The Cassidy Chronicles - Chapter Thirty-One
And finally we tie up loose ends!
That's all I'm gonna say about this chapter.
Except that, you think we were done with problems?
Chapter 31: Bet U Wish U Had Me Back
Talbott looked up at the figure in the doorway. “Hello, Kendra. I didn’t expect to see you here.” She slowly reached under her desk.
“Don’t bother with your security,” said Montana, walking in behind Kendra, her favorite handgun leveled. “We had a nice chat with them on the way in. Hands where I can see them.”
Talbott pulled her hand back and rested it across her wrist.
“Yes,” added Cass, strolling in behind. “It’s amazing how easily loyalties can switch.”
Talbott tapped her wrist impatiently.
“Tell me, Amanda. I’m curious.” Kendra dropped into the seat in front of Talbott. “Why did you do it? You make plenty of money, so that’s not the reason.”
“No,” Talbott disagreed. “It was the money. You might think that six hundred k annually is a lot, but –”
“You make far more than that,” Mac contradicted, taking a place against a far wall. “In fact, in the last year, you claimed nearly two point eight million.” She waved a sheaf of papers. “It’s all right here.” Mac’s nervousness manifested in the brevity of her sentences.
“And that’s just what you made from OutLook,” amended Cass, settling in next to Kendra. “How much did you manage to skim from the contracts?”
“I never took a penny –” started Talbott in outrage, but Mac cut her off.
“From what I found, she was taking at least ten percent of every contract. Skimming it right off the top.” Mac looked at Talbott, then away. “That adds up to a pretty sum.” Mac stepped back, pulled one of her ubiquitous padds from her pack, and stared down at it, tapping occasionally.
“Were you worried you were going to get caught?” purred Kendra. “Or were you trying to get in good with the new owner?”
“Because you wasted your time,” said Montana. “Either way.”
“You see, Derek is dead.” Cass dropped the news casually.
“And so is Kaine,” added Kendra.
“So you’re the only snake left,” finished Stone, making her appearance.
“Who the hell are you?” demanded Talbott.
“Ah, ah, ah!” scolded Kendra. “Sorry, Amanda, your days of demanding shit are finished.”
“You hurt a friend of mine,” said Stone. “Someone who never did anything to anyone in her life.”
“Dr. Lisa Mantchev,” answered Stone.
“Who?” Talbott showed no recognition of the name.
“Oh, that’s right, you wouldn’t know her,” said a frosty Stone. “She was. What did Kaine say? “Collateral damage” trying to get to Cass.”
“See, Amanda, when you decided to turn things over to Kaine, you really fucked up,” said Kendra. “I know you’re cold and conniving, but you used to have scruples. Kaine? He was a sick bastard. To get Lisa to talk about Aiyana, he killed her husband.”
“You can’t hold that against me!” shrilled Talbott.
“Oh, yes. Yes, I can,” whispered Stone. “And I certainly do.”
““Lucky for you,” broke in Kendra. “I’ve been in the business for long enough that I know that sometimes there are accidents. Unexpected events.”
“Yes. Yes!” agreed Talbott.
“And I’ve known you for, what, ten years? Eleven? Some pretty good years in there, too, Good times, too.”
“Absolutely, you were, no, you are one of the best we have. I always appreciated what you brought to the company!” Talbott was babbling, trying everything she could think of to stay on someone’s good side.
“Which is why you have a choice,” continued Kendra.
Talbott cut herself off. “A choice?”
“Yes,” agreed Kendra. “You can get up and leave, now, with what you have with you. Walk out of the building and never, ever, return. Go wherever you want.”
Talbott wasn’t sure she liked this first option. “Or?”
“Or I let the Master Chief take you apart, one inch at a time.”
“Please choose that,” begged Stone.
Kendra interrupted and spoke sweetly. “I may have forgotten to mention. We’re going to be watching you, so if you’re thinking revenge? Forget it. If we hear the slightest thought had even begun to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing your mind, we’ll find you. And then we’ll give you to Stone.”
Whatever Talbott’s choice was going to be was suddenly rendered moot. A shadowed figure burst into the room behind Stone, shocking her with a stunner. Before Stone hit the floor, the figure was leaping across at Montana, delivering a kick to her jaw. Montana fell, the gun skidding away.
Mac backed up, trying to draw her weapon, but the attacker punched her, first in the face, then the chest, and finally the gut, and Mac was down, gasping.
Talbott sprang from her chair and flew across the desk at Kendra, grappling for the younger woman’s throat. Kendra managed to push Talbott’s arms away with a desperate lunge, but Talbott’s momentum carried them both to the floor. Kendra wrapped her hands around Talbott’s arms, and the women started rolling on the floor, struggling for the right angle.
The last one standing, Cass found herself facing a woman nearly her height with short black hair. She had enough time to gather her wits and fell into her ginga.
“It’s not often I get to finish a job that went wrong,” said the stranger.
“Farrell! Or, what was it, Jeffries!” gasped Cass, the pieces falling into place.
“You’re quick,” admitted Jeffries. She took an experimental swing at Cass, who easily dodged it.
