iron-nickle-silicon regions when there was the tiny ping which always pissed you off. The dense-carbon sensor. It was a hobby of mine, having read along time ago that the core of Jupiter was really a giant diamond the size of the moon. Not much of anything you couldn't buy with a moon-sized diamond, and I dreamt at night of strapping the engines of this ship to one and flying it to Earth. Hey, "if you're gonna dream, dream big" my dad always said.

"Shut that fucking thing off already!" you shouted in the tiny confines of the command deck of the Green Demon, a poorly named but very reliable mining barge. Then the gold detector fired off it's shrill warble, though faintly, indicating a small bit of gold, enough to resupply our fuel bins, but not enough to retire on. I silenced both alarms, fixed their source in the nav-com, and plotted a solution. What happened next was the stuff of dreams, legends, and porn-films, all rolled into one.

We pulled along-side the smallish asteroid, and noticed it's odd appearance through the cameras right off the bat. About 70 meters long, 40 across, and 15 thick, it was translucent, dense, and veined with gold. "Deploying core sampler to assay the find." I called "Preparing the standard digital claim form for submission to Solar Central. Spinning up the marker beacon." We waited for the results, knowing we were in little more than a break-even dig. Then we waited. And waited some more.

We began to get edgy, hearing the shrill whine of the coring drill reverberating through the hull. "Fucker's normally got a workable sample by now. I wonder if we need to replace the bit again?" you said, violating safety procedure by snapping the end off a Camel SmokeStik, drawing oxygen through the tube where it ignited the genetically modified tobacco to calm your nerves. "It's diamond." I replied "It's a diamond, an asteroid sized diamond that's gonna make us both rich as fucking Croesus." in a deadpan voice.

"YOU AND THAT GODDAMNED PIPE-DREAM! WILL YOU KNOCK IT THE FUCK OFF ALREADY!" you bellowed, your shout seeming louder in the sudden silence that followed the drill finally completing it's task. "Sample analysis indicates two minerals." spoke the ship's computer. "Gold, in a matrix of high-density cubic crystal structure carbon." "Computer, that carbon matrix, what is it's density and hardness?" I asked. "The carbon matrix has a density of 3.52 grams per cubic centimeter and a Mohs hardness of 10." "Computer, do those figures suggest any particular configuration commonly known on Earth?" "Yes" replied the computer "this substance is known on Earth as 'diamond'."

"Holy Mother of Fuck. Sparky, we're rich. I mean filthy-stinking-bathing-in-champagne-in-platinum-bathtubs-while-eating-caviar-from-the-navels-of-sixteen-year-old-Irish-redheaded-virgins-cloned-for-us-especially-for-this-purpose kinda rich. Sparky? Sparky?" I turned to look, and saw you had removed your glasses to rub your eyes, then you started punching yourself in the face viciously, shouting "Wake up! Wake up!! WAKE UP!!!" After a few minutes and a couple of black eyes later you stopped and said "Uh, Cathyn, we're fucking rich!"


The following twenty four hours were filled with tedious work, terrorizing danger, euphoric glee, and enough methamphetamines to keep the whole Army of New Belgium awake for weeks. Tweaking, but with our cargo secured we set about firing up the engines to head back to Solar Central. We were high, but we were also careful, building our velocity slowly, braking on schedule, and eventually reaching the drift in point to deliver the biggest money cargo the Belt has ever seen.

We were almost there when the alarms started trilling.

A quick scan of the sensors showed that we were losing fuel out of line 4. "Good thing the engines are shut down..." you added, though we both knew the dangers of a blown fuel line. "You wanna get this one, or do you want me to?" you asked. "Ehn, I'll do it, these quarters are getting kinda cramped, and I'd like to get another good look at our rock before delivery." "Fuck that" you replied "I'll be happy enough with that thing once all I see of it are zeros on my credstick."

As I drift through space now, I think back on your words and realize I should've given my curiosity a bit more thought. Something sounded just plain weird in your voice, but I wrote it off to fatigue on your part. You'd been taking double shifts at pilot for over three weeks, so it seemed normal.

I unreeled the safety-line as I floated aft, and sure enough, I could see a tiny hole, venting fuel. I prepared the patch, peeling the backing from the thick gloopy adhesive, when the shackle for the safety line bounced off my shoulder. I slapped the patch hastily on the hole before hand-over-handing it back to the airlock, which to my complete lack of surprise was locked from the inside.

"Sparky, what the fuck are you playing at, man? I thought we were people here. There's plenty of stone here for each of us, far more than plenty. No need to get greedy." Panic began to set in before I remembered I had a full repair tool-kit hanging from my belt. Taking the torch, I began cutting away at the external door of the airlock. It was then your face popped into the inner porthole. You watched me work for a bit before clicking on the intercom "You shouldn't do that, you know." "Yeah, fuck you. You shouldn't have tried to lock me out of my ship." "It's my ship now, CB, give up" you said. "Just cling to the outside, and when we dock I'll have you arrested and charged with attempted cargo theft, and then drop the charges after I've had long enough to collect the money, and retire to a planet where you couldn't possibly find me. I'll even leave you the ship."

"I have another suggestion, Sparky. I burn a hole in the door, override the safeties and open the inner airlock, then decided if I'm gonna let you live for this or not. How does that sound?"

