The only real problem was that she'd been watching Nick for close to a week now, and she never seemed to be left alone. She lived with three upper-class girls - a lawyer and two engineers, not people the Echelon would be pleased with losing - and worked in a high-class restaurant, where there were never fewer than twenty witnesses. And the Echelon had been specific - until capture, Ari was not to do anything to attract negative attention.
This seemed to be the best chance - Nick had left the restaurant in the middle of the evening, retiring to a park nearby. There were still witnesses, but not nearly as many as in the restaurant itself, and there was a chance Ari could capture her prey without too much fuss.
Ari was keeping to the shadows. She was not dressed in black, as was the preference of other hunters such as herself. No, Ari had chosen practicality over fashion. Black only worked if you were standing in the middle of a darkened cellar at midnight. But shades of dark green and dark gray... rather than being a dark spot in a shadow, people's eyes would simply pass over you.
This was how she followed the Engineered. The psychokinetic. If she had to think of a name, Psi Delta Two-One-Four Helios would do. Better to use numbers, labels. This was not a person, but a prize. Remember that.
Her gun was in a shoulder holster, neatly tucked under her arm. The tazer was at her hip, far more accessible. She knew when it was time to draw one or the other, and this was the reason why. Training. You learned what they taught you, and you used that knowledge to improve yourself. All her training was taken with a grain of salt. This was what they meant when they said 'by the book', but Ari had been doing this long enough to know that the best jobs went with a good heap of common sense and some glances at the footnotes.
She was starting to close the gap between them, keeping her footfalls quiet. No blank shifting silence to alert her prey - just enough ambient noise to fade into the background. She needed an opening. There were not many people in the park, but enough to cause a distraction. Once the psychokinetic settled, it would be a simple tag-and-bag.
The psychokinetic eventually settled by the fountain, sitting on the stone ledge and trailing her fingers in the water. It was quiet enough that her sigh carried, although she was otherwise silent.
She was well-dressed, a dark coat with silver buttons drawn tightly around her. Every inch the upper-class girl, from the fur hat to the neat boots. A far cry from the military picture she must have been, four years ago.
Water complicated matters slightly, since the tazer's charge could be intensified beyond acceptable parameters if the subject was in contact with it. Ari moved past the fountain a ways, out of clear sight from the target, and slipped off her jacket, flipping it inside-out so that it was now a pale brown. Less suspicious than a dark-clad figure emerging from the shadows. Her hair was pulled from it's tight bun and let loose, in long soft waves. And her walk was modified from the careful, calculated steps of military personnel to the casual stroll of any civilian.
She started back up the path, Not looking directly at the target, but keeping her position clearly in the corner of her eye. As she walked, she pulled a battered pack of cigarettes from her pocket and slid one into her lips, began to pat the rest of her pockets in hopes of finding a lighter, or a match.
With a light sigh of frustration, she looked up, seeming to notice the woman at the fountain for the first time, and taking a few tentative steps toward her. "Excusez-moi?" she said, deciding to go with French. Her accent was better than her German. "Excusez-moi, avez-vous une lumière?"
The psychokinetic looked up, blinking. "Ah... non, je ne parle pas Francais," she said hesitantly, offering Ari a slight smile. "Desole."
Ari nodded, taking the cigarette from her lips. "Ah. Pas mal, bon. Do you... have a light?" she asked, keeping her English accented. She raised the cigarette lightly, a faintly embarassed smile touching her lips. "I cannot find my lighter."
She patted her pockets again, the fag in her left hand keeping her right available to draw one of her weapons.
"I might, let me check."
Close-up, the psychokinetic looked younger than her dossier said she was. She checked her purse and looked back up at Ari with an apologetic smile.
"No luck, sorry. One of my workmates must've borrowed it."
With a sigh, Ari pocketed the cigarette. "C'est la vie," she said, with a shrug.
That was when she drew the tazer, as fast as her well-trained hands could manage, and fired low, at the psychokinetic's hip. The jolt would be jarring, but brief enough that there would be no more dangerous current should the subject fall back into the water.
The girl let out a choked cry as the jolt hit her, jerking from the intensity of the charge. She seemed to be as fragile as all psychokinetics were rumoured to be - she collapsed sideways, hair spilling from under her hat, and her eyes rolled back in her head.
Tagged. Ari reset the tazer, and checked the target's pulse. It was acceptable. She picked up the hat from where it had fallen and stuffed it in her pocket, then the purse, pulling it over her arm. And last, was the psychokinetic her-- itself. Ari checked her over, making sure there were no weapons, no loose articles, no anything that could be used against her. A few minor items were confiscated, and slipped into Ari's various pockets. She'd write down the inventory once they were on the train.
Right, then. Ari picked the girl up, noting how young she looked. Not much older than me, came a brief thought, which was quickly suppressed. The psychokinetic was tossed over her shoulder, and Ari checked her watch. There would be just enough time to get to the train yard. And out of this damn country.