“Why are you here?” said Cass, still rocking side to side.
“Why? I was hired as a bodyguard,” said Jeffries. “It’s a little bit out of my usual gig, but business has been slow, and I kinda owed her one.” Jeffries threw a rapid combination at Cass, which she only partially blocked. One landed painfully on her ribs. Cass countered with a sweep of her leg, staggering Jeffries, but she stayed on her feet.
Meanwhile, Talbott pinned Kendra’s shoulders with her knees and was trying to gouge her eyes. Kendra’s arms were long enough to keep Talbott’s hands away, but sooner or later, she’d miss, and she knew it. Kendra looked around for something, anything, to break Talbott’s grip.
Cass and Jeffries were circling each other, respectful of each other’s capabilities.
Aiyana tried to reason with her. “You don’t have to do this. Talbott’s finished.”
Jeffries glanced over. “Doesn’t look like –”
Cass jumped at the break in Jeffries’s concentration, dropping her shoulder into the other woman’s chest, driving her backward and down. The breath was driven from Jeffries with an explosive whoof, but she kept her head. Jeffries slammed her hands against the sides of Cass’s head. Stunned, Cass reeled back.
“You’re done, Kendra, you’re finished!” ground out Talbott, tendons raised, muscles straining. “There wasn’t anything personal about this before, it was just a job, but now I’m going to enjoy taking you and your little bitch wife out!”
“Frak you, you snake!” screamed Kendra. With a convulsive heave, she brought her legs up and slammed her feet into Talbott’s back. Talbott tumbled forward, releasing Kendra’s shoulders. Kendra leapt up and whirled, delivering a kick to the still-stumbling Talbott’s head.
Jeffries and Cass faced each other again, panting, circling.
“You don’t. Have to. Do this,” puffed Cass.
“It’s not often I get a second chance,” repeated Jeffries. “This one’s a freebie.”
Jeffries surged forward, hands flashing. Cass almost missed the glint of light on the blades but stepped back in time to turn a fatal slash into a painful cut.
Talbott could see that Montana was groaning on the floor, Stone was regaining control of her limbs, and Mac was pulling herself to her feet. Even through the haze in her mind, she knew if she didn’t finish this quickly, she wasn’t going to have a chance. Feigning to her left, she staggered past Kendra to the right and plunged around her desk. Fingers that were oh so slow to respond dug at a drawer, finally tugging it open and pulling out a gun.
Kendra whirled to face Talbott, spotted the gun, and converted the turn into a dive for the floor. There was no sound as the flechettes burst from the barrel, just a spreading cone of death. Kendra’s dive saved her. Mac was caught on the fringe and tumbled back to the floor, half a dozen flechettes ripping through her side.
Cass was on her game now, dancing around the edges of Jeffries’ strike zone. She couldn’t get close enough to land any blows of her own. In her opinion, keeping Jeffries at bay was a win for now.
Stone levered herself to one knee. She assessed the situation with a quick look at Mac and another at Cass. Then she charged Talbott head-down. The years Talbott spent on bureaucratic in-fighting, instead of being in the field, caught up to her. She couldn’t change her aim quickly enough to target the rapidly-moving Stone. The impact sent her flying backward, with Stone’s still-churning legs driving until she was smashed into the wall. The sound of ribs shattering was clear, and Talbott collapsed.
Jeffries turned at the thump, then turned back to Cass.
“It. Is Over,” insisted Cass. “You can still walk away.”
“No,” disagreed Jeffries. “One way or another, I’m done. You know who I am. That means you know how to find me. I’d rather go out as I started.”
She lunged again at Cass, who flipped backward, striking upward with her feet, before landing on her hands and continuing through the somersault. The kick caught Jeffries under the chin, breaking her jaw and snapping her head violently back. Jeffries lost her balance and stumbled back, trying to spin and catch herself but only succeeding in bringing her arms in towards her body. She slammed into the floor, arms crossed underneath, and lay still.
“Ohhhh,” moaned Mac, clutching her side. Montana rolled to her, then pulled herself upright.
“Pressure,” she managed. “Apply pressure.”
Stone stood and looked at the crumpled Talbott. “This one’s sorted,” she said with satisfaction.
“Is she alive?” asked Kendra, sparing a glance as she moved to help Mac.
“Unfortunately,” said Stone. “I can fix that if you like.”
“I’m…okay.” The surprise in her voice was apparent.
“Let me check.” Cass walked cautiously to the still body, noting a spreading red stain underneath.
“She doesn’t seem to be breathing,” she said.
“Don’t go any closer!” said Kendra. “Just in case. Hey!”
Kendra raised her voice. “Is anyone out there? We need medics!” She tore her blouse off and wrapped it tightly around Mac’s torso.
“Hang in there,” she said. “You’re going to be fine.”
“This is why I don’t go in the field,” cracked Mac weakly. “Ow. Ow ow ow. All down my left side.”
Stone came over, dragging a whimpering Talbott. She dumped Talbott roughly on the floor by Mac’s feet.
“D’ye want me to do anything with this one?”