Right about that time the outer door exploded from its bulkhead, flinging me into space. "You shoulda went with my plan..." were the last words I heard you speak.

I will hate you for the rest of my life, which according to my oxygen supply gauge will be about another twenty-three minutes.


=====

3

Who: You, me, the computerized servo-motors which allow us to pilot our vessel

What: A mission to start a war, which in the long run would prevent another.

When: 9PM, February 15th, 1898

Where: Havana Harbor, Cuba (It wasn't called the Cuba Free State then)

Why: Ours is not to question why, ours is just to do or die.

Orders. Stinking orders. We were a couple of research scientists on the first time-traveling survey ship. We passed through the Veil, watched mysteries and tragedies, and wrote reports which frequently became the Tri-D Drama of the Week, the proceeds of which kept us in better quality rations than those served to the poor bastards that actually got to break the edge of the gravity well.

We watched the Titanic tear a tiny slice in her hull which spelled her doom in the icy North Atlantic. We filmed the explosion of Krakatoa, we knew who the real discoverers of America were, and had witnessed first hand the fate of Flight 19. God-damned space aliens, we showed them a thing or two!

We're a research vessel, the Far Seeker and her crew of two, not a warship. One hundred eighty feet long, twenty feet in diameter, fully submersible, fusion powered, and shielded against any number of natural forces, she's a great ship, and we love her. The one drawback to our life aboard her is that she is in fact a government ship, and that sometimes means we must do government missions, not research and observation, but direct action which is usually intended to change the timeline of the past, just a little bit. This time, just like the time we towed that Soviet Golf halfway to Hawaii from where she really sank, was one of those missions.

Cuban rebels were making huge trouble in 1898, and the American government decided to rattle their sabres a bit by sending in the Battleship Maine. In our world, this drove the rebels to ground, making Cuba safe for someone or other, yet insuring the success of the insurgency that followed in the 30s. The one that led to the global pogroms and and germ warfare which left the population in ruins. The temporal theorists figured that if the potential insurgents were crushed at the beginning of the century, the horrors of the middle years might be avoided.

We sailed into the harbor about an hour before the appointed time, well after sunset, when her crew would mostly be sleeping, and less likely to survive. "I hate this," I grumbled "We've never killed anyone before, we've watched, recorded, we've even created, moved, or destroyed evidence, but never have we killed."

"I'm with you," you replied "But you've got to view this like cancer surgery. Some good cells must die along with the bad, so the body survives. If the cells survive, they'll sure as hell lead to a much worse fate for the body. Besides, we're not killing anyone. Mr. Torpedo is killing them, and those he doesn't get will perish to Mr. Fire, or Miss Deep Blue Sea. We're just delivering a package."

"Fine. I still hate it. Bringing her to firing depth, verifying ranges with laser and sonar. Get the cameras rolling." You toggled the switches, raised the shielded booms, and got everything rolling.

"Firing in three, two, one. Fire. Fire. Fire."

After watching the explosion I said "Congratulations, we've just killed about 300 sailors. Shall we paint a victory symbol on the mast?"

Your scowl spoke volumes as we stayed on station, filming the whole episode, the secondary explosions, the bravery of the crew of the Spanish ship also anchored in the harbor, and finally our target settling to the bottom of the bay. "Tha-tha-tha-that's all folks" you said as you brought us about, and we headed out to sea before the sun rose. We quickly crossed the twenty miles from land which constitutes the safety point before spinning up the temporal flux device.

Noticing my glum mood, you said "Hey, I know, we've got an assignment somewhere in here to film the eruption of Vesuvius. Want to set the timers a little early and get in a little shore leave? Historical evidence suggests the wine was amazing that year, let's go check!" You bellowed with your infectious laughter, until I couldn't take anymore. I allowed the anxiety of the moment to fade away, and engaged the transfer controls.


=====

4

"Skiing in Africa?!?" you asked incredulously.

"Of course." I replied. "Don't forget your swimsuit."

You looked at me puzzledly until you saw we would be skiing on dunes rather than snow. We slathered on the sunscreen, hit the slopes and shusshed the day away as lions and tigers looked on.

"A tiger?!? In Africa?!?" you asked. "Yes, but that's another skit." I replied.


=====

5

I remember you.
It was dark. Rain falling like tribal drumbeats beat against the dirty glass. I entered your office, chuckling internally as I shut the door and read:

edapS ahtnamaS
evitceteD etavirP

You hit me with the oldest line in the book. "What's a nice guy like you doing out on a night like this?" I sniffled back the tears that were hidden by the raindrops falling from my fedora. "It's my sister. She's been murdered, and all of Father's letters were stolen. They're the only thing missing."

You opened your desk drawer, extracting two glasses and a bottle of cheap Scotch and poured two shots. "Tell me more about these letters." you asked in the form of an order as you shuffled out a Chesterfield and match.

"They were nothing, really, just letters he wrote Mother when he was away for the War. They'd gotten hitched dockside the day he shipped out, and he wrote her every day while he was overseas. She never let us read them, he'd been assigned to some hush-hush project in Ethiopia, and she just wouldn't talk about it. One night after he'd passed, deep in her cups, we managed to drag hints out of her about what Father did. "Why they had him trekking across the desert looking for a big bronze box when Jerry was putting up such a fight in the trenches of France has always baffled me. More surprising than that was how they surrendered within weeks of your Father's letter which read only 'Found it.' I just don't understand."

