The Improbability Volumes – Day 17

See DISCLAIMERS. Remember, this is posted with all the zits – half the time, I’m not even running spellcheck so I’m not tempted to perform deeper edits.

[HUGE POTENTIAL BACKREV: modify whatever it is Renault is wanted for. It can’t be terrorist activities, because then by default of association with Mannis, Denna would be tried for treason. Unless the end of the story is that she’s on the run from her own government, then Mannis can’t be a terrorist. FIX IN REVISION if this isn’t resolved during NaNo.]


COUNTERWEIGHT

They couldn’t agree on a course of action that satisfied them both. Katja wanted Denna to walk away from the team, to join her.

“You could turn yourself in,” Denna said. She knew that speaking those particular words was like dropping a live grenade on the floor between them. She covered her nakedness with a thin robe and sat down, waiting for the explosion.

Katja had spent the night here in Denna’s apartment.

Katja’s hard, caustic laugh fell flat on Denna’s ears. “To you? Really? After all this between us, you’re just gonna use me to get your next promotion?”

Denna winced. That wasn’t it – not at all. She didn’t know what she wanted from her job anymore, but she did know that she didn’t want Katja as some sort of stepping stone to a better desk job.

[BACKREV: what DOES Denna want from her job?]

“These people are mongrels and you know it,” Katja said, her muscles tightening as she paced. “Vermin who need to be exterminated. Your way costs taxpayers twice – first with your paycheck, and then every year you stash these fuckers in facilities most people don’t even know about.”

She stopped to retrieve her pile of clothes, and began to dress. “My way is just cleaner – when I’m finished, they can hurt no one and not a single decent human being mourns them. I surely don’t, and then I sleep like a fucking baby.”

“No, you don’t.” Denna found her voice. “I hear you, crying in your sleep, so don’t try to smoke me with that hardass bullshit, Katja. I don’t believe a word of it.”

[MORE HERE]

“Pen tells me you’re fucking brilliant. How’d the hell did you end up doing this guerrilla cell shit?”

Denna frowned. “Pen?”

Katja grimaced, and Denna wondered if she’d just heard something she wasn’t supposed to know.

“An associate of mine. The Falcon is more of an enterprise than a person. Let’s just leave it at that.”

That must mean that Katja and the woman Denna knew only as Augusta King were partners of some kind.

[MORE HERE]

Denna let go of Katja’s hand and pulled away.

“That’s why I took the job with Foster, because I wanted to make a difference.”

Katja stood and stepped further away, putting more distance between them.“You work for him because you want him to tell you how to be good. You don’t need him. You know already.”

Denna didn’t know what to make of that answer. How to be good?

“You love your job, Denna, because of what it’s supposed to be. You think that if you do it well enough, then it cancels out all the lies that make your fucking job even possible.”

“What lies?”

“The greatest lies of all. That the United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave. But it’s not, is it? It’s the land where hundreds of millions of people are slaves to their own debt and too cowardly to rise up against those who will do anything to stay in power. And Foster is as bad as Renault when it comes to holding onto as much power and control as he can.”

Denna shook her head and stood herself. “That’s not true.”

Katja pulled on her jacket. Evidently, their time together was over.

“I’m not turning myself in, Denna. Not even to you,” Katja said, and then walked out the door.

**

For the first time ever, Denna fumed at work. Against her will, she found herself comparing every one of Foster’s actions to Renault’s, and she didn’t like what she saw. Everything that she could have said about Renault was equally applicable to Jacob Foster.

[BACKREV:]

Renault had built a dangerous and experienced group driven to achieve his goal. There was no dead weight in his inner circle, including Mannis. No one hung from his coat-tails – they either served a purpose or they were demoted, phased out or in some cases where the injuring party had underperformed in a way that had cost Renault, eliminated.

Foster made it clear that he would only accept the brightest and best, and that he expected repeated excellence from each of them or they’d be sent packing.

Renault had surrounded himself with dedicated sympathizers who served him without question or suffered the consequences. Foster’s team was full of people who would lay their lives down to achieve their aims, and if Denna had never previously described herself that way, the fact that she’d nearly died because of this job certainly qualified her for membership.

Without taking into consideration the fact that they were on opposite sides of the law, Foster and Renault were ambitious and focused men and on the surface, the comparison between them wasn’t necessarily a unflattering one. But when Denna looked deeper, she realized that Katja might have a point.

Renault’s entire business model was predicated on his ability to bend laws to suit his purposes, which was to remain at the top of the food chain. As much as possible, he bent the rules rather than break them himself, and if breaking the rules was required, he made sure that he wasn’t the one getting his hands dirty.

Foster had only one goal – to catch the [uncatchable] criminal who no one else had been able to [arrest]. To do that, he had created their guerrilla team using an approach no one else had ever tried, one that wasn’t sanctioned by those with more  powers than he had. He’d worked with his own connections to have them find funds from legitimate sources to be siphoned for his black ops.

More than once, he had ordered a member of his team to skirt the rules, to move into the gray areas, and in some cases, to outright break laws to get him the data he needed to catch his quarry.  Even though he had them all convinced that the ends justified the means, he hadn’t once performed an illegal action himself.