“Not yet,” answered Kendra. “Cris, can you move?”
“I think so,” rubbing her jaw. “My head hurts like a sonofabitch, but yeah.”
“Go get medical support,” ordered Kendra. “Tell ‘em we have five wounded, two seriously, plus maybe one dead.”
“I’ll call them from the desk,” agreed Montana.
There wasn’t much talking. Stone remained vigilant over the prone Talbott while Kendra and Cass tended to Mac. Shortly Montana returned, a pair of medics in tow.
“Two more on the way, and we’ve got the infirmary prepping for possible surgery.”
One of the medics attended to Mac, examining the wound, while the other took a step toward Jeffries.
“Careful of that one,” warned Kendra. “She’s a trained assassin. There are all sorts of nasty tricks she might know.”
“Not my first rodeo,” said the medic.
“No shit,” said Kendra. “But – what’s your name?”
“Velez. Sally Velez.”
“Sally, take it from me. Don’t assume anything.” The tone of Kendra’s voice must have conveyed the gravity of her warning because Velez stopped, nodded, and removed a medcorder from her pack.
“I’ll start with a scan, then,” agreed Velez. She activated the device and swept it back and forth over Jeffries’s body. “I’m not picking up any life signs. There’s no respiration, no heartbeat, no brain function…wait, I do have some electrical function going on. It’s faint but regular.”
She stepped closer.
“Signal’s getting stronger,” she announced. That caught Kendra’s attention.
“What sort of signal is it?” Kendra asked, suspicious.
“I can’t tell. It’s definitely internal, regular, but not a heartbeat.”
Alarms went off in Kendra’s head.
“Out! Everyone out, now!” She grabbed Cass’s arm and pulled her upright. Montana and the other medic lifted Mac, and Stone started dragging Talbott. Kendra stopped at the door after Cass had passed through, waving at the others, when she turned and shouted at Velez, who was trying to move Jeffries.
“Leave her! Run!”
Mac cleared the door.
Velez turned. She was shocked at the suggestion but started to move.
Stone finished pulling Talbott across the threshold.
Then Jeffries’s body erupted in a gout of flame, expanding and engulfing the hapless medic before she managed more than a strangled cry. For the second time that day, Kendra dove for the floor as the explosion burst outward, setting the furniture and walls ablaze. She barely cleared the doorway before the fire suppression system kicked in and a fire safe door slammed down.
“Oh, crap,” breathed Montana. “Is everyone okay? Mac?”
“That sucked,” said Mac, wincing. The surviving medic was working on her wound again.
“I’m good, though this bint is in a bit rougher shape.” Stone couldn’t manage to make her voice contain any sympathy.
“I’m good,” said Kendra. “A little singed, and really, really pissed.”
“What was that?” asked a horrified Cass.
“A last resort,” answered Kendra.
Kendra shook her head in disbelief and denial. “Remember I said that most assassination contracts call for one attempt and done?” Aiyana nodded. “A few, especially the contracts taken out for “honor,” call for total success or nothing. To guarantee it, some professional assassins have one installed in their body. Its usually an explosive, but I’ve heard of biological or chemical agents being used as well.”
“That’s just sick! Why?”
“Fulfill the contract.”
“My God. Do you have one?” said a shocked Cass.
“Oh, Zeus take it, no! As far as I know, OutLook never condoned them for our agents. But we weren’t freelancers. The only reason to have one is to take out your target after failing, and we don’t plan for failure. Not like that, at least.”
“That’s disturbing on so many levels,” said Cass.
“Beyond killing Velez – and that’s going to stay with me for a long, long time - what’s annoying is that she just managed to torch all of Talbott’s files,” continued Kendra.
“No,” disagreed Mac.
“You need to be quiet,” said the medic.
The quick response team arrived to deal with the fire before Mac could reassert herself. There was too much activity going on, too many extra ears, for them to talk freely, so the conversation changed to more mundane matters.
It wasn’t until much later, in the infirmary, with Talbott under sedation and everyone’s wounds and battle damage treated, that the thread was picked up again.
“Okay, Mac. You said that not all of Talbott’s files were lost. Explain,” said Kendra.
“Well, there’s nothing I could do about anything paper she had, although you’ll want to get in there to check out her desk, something inside might have survived, or there might be a safe or a cabinet that wasn’t damaged, but we knew we were missing a bunch of her files, they weren’t in the main computer or any of the backup cores, well I figured out why, she had an independent server, and the only logical place for it to be was her office, so as soon as I could I started a scan, that’s what I was doing with my padd, because no matter if it was insulated from perception outside she couldn’t completely block it inside, not without turning it into a brick, and that would make in inconvenient and I know Talbott, she hates inefficiency, sure enough I picked it up, she didn’t have much security on it, she must have figured that being physically isolated was enough, we ought to ask her when she wakes up, and I was able to tap into it before everything went to hell, I linked it to my personal core in my quarters here and stripped it clean, so we actually have all of her electronic records.”
“Mac, you are brilliant!” Kendra wrapped her in a hug until Mac squeaked.