"Whoa, brother" you interrupted, "I think better on my feet, and better still dancing. I know just the place. You'll buy." We left your office, down the dingy hallway to the stairs, and out into the maelstrom, where we caught the first cab, but not before getting soaked to the bone.

We ended up at the Pitty-Pat Club, an after-hours place favored by the Coloreds, but the whiskey was cheap, the band hot, and the joint jumping. We danced every song, and during the slow ones you asked questions more and more pointed until what would have been sunrise on any day without the rain we were having. When they finally tossed us out we found the nearest greasy spoon, hot cup of joe, and plate of sad sad breakfast.

"Don't they know how to cook grits here?" you asked rhetorically, but I couldn't answer, having never tasted them before. "Let me get this straight. Your father was in the Navy, spent the War in Africa searching for a 'box', the finding of which may or may not have ended the War. He then made a killing in oil and currency exchanges, living a charmed life for exactly twenty years until he was accidentally killed by a falling piano. Further you say that ever since then you've noticed strange things, people following you, familiar faces in crowds, driving cabs, selling papers, and things seem to move all the time in your apartment. Somewhere in there your mother died, too, fell off a train platform in front of the 5:15. Strange.

"Mister, if I were you, I'd take daddy's money, put it in a box and sail for parts unknown. There's more to that box than meets even the most imaginative eye. It's a safe bet the G-Men are in on the whole shebang, and a safer bet that if you don't flee, you'll be joining Mother, Father and Elizabeth in the family plot more sooner than later."

I took your advice, moved to Brazil for three years, carefully establishing a host of new identities with the help of Father's money and a cooperative government official who harbored dreams of retiring on the coast. I eventually ended up in China, Hong Kong to be exact, teaching dance to the débutante daughters of the English, French and German businessmen plying their trades in that most prosperous port in the Pacific.

I never saw you again after that morning, my last vision of you being a dusky detective, feminine despite your rumpled and rained on fedora and pinstripe suit, tap-dancing your way to the curb to hail a cab.

I can still see the kick-twirl you did before climbing into the yellow De Soto and out of my life.


=====

6

The Church in Denver.

Me: flying through the air, on my way out the door.

You: watching, laughing.

Last thing I heard before I hit the cement and lost consciousness was your voice saying "Who knew it would take over thirty seconds to get thrown out for dancing the 'Macarena' to Bauhaus?"

Fade to black.


=====

7

We were delivering arms and medical supplies to the Hmong people in Viet Nam when you got that gleem in your eye, the one I had learned to both fear and relish. "Let's dance" you said, so I tuned the radio to the Voice of America, engaged the auto-pilot, and we waltzed in the cargo hold at eight thousand feet. The Hmong never noticed we were fifteen minutes late.


=====

8

I remember the first time we met. Me in Kevlar by Armani, you in camouflage DKNY. The tremendous sex on the oak desktop, pens and Cuban cigars spilling across the floor. The orders to Lisbon to meet up with Rene. It was the first time you died in my employ, but not the last.

You saved the free world that day, and the fools will never realize it.

I have another job coming up, fancy another "interview"? The oak desk misses you...


=====

9

I remember the day I crowned you Queen of France. Our brief but glorious twenty-three minute reign. The throngs of our delighted subjects clamoring for a wave of your jewel bedecked hand. The short ride from the museum in Richelieu's own carriage. The shrill tweets of the gendarme's whistles. The mad dash through Rouen. The long train ride hidden inside those cases of sable coats. That first breath of free air in Switzerland. The giddy laughter when we'd realized we'd gotten away with it.

I'm glad your Coronation garb came with track shoes. Do you think France is still angry with us? I haven't been back to ask.


=====

10

We met in the airport in Minneapolis for coffee, but it didn't end there. While having our second cup, a rather well-dressed man walked by, and we noticed his wallet drop from his pocket. Being the honest folks we are, we picked it up and returned it to him. He thanked us for our honesty in a cultured English accent and said "Here, take this as a reward. I'll make the arrangements" handing us a Titanium American Express card imprinted with the name "H.R.H. The Duke of York". Before slipping out of earshot, he called over his shoulder "I'll have it expire in one month, have fun!"

With that a couple of phone calls were made, and a few of our closest friends dashed to meet cabs which whisked them away to their local airports. Their planes all flew them (and us) to London, where we embarked on the Queen Mary II for a year long trip around the world. We sailed, dined, danced, and lived it up as only guests of Prince Andrew could.

You looked lovely in the blue gown and sapphires the night of Her Majesty's birthday ball. Simply smashing...


=====

11

HIM:
It was the rum punch...

I never remember anything after rum punch. This has been documented so thoroughly I've even been able to use it once as a defence in a divorce/annulment trial. You remember, that time in Brazil, when I'd mistakenly married three different barmaids in the same bar, the same night! If the damage bill from the hotel is any indicator, it was a hell of a wedding night.

I've been meaning to ask, how come you weren't in any of the footage from that night? Were you the one holding the camera? Sixteen or seventeen rum punches in an hour, and I can't recall a thing.

HER:
Hun, ya gotta remember...I'm _always_ the one holding the camera. That's how I got away with the heist in Ecuador, remember? The one with all those diamonds and the Maltese Chicken.

Besides, I do _so_ like to watch...