If any of this came to light back in Washington, if any of it hit the fan, every single member of the team – Denna included – would have to fall back on the “just following orders” defense, but this wasn’t a sanctioned operation. Denna bet that Foster would put together a legal team – if he didn’t have one already – that would plead that each member of the team was an independent citizen outside of the chain of command. Foster’s lawyers would make sure he never served a day in prison.

The last comparison was the one that gave her the most pause.

If Renault believed that he’d been crossed, he hired someone like Mannis to remove the infringing party. Fools weren’t suffered in Renault’s organization. They were removed from the equation.

Denna thought back to the stories she’d heard about Foster, back when she was considering the position he’d offered her. At the time, the fact that people who had gotten in his way had been demoted, relocated, or fired had led her to believe that those people were inferior in some way, that they’d under-performed, and as a result had been sent packing.

Now, she wondered if the simple act of disagreeing with Foster was seen as unforgivable insubordination.

She wondered if he’d ruin her career just for asking him a simple question if it was one he didn’t want to answer.

Her frustration grew. That day, when she left their warehouse, she cut her usual meandering journey short. She couldn’t believe that Katja might be right, so there must be something she was missing.

She felt eyes on her when she got to her block, but it didn’t feel like a threat.

Katja.

They had a system, now that they met at her apartment. Denna would go inside, turn on a light in the side room, and open the curtains if it was okay for Katja to come up.

Tonight, Denna didn’t want to see her. Tonight she needed to think.

She closed the curtains and turned off the light.

**

Each time she’d come to this place, Katja had stood halfway down the block, far enough to see the window, but not close enough to see much of the woman behind it. After their argument, though, she’d felt the need to be closer.

Tonight she’d been right across the narrow street, leaning against a wall of a dark alley, and close enough to see the expression on Denna’s face.

Something had changed. Katja was surprised how much it hurt to be shut out.

She stared for a long time. Finally, she realized how long she’d been standing there, staring at a curtain that wasn’t going to open tonight – if ever again – and embarrassed, she’d traveled back down the alley the way she’d come.

Had Denna reconsidered? Would she redouble her efforts to capture the Falcon?

Was it over between them?

She blinked the tears away, angry that they were there at all.

It was after midnight by the time Katja got back to her own neighborhood. She walked a decreasing spiral around her building, block by block, until finally, she climbed the stairs to the apartment she shared with Penelope. Even at this hour, she expected that her partner and roommate would be up, crunching data, checking the feeds, doing the things that kept them in business.

She opened the door to silence, and darkness.

One glance down the hall revealed that Penelope wasn’t in her usual spot at her desk. The systems were all dark – and in all the time they’d lived here, those systems had never been down.

Something was wrong.

Katja reached for the weapon holstered low on her back. She took a deep breath and held it, and listened for any sound of trouble. At first, she heard nothing but then…

The squeak of a couch cushion, the sound of liquid filling a glass, and the flat clunk of glass on wood.

Katja stepped into the common area without making a sound. Penelope sat on the couch, drinking deeply from a large full glass of red wine. One lone lamp shone in the corner, but the rest of the apartment was still.

It was obvious that she had been waiting for Katja, and for some time.

Penelope gulped wine from her glass, and then glared across the room.

“Where have you been, Kat?”

Katja sighed. She put her weapon away, then removed her coat. Hanging it up in the closet bought her another half a minute before she had to face Penelope.

She started to fetch herself a glass, but the wine was too close to Penelope. If she was going to have this conversation, she needed some distance between them.

And after the brush off from Denna,  she wanted something stiffer anyway.

She stepped to the side table, and poured herself a half full glass of cognac.

“Look,” Penelope began when Katja turned around.“Something’s different, and I’ve let it go because…“ She tapped the pad of a finger against the stem of her glass. “There are some things we don’t talk about, Kat, some places you don’t reveal even to me.”

She looked up then, and Katja knew the time for keeping this particular secret was over.

“What’s going on?” Penelope asked.

Katja stood because sitting down felt vulnerable, and she wasn’t sure how this particular conversation was going to go. She considered words, sentences, whole paragraphs, but in the end, no one of it could adequately explain what had happened, how it had affected her.

How much was different.

She looked in Penelope’s eyes, and said the only thing she could.

“Lopez.”

It took a moment for Penelope to do the math. Her mouth fell open when she finally came to the only conclusion.

“You are fucking kidding me.

Katja took a drink from her own glass, and didn’t say anything.

They stared for a long time without saying anything.

What could Katja say? She’d put them in jeopardy by sleeping with Denna, but Penelope knew that Katja would have done the cold calculus on the whole situation. Obviously, Katja had decided to take the risk, consequences be damned, and she’d done it without consulting Penelope on the matter.

Katja wasn’t sure what Penelope would do. She could make a threat to leave Katja on her own, but their interests were so inextricably linked that separating everything into equal pieces would require liquidating the entire enterprise altogether. Penelope could force some sort of ultimatum, but whatever expression Katja held on her own face, it must have done all the convincing required to make it clear what Katja would choose, because Penelope set her glass down with a grunt of disgust.

“Roux is coming to Paris on Tuesday. He wants to meet the Falcon in person.” She stood and walked toward her bedroom, but stopped before she reached the hall to turn around and deliver her parting shot.

“If this comes back to bite us in the ass, I swear I will never forgive you.”


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