Monday, 30 May 2016

Freedom Fighter

There had been so many wars, although she'd realised after a while that she wasn't thinking of them as wars anymore.  They were opportunities, challenges, and occasionally boring.  She'd found herself sitting down with her latest contract and studying the background material like any corporate businesswoman, or even entrepreneur (could she say entrepreneuse?  Did she want to?  The word felt like it was describing an entrepreneur in a dress) and looking for the key points, the places to make a difference, to obtain leverage.  She'd even changed her title eventually, from Mercenary to Consultant until she realised how much more mercenary it sounded.  Now she called herself a Freedom Fighter, which still had a whiff of patchouli about it, but everything came round again so maybe it was time.  She'd contemplated Business Manager for a while, but could she really describe a small conflict in the oil fields of Kuwait a business?  When she decided that she could she knew that she'd never be a Business Manager.
She'd even hired her own team eventually, as the contracts became more lucrative and she found that it was getting easier and easier to see how to achieve a quick resolution or turnaround.  Very often the trick was identifying what one side or the other was actually after: while revenge was very popular still (she had to stifle a yawn at that point, did people still have to get excited about revenge?  Really?  Sure, it never ended unless you wiped the other side out completely, and that was as easy to do as killing a cockroach infestation, but there were so many better reasons for a war), oftentimes it was really more about returning some piece of antique junk to the antique junksite it had come from, or apologising insincerely in front of enough people.  Although at least one of those staged apologies had started another war, but she'd been hired by both sides then, so it was hard to count that as a real failure.  Except in humanitarian terms.
She reached for her phone automatically; she always did when she was thinking of her team.  It wasn't there; it had been moved again.  She sighed, softly.  The wars never ended, and this one was a bloodless thing, a war of attrition that she was getting heartily sick of.  She'd been lazy, she'd let it get to this point because she'd let herself be preoccupied by other things, bigger wars and the needs of her team, instead of paying attention to what was happening around her.  It was time to focus on what was closest to home and deal with this once and for all.
Looking around the room she found the phone on a small table near the door.  Conveniently placed for an accomplice to slip in and steal it, as had clearly been the plan.  She'd had suspicions for a while that there was a cabal working against her here, and this just added fuel to the fire.  She pulled the sheets on the bed free, swung her legs over the side, and limped over to the table to retrieve the phone.
"Nurse said you're not to have that!"  The voice from the other bed in the room was querulous and scratchy. "She said it makes you agitated. You put that back!"
An infantryman in the war of attrition, but you had to start somewhere.  If you took enough away from the enemy they had to pull back in and start thinking about defence, and when you'd got them to that point you were ready to attack.You just had to make sure that you're plans were all in place, there was never any time to lose.  And she'd wasted long enough as it was, lying here reminsicing.
She tapped speed dial on her phone and walked over the bed.  The owner of the querulous voice was an eldery woman with skin as wrinkled as a Shar Pei's and a packet of cigarettes on the table next to the bed.  It was clear that she was a collaborator from that alone; tobacco was always contraband and desirable in a war zone.  She was hooked into a couple of machine; cuboid beige boxes with plastic knobs and green LED displays, and a long transparent plastic tube led from a half-full bag of liquid on a stand into her arm.  Rheumy eyes, crusted with sleep at the corners, stared at her with a hint of confusion.
"You're not allowed near me!" she said shrilly.  "Get away!  Get away!"
She ignored the screeching harpy in the bed and twisted the valve in the bag until it tore loose and the bag dumped its contents down the tube.
"What are you doing?  Help!"
A pillow over the face to muffle the cries, but not pressing hard, not suffocating.  At her ear the phone was answered.
"Montague," she said, a feeling of relief suffusing her.  "I need an extraction."
"Sylvie...," his voice was gentle, and there was something wrong there.  The hand holding the pillow tensed and pressed harder involuntarily.  "Sylvie, there's no extraction.  You need a rest.  You've been fighting these wars for too long no–"
She hung up.  She pulled the pillow up and checked – almost too late, but not quite.  The woman was still breathing; let the potion in the plastic bag do its work and finish her.  Sylvie pulled the covers out around her to allow that she'd been thrashing around and caused the damage herself, and then retreated to her own bed.  She was on her own, and she'd have to escape from here by herself.
She started to hum softly as she searched for clothes, picking the theme to The Great Escape.  Naturally.

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