HIM:
*YOU* were the one behind the camera in Ecuador!?! No wonder the courts there got the film! You always disliked working with Juan and Vladimir. Did you know they're still in prison there, likely to never get out? Your vengeance runs deep. I'm impressed.

What ever happened with those diamonds, anyway?

HER:
I put up with them longer than I'd wanted to, honestly -- I normally haven't the patience to deal with their kind. But they were damned effective, really good at what they did, so I cut them a lot of slack. But after the incident in Somalia, the one with the call girl -- you didn't know that was their doing, did you? -- that was it. I gave it some time, to be sure; the Sicilians are right in that much, at least. But they were doomed from that moment.

The diamonds? They went to finance the rebellion in Panama. Better to ask what happened to the Chicken...but I don't think you're cleared for that bit.

VASILI:
So *THATS* who fingered me! 3 years in that hell hole digging rocks for Ecuadorian "Businessmen"! But I escaped...unfortunately Juan went insane and ate 3 of his own fingers. Then they shot him.

9 months wandering the jungles of Central America with the Malagantee Tribe and I'm back with a vengeance.

And about 30 new tropical pork recipes......


=====

12

I remember the time we were stranded in France, August of 1918. There was that coffee house along the German border where somehow, even with all the shortages, they still managed to make croissant as good as any on earth.

The romance we shared.

The adventures we had.

The croissant. Ahh, the croissant.

They made missing the October Revolution worthwhile. I'm glad we were back in time to rescue the Romanovs and find that brave family to stand in for them. I wonder how they're doing hiding in that horrid place in Canada? At least the weather is familiar.

MI-6 still owes me for the dry cleaning, the bastards.


=====

13

We thought it was going to be a vacation. Yeah, right, like there are ever vacations in our line of work. We disembarked in Sofia, and hired a taxi to take us to the hotel. The cabbie was KGB, of course. Hell, it was 1953. Everyone in Bulgaria was KGB then.

For some reason it seemed perfectly natural that he knew our names when he picked us up, and even more natural that when we got to the hotel, we'd already hired him as driking buddy/native guide. He even gave us his real name. "Major Yevgeni Stepanovich Toranov, Fifth Chief Directorate" he said, gunning down his third vodka. We sat in the seedy little back-room bar behind the kitchen of the hotel where we were assured the vodka was better and the spying on hold due to a self-imposed truce. "We may be shooting at each other tomorrow, but here we drink together."

He was more right than he knew. Fucking psychic KGB officers.

How we got involved (well, more trapped, really) in the bank job is still a blur for me. One minute we were standing there waiting to exchange our Pound-notes for Leva, the next a hail of gunfire almost inaudible after the grenades went off. We lay on the marble floor together, each quietly praying the explosions had cracked the tiles and we could fall through the floor into the basement before we got our asses shot off, each hearing the busy signal from God's Ethereal Switchboard. Eventually the robbers came in, masked and carrying Tokarevs, the butt-ugliest pistols ever built, hopping the counters and emptying the cash drawers into their canvas sacks. Things were going well for them until they decided that three sacks of local cash just wasn't enough for them, and they wanted all our wallets. When they came to get yours the look on they robber's face was priceless. "Walter? Is you?" came the thickly accented question from beneath the mask. "Is me, Yevgeni!" he said as he patted the back of your hand, allowing you to keep your wallet.

He shouted something to his fellows in Russian, and they all laughed before racing out the doors, calling behind them "When Polizai come, tell them CIA did this thing!" No-one would believe them until they figured out there were actually two CIA agents in the bank when they whole thing kicked off. We'd walk on any charges, but spending the last six days of our time in Bulgaria with electrodes taped to our balls by local police officers just didn't sound like fun to me.

We looked at each other for a millisecond before saying in unison "Time to go." with some urgency.

We made our escape by catching the next taxi (this place has almost as many taxis as New York, and these ones smell less like urine) and heading away, just straight away from the bank. Good field-craft took over, and for a few minutes we forgot we were on vacation, and behaved like spies again, switching taxis three times, walking through a "State Store" after one switch, discarding our English topcoats in the men's room and buying East German ones before heading back outside.

We got away, cleanly, which really should surprise no-one, considering the "opposition". It's not like we were playing against the Varsity here. The Second Chief Directorate could hardly spare a man, what with trying to keep Sputnik a secret. Eventually we made it back to the hotel, and found in our rooms notes from Yevgeni inviting us to the back-bar for more vodka. When we got there, he gave us each an envelop with a significant wad of cash, and thanked us for running cover on their op. 'Ehn, why not?' we winked at each other, pocketing the money. The rest of our trip was a blur of good vodka, cheap Warsaw-Pact cigarettes, and dusky local women.

Well, I guess it was a vacation after all...


=====

14

The stench was relentless. "Who knew the twelfth century smelled *so* bad?" you asked rhetorically. "It's the eleventh." I replied. "Twelfth doesn't kick off for another four months." You responded with your normal erudition. "Shut up." you said.

We had made the transit on orders from Time Central, trying to save the world, again. Seemed this asshat from our time had popped himself back, murdered King William I's son just days before the King's death, and gotten himself crowned William II Rufus. Every time I thought about his name I laughed. "Rufus?!? Wasn't he a funk musician in the Twentieth?" I'd giggle for hours about it.

Time Central had us pop in about thirteen years after Rufus' Coronation. Up until then he'd carried on the work of his "father", which pretty much consisted of counting every last little thing in England, and building boxy castles everywhere to make sure no-one stole it from him. Two years from now would be the culmination of efforts he would start sometime next month, and that culmination would rob the world of several very civilizing and life-improving inventions, and a couple of medicines made possible by those inventions. Time Central was pretty clear on what had to be done.

"How do you want to do this?" I asked, sitting on the bed-bug infested thing that passed for a mattress in the room we'd taken in the Boar's Head, just another stock-standard Inn, rough-hewn tables, candles, sad flat piss-water that was passed off as ale, rancid fatty meat and the most amazing and delicious loaves of bread in all of history. Too bad the rest of the Eleventh Century wasn't as good as the bread. "Well, he's a King, and even this year they had passable ideas about security for VIBs, so doing him like you did Red Comyn in that Church in 1306 will be right out. We'll never get close enough in time. I still can't believe they thought you were the Bruce! You've got six inches and fifty pounds on him."

"OK," I replied, "Long-distance it is. We're gonna have to do it with contemporary weaponry, though, can't risk having some legend of him being blown up or something modern filtering forward."

"Not so fast," you countered. "I don't know if an arrow or crossbow bolt is guaranteed. We can't afford another debaucle like Sparky and Adhemar had in Jerusalem. Here's my plan..."


(To be continued...)


Flash forward a few days to the second of August, in the woods outside of London. We could hear the bumbling fools for hours, stomping around the woods "hunting". They had no idea that they were the only game to be found, and soon enough we'd have them.

They came into sight after a time, and I tongued the transmit key embedded in my tooth. I whispered "Romeo, eleven o'clock, range 600 meters." I got four quiet clicks of static from you, letting me know you'd gotten the message and were on the move. I watched your masterful stalking skills through the spotting scope, steering you towards their erratic path. "Romeo, two o'clock, range 100 meters. Start the music." Almost immediately I could hear the snort, the sound a large red deer makes when it's looking for a mate. It was almost comical to watch the reactions of the King and his party as they all tried to tell each other to be quiet, and they all moved towards you. You withdrew about fifty yards and they got about the same distance from where you'd snorted the first time. You snorted again, and they closed. By now I was watching the action not through the spotting scope, but through the lenses of the Unertl 9-24x50mm scope which was bolted to the top of the Westinghouse M25A1 Plasma rifle I preferred for these jobs in the past, plasma bolts leaving no evidence that might get dug up anytime in the next thousand years or so.

You grunted again, quieter this time, and one of the King's men said "Shit, it's getting away!" and the trio split up and began to move faster. "Split, split, split, Romeo center, twelve o'clock moving seven o'clock, range sixty meters. You are weapons free, I repeat, you are weapons free." One tiny burst of static answered my message. I centered my cross-hairs on the black baldric he wore to hold up his quiver of arrows, the black baldric would be sure to hide the burn hole.

It happened all at once, I heard the tiniest creak from the limbs of your bow as you drew, and started taking up the slack on my trigger. 'Three pounds, it discharges at three pounds' I thought to myself. I heard the twang, and watched as he bent to sniff at a branch simultaneously. The fool ducked his head right into your shot, catching your arrow right in the eye. He stood upright, and grabbed at the socket, seeming surprised for a moment. Then the plasma bolt landed. Watching what amounts to two full grams of nothing but electrons rip into flesh is a sight the hidden sociopath in me never grows tired of. I'd been a Doctor before, and knew that if there were anyone here who could do an autopsy, all they'd find in the dead King's chest would be a thick brownish glaze of disrupted cells, baked onto the ribcage by the energy as it dissipated.

"Shit! I missed! I missed!" you started to shout in a sad but passable rendition of Old English spoken with a thick Cockney. You ran over as to retrieve your arrow, and acted shocked when first you ran into the King's companions, and then moreso when they began to beat you for killing the King. They eventually stopped, not knowing they'd given you only the tiniest discomfort through your armorplast fiber clothing, though one unlucky kick had split and bloodied your lip. I thought about shooting them both, but realized there had to be someone left to tell the tale, and I sure as hell didn't want to be stuck here doing it myself.

It took much of the rest of the afternoon for you to convince those chitat'n idiots that you weren't an assassin, and longer still to convince them they had to bring the body to London as fast as possible, and that the Royal Heir must be notified. Finally you managed to slip away from them after you started an argument over whether Rufus' younger brother Henry should be notified first, or if his older brother Robert should be called to England from Normandy. We got as far away as we felt prudent, and activated the recall beacons. Seconds passed before we caught the wave and slipped home. Vomiting like I always do, I said "I hate this part..."

We bathed, filed our reports, collected our bonuses, and went to the Lounge. The bragging and drinking would go on for hours, and when we got back to our quarters, the love-making would continue until well past dawn.


=====

15

We sat in the shade of a bamboo awning, overlooking some unnamed river in some unnamed jungle on some unnamed frontier planet. Hundreds of scenes just like this drifted behind us in the streams of time. How many times had we seen this scene, on how many planets, through how many wars?

Our hostess, the shriveled old woman who was indistinguishable from the hundreds of others just like her in the past, came out of the hooch the awning hung from, bearing a dirty bottle filled with a dirty liquid of whatever the local distilled intoxicant on this world was called and refilled our glasses. You lifted yours and gave the traditional toast, words I have dreamed for centuries, "To the past, which we'll catch up with in the future."

You gunned down your shot, 'cause sure as the stars, it wasn't worth tasting, while I still held my glass aloft in salute to your words, trying to think of a clever way to put my thoughts into words. Giving up, I slowly drank mine, savoring not the taste, but the pain of it in my mouth, my throat, my stomach, where, like a tiny fission grenade, it detonated when it hit breakfast.

"Doesn't this shit get old?" I asked. "I mean, we've been doing this for millennia, making sure the waves of war never settled out, making sure that somewhere, sometime, there would always be killing, suffering, and bloodshed. Aren't you tired of it yet?"

"Of course I'm tired" you snapped, the gray crust of immortality visible behind your eyes, but only identifiable by one who sees it in his own eyes in every mirror, "But what the fuck are we going to do if not this? Go back to The Hunt? Perhaps another abominably long dinner with your father? You care to pick up your hammer again? You want me to take up my sword and horn and stand in the middle of that fucking lonely bridge again? Isn't this better than that? Isn't this just a little more exciting? New people, new worlds, new weather, A CHANGE OF FUCKING SCENERY? Yeah, it's boring here, but at least things change. There, it's always the same. Always. Snow at your sister's house, always. Sunshine at my brother's, always. Darkness at Grandfather's, always. Always. There was variety, but never change!"

I didn't have the heart to tell you that the tiny inverted "T" shape that hung from the leather thong around my neck was my hammer, that'd I'd never put it down. I pondered mentioning it now, for the thousandth time, and for the thousandth time I opted for another drink instead.

As we sat and watched, off in the distance the sky opened up and our wares fell upon the nearby cities. As they flamed, we drank, and talked of the next time, the next planet, the next race we would trick into destroying themselves.

I then took out my flutes, and played myself a song to dance to...


=====

16

For days after the surgery, we were both wrecks. It isn't often you do a brain transplant on the cloned body of the Quadrant President, allegedly one of the four most powerful men in the Galaxy. It's even less often that you do it at gun point, while eight of the meanest GenMod bodyguards you've ever imagined split their time between paranoic searchings of the halls and threatening Greivous Bodily Harm should you screw this particular pooch.

Yeah. Successful assassination attempt. Had to be covered up. We move the brain. The new body appears on TV, cheerfully waiving from the wheelchair leaving the ER after having had "minor injuries" looked at.

A few days after the video coverage was already old news you jokingly asked "How come every time I work with you, we end up in the middle of a Pan-Galactic Conspiracy?" Between shots of vodka and puffs of my cigar I replied "We only ever remember the highlight reels. All the sutures, nose jobs and ruptured appendices fade into the background. The only things that stand out are this sorta shit, emergencies requiring not just skill, but courage and the ability to keep our mouths shut."

As you gathered your coat to leave you said "Do you ever think of retiring? Getting away from this stress, knowing you have a dozen stories in your head that you can never tell, that the media would pay a billion credits for, which the State Security Office would never let you live long enough to spend? Do you ever consider it?"

I shook my head tiredly, and gunned down another shot, hoping to get it in fast enough that the nanites in my gut might miss enough to get into my blood for me to feel. "What, and miss all this excitement? Good night Dr. McIntyre."

"Good night, Dr. Pierce." you said "See you next time the government is about to fall. Or needs to."


=====

17

We were introduced at the Konitessa's Ball. I'll confess now I hate the things, dancing in zero gravity always leaves me nauseated. The view was fantastic, however, Phobos and the remains of Deimos setting in the light of the distant sun, viewed through the thick transparent aluminum of the observation deck.

As you found out later, I was under cover as an agent for a Centauran antiquities collector. We arranged to meet later to discuss the purchase of some of the few remaining artifacts of their failed attempt to colonize this solar system 90 millennia in the past. Of course, trading in anything the Government of the High Hegemon of Mars deems to be of "significant historical value" is frightfully illegal, and thus extremely lucrative.

We met, inspected our respective satchels, mine literally containing an Empire's ransom in synthetic DiamAlloy crystals, yours containing decrepit ration packets, clearly as old as advertised, and clearly not of Solar origin. We smiled, toasted each other and parted ways, each silently smug in our hidden secrets.

You were arrested, convicted, and sentenced. I was unable to attend any of the proceedings, though my recorded testimony, the surveillance footage, and the artifacts were far more than enough to assure conviction. Sadly for the Auditor General, he could not explain the disappearance of the DiamAlloy you walked away with, and, as the ultimate authority in the matter, was executed by the Hegemon's Guards even before your case was fully adjudicated.

Turns out, only a tiny portion of the DiamAlloy we took was far more than sufficient to arrange a pilot substitution for your shuttle to the Prison Moon of Callista. No bodies were recovered when the shuttle crashed, but by that time we were long gone. A single DiamAlloy crystal will also purchase one hell of a quick and un-trackable stealth ship.

I wonder how many more times we can pull this scam off before someone notices. Oh well, off to Centaur Prime to sell them some artifacts!


=====

18

I remember the long drive to Arkham, to the Asylum to visit your sister. Stopping in Castle Rock to eat. The greasiest cheeseburgers outside a State Fair, and the best chocolate malt north of the Mason-Dixon line.

We got back on the road before the storm hit, but soon it was just too rough, something I'd never seen before in all my years of driving in Maine. You asked if we should find a hotel, hide out until the storm broke. "Ayuh." was all I could manage to reply, concentrating too hard on the road.

Far further than I though it'd be, we finally saw the sign for the Bates Motel. With an grin to each other we pulled off the road. That's when I first saw the snake. It couldn't really have been a snake, since there are no forty foot long, six foot tall snakes in North America. I looked to see if you'd noticed it, but you were watching me instead. Clearly I had been seeing things that weren't there.

Fortunately the motel looked nothing at all like the one from the movie, single story, cinder block construction, open on only one side, with chipped paint, a slightly sloped roof, and one sad vending machine in the lobby. We got change, got provisions, such as they were, and went to the room, ate, and collapsed into our beds.

I awoke to the ruckus around 2 AM, only to find you wrestling out of the covers and into you shoes, knocking things over in the dark. "Murflemurfle ICE murflemurfle!" you said on your way out the door. I immediately dropped back to sleep.

I dreamed of a thumping sound, and some screaming, but it didn't penetrate the fog, and I woke for real at 7:30. You were gone. I figured you'd gone back to grab the last pack of Ho-Hos from the vending machine, so I jumped into the shower.

You still weren't back when I got out. I went looking, really I did. All I ever found was a small splash of blood, and one of your shoes, near some strange gouges in the gravel of the parking lot. Looking across the lot, I did, however, see, in the shadows of an overhanging tree, the head of the snake, with a splash of red, and countless hyper-intelligent eyes staring back at me from the shade.

I see you sister every day now. Across the yard. We are "Resting comfortably", as they call it here.


=====

19

There was something about the way he said "Sure, take the baby, just give me back the $10,000" that I just didn't like. You didn't seem too disturbed as you handed him the envelope, picked up the swaddled bundle and headed for the Rolls Royce TurboFan we'd left sitting on "hover".

Before I let you get in the car, I made you inspect the package, and, sure enough, there was a little sheet of Semtex attached to the tiniest, cutest, bunny shaped detonator I'd ever seen. I took both, flipped the power level of my built-in “enhancements” from Normal to UltraViolence, waited the requisite .04 seconds for the surge current to charge the capacitors, and leaped over the car, already noting you throw the child vertically into the air, about 85 feet straight up, my trajectory calculator told me as it left your hands. '8 seconds before one of us has to catch the baby' I thought, already sprinting towards Oleg at a speed that would make a cheetah blink its eyes with fear and awe.

His eyes were just starting to dilate in shock when I snapped his wrist and freed his grip on the trigger device. I could hear him start to bellow in pain, but my increased reaction speed made him sound like vibrating molasses, until I shoved the Semtex in his open mouth and tossed him down range, away from Little Natasha.

My nerves bristled in outrage when you activated the dampening field, shutting down all communications, and shocking any nearby non-G4 hardened surveillance gear into reset and test cycles. We'd picked this place for the rendezvous specifically because of its low intercept probability, and the time to minimize satellite observation windows. Still, the danger indicator in my heads up, the colored frame around my vision dimmed from muted orange to cool green even as the rest of my nerves and sensors screamed in protest about crushing interference I got hit with.

As I fell, I hammered the trigger three times, hoping the damper would let this signal through, and I was rewarded by the delicious thump of First Order Detonations in very confined regimes. Even though they frazz my sensors even more than the damper, I love the feeling, like being squeezed by a lover, everywhere, all at once...hard.

At ridiculously expensive speed, my aurals and the rest of my neuromuscular systems rebooted and reset, and the automated all-clear I'd programmed shut the damper down. Nothing draws cops like detectable dampening fields, and the shorter ours was on, the better our chances. I bounced up in time to see Natasha reach the peak of her flight, calculated that she'd land 18.7 inches from predicted point of impact due to the buffeting of the Semtex, but determined you were already moving to catch her, so there was no need for undue haste on my part.

Programming took over and I ran a thorough threat scan of the area, as well as confirming we'd only been in the area of view of two satellites, and both in their low-detection zones. I did catch a "What the fuck" transmission on WCPDnet, and decided it was high time we unassed the AO. In three quick but slightly ungraceful bounds (remember, I *had* just suffered both a 3 atmosphere overpressure at close range and a forced system reboot in the last couple of seconds), I dashed back to the TurboFan, and held the door gallantly for you and the baby, before climbing into the drivers seat and beginning an escape and evasion program to get us as far from this place as quickly and undetectably as possible.

While we were alternately sprinting and crawling, I spun down the dial, returning to Heightened Awareness mode, and once all my sensors were green, made for the Embassy. Once there, I stood in awe at your ability to manoeuvre your way through the halls of power with such ease. I'm far more comfortable when lead is flying, thanks, but you seem far better prepared when the largest danger we face is small talk, and we both know how dangerous *that* can be. You always tell them I'm a mute, when they ask, that even the best surgeon in Chiba City couldn't restore my vocal chords, to save me from having to risk our position by opening my yap, a fact for which I am eternally grateful.

The delivery made, far more than $10,000 was deposited in our accounts, and we made the usual graceful exit, back to the Ritz Charleton Royale to bask in the fruits of our labors, until the next time the secure line jingled.


=====

20

(This might be the best and most original of the lot)

I was on the roof of a white building overlooking the President's route through Dealey Plaza. November, 1963. Yeah, yeah, everyone remembers that date. I was looking through the spotting scope at the plaza, and all it's shaded nooks and crannies where a shooter might hide.

I caught the slow flash of your movement, and quickly confirmed that you were really there, in the storm drain on the side of the road. I looked at the maps, flipping through page after page before spotting the one I needed. 'Half a mile walk, through cool tunnels, no worries, even a nice shady neighborhood to park his car in...' I thought. I watched you set up, through the 6" slit between the road surface and the curb. 'Great spot' I thought as you got positioned. The shade and depth of the cement box you were in would ensure no-one, not even someone just across the road, would see you, the box being big enough that you wouldn't even need to stick the tiniest part of your rifle barrel out into the light.

Some part of me admired your work, your selection of position, the calm with which you set up your "hunt". Of course, my job as an Agent of the Secret Service was to prevent your success, and I was going to see to it.

I took up the scoped and silenced .22LR Remington, one of three rifles I had in cases beside me, and set it on my sandbag. I took one of the sub-sonic rounds from it's box and chambered it, then grabbed a second, knowing I'd want a second shot, to be sure.

"Watch his weapon" I whispered to my spotter after informing him where you were.

I aimed carefully, right at the muzzle of your strange looking rifle that I now know was a Dragunov, squeezed the set-trigger, took in a slow breath, eased it back out and closed the tip of my finger on the trigger. With a puff that even I almost could not hear, my bullet ambled it's way slowly to your hiding place. It drifted the tiniest bit to your left, missing your gun, but certainly rattling around in your box. Always the wise-ass, my spotter whispered "You missed" as I quickly fed the next round into my weapon. You were already moving when my second shot also entered the box, far enough from you that you had to know that my miss was intentional.

I dropped behind the eave of the building for a moment, but left my rifle visible to you, then sat up with my real baby, a hand-made thing of beauty, the finest rifle ever built by Weatherby, which would put it's .30 caliber bullets within a quarter inch of each other at a range of 500 yards for as long as you cared to shoot. My current record at that range was 98 rounds that could be covered with a dime, much to the envy of the rest of the shooters on my team. I sat up and centered the cross-hairs on the only target you presented me, your face, eye to your own scope, moving slightly as you continued to look for me. I waved my hand above my head, and that caught your attention. It appeared you recognized my respectful gesture and didn't return fire, merely tipped your barrel slightly acknowledging my presence, maybe even a thank you.

I picked up my radio and held it aloft, lowered it, then signaled a frequency. Moments later it crackled to life.

"Is that you, Cathyn?" you asked, already knowing the answer.

"Of course, Vladimir Igorovich, who else would have said hello like this?"

"None but you, tovarisch, none but you." you replied.

"Shooting or guarding?" (At this point my spotter interrupted and said "Here they come." looking towards the motorcade.)

"Shooting."

"I'm afraid I'm gonna have to ask you not to do that today. Big problems for us if you do."

"I know, I was hoping to go unnoticed here. Some of your people need the kind of trouble this would have caused. I guess I'll pack things in and move along. Touching him today is not worth getting touched as well. Suicide is the worst of all retirement plans.”

"Very true, old friend, very true." I spoke as I continued to watch you through my scope. I flinched at the first of what would be four shots rang out.

"That was not me!" you whispered loudly into your radio as the second rang out.

"I know, we're looking right at each other!" I replied, speaking under the third.

My spotter slapped my shoulder and barked into his radio "Two shooters, one in the Book Repository, one in the trees on that slight rise. Charlie Bravo has the..." I raised my left hand quickly and he continued "...shooter in the trees. All south-side shooters, you are weapons free."

While he was talking I thumbed the button of my radio "You've got to move your ass, tovarisch, they'll be scouring the area, and if they find you, it won't matter that you didn't shoot. I've got work to do. Go."

"Already gone..." was the last I heard from you that day, while I was drawing a bead on a dumbass who decided breaking down his weapon and stuffing it into its case was more important than getting the hell out of Dodge.

I poked the set-trigger quickly, drew breath, selected the third button from the collar of his shirt and exhaled.

"BANG!" said Mister Weatherby finest creation. The Knoll Commando, as he came to be known, never moved under his own power again.

My career ended that day. Didn't matter that I got one of them. Didn't matter that even if I had gotten him in time, the bad-guys had back-ups in place. All that mattered was that I didn't get them first. I drank myself silly for the next three years wondering why none of the rest of us (there were eight, you know) spotted them, and why none got the guy in the building. If we hadn't been talking, I might have gotten them both, and maybe even in time, but don't worry, old friend, old enemy, I don't blame you. Fortunes of war, and all that rot.

In the biggest of all ironies, I now work for the State of Texas, guiding tourists through Dealey Plaza. I am prohibited by law from mentioning you. Or me, for that matter. Or the guy with the .30 hole in his shirt button who hit the ground just on the other side of that fence right there. I keep hoping you'll come take the tour someday.

Maybe I'll go for a vodka after I get off work today. I feel the need to drink a toast to an old friend I haven't seen in 43 years...



I hope you enjoyed taking this stroll with me down False Memory Lane!

Date: 2015-06-15 08:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] balutakat.livejournal.com
I did! I love how "you" they are, I can hear you reading each one.

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