At this hour, the streets weren't particularly crowded, and she wasn't stopped until she reached the train station. The attendants, however, recognised an Echelon permit when they saw one, and were immediately helpful, ushering her to a private carriage at the end of the train, assuring her that she wouldn't be disturbed, and telling her that if she needed anything, she only had to ask.
Ari immediately took them up on that offer, requesting a few bottles of water, a bottle of bourbon, and a large steak dinner with mashed potatoes and corn on the side. Once they left her alone, she cuffed the unconscious Engineered to the bed, laying her out. It she was laying down, she'd likely sleep longer, Ari's mind rationalized. Which would leave Ari to a peaceful, quiet trip back to Buchuresti.
Of course, it was unlikely that the psychokinetic would sleep all that time. But that didn't stop Ari from considering the possibility.
It was several hours before the psychokinetic stirred, coughing violently as she woke up. She woke up as quickly as any trained soldier would - instantly alert, with no confused period, no stupid "where am I?" questions - and tossed her head to get her hair off her face. Oddly, it drifted into place neatly, as though under its own control.
"...well, fuck," she announced, sighing. "Can I have some water?"
Ari stood, and crossed the cabin, picking up one of the bottles of water she'd requested as she did. She stood by the bed and held it up. "Here's where things get interesting," she said, any trace of the false French accent now gone from her voice. "I'd like to give this to you. I even will. But I won't really appreciate it getting spat back into my face, or getting a bottle lobbed at my head. You're smart enough to realize that it won't do much but annoy me."
She let those words linger just long enough for the target to consider what retaliation there might be for that.
"So," she went on, smoothly, "if you think you can be reasonable, I'll let you have a hand back so you can drink it yourself. If not, I'll have to pour it down for you. At my discretion. Please answer honestly."
The girl raised an eyebrow, shifting a little on the bed.
"Direct. I appreciate that. Okay, look. I'm cuffed to a bed and probably on my way to interrogation; you look like one of us. There's something in the bearing. So that means a train to Buchuresti, and that means a long trip. I'm not about to try to antagonise the only person I'll get to see during that trip. So I promise not to spit at you, or throw the bottle at you, or anything stupid like that."
"I'm not like you."
That was Ari's only comment. She dropped the bottle by the subject's side, and reached over her, to release the cuff on the farther side. That way she'd be able to turn, sit up, or have some sort of motion available. Walking, of course, would be out of the question with the locks on her ankles.
Then she went back to her seat by the window, picking up the glass of bourbon she'd set down when the girl had started coughing.
"Maybe not. I was like you, once." The girl sat up a little, drawing her bound ankles up to tuck them beneath her, and opened the water bottle, taking a sip. "What generation are you, if you don't mind my asking?"
Adrian let out a sigh, downing the rest of her glass. "Metro." She didn't turn her head, letting her ears tell her instead what the girl-- the subject was doing.
Questions. They always had questions, always wanted to talk. What was the point? Some last shred of contact before Buchuresti? Adrian had never questioned what happened to the Engineereds she'd delivered to them. That was not her job. Her job was to deliver. Tag and bag. No questions asked, no questions expected. Questions were dangerous.
"Defense, then." The girl took another drink, shifting a little more to get comfortable. "Look, I'm not going to go anywhere with my legs cuffed, and Metros are more than a match for Helioses. Could you undo my other arm, just for a bit? My hand's starting to go numb from being held up over my head."
Ari turned back towards her. With a roll of her eyes, she muttered, "Fine," and walked back over to the bed to undo the cuff. She collected both sets, slipping them into the appropriate pocket of her belt, and took a moment to examine the girl's wrists. A bit red, but not bruised. She would be fine. At least she hadn't struggled and tried to hurt herself.
Adrian nodded in satisfaction, and stepped back again. "Hungry?" She'd finished her own meal some time ago, but another could be easily called for.
"Thank you," the girl said quietly, rubbing her wrists. "And yes, I'm rather hungry."
"Preferences?" She picked up the menu from the dinner car off the desk and held it out. It wasn't going to cost her anything anyway, so the girl might as well have something she'd prefer. Ari picked up the phone link to the conductor's booth to relay the order.
"Ooh, the meatball sub sounds good," the girl said after scanning the menu. "And apple juice, I think. I haven't had decent meatballs in ages, nobody knows how to make them properly in Luxemburg."
Ari relayed the order, including the apple juice, and hung up the phone. "It'll be here in twenty minutes," she said, going back to her seat. She paused just before she sat down. "Unless there's anything further?" she said, a faint hint of sarcasm in her voice.
"No, thank you," she replied, settling back on the bed. "You've got a job to do, I understand that, and there's no point in asking you to let me go. I don't see any point in making this unpleasant for both of us."
"Good." At least someone understood.
Then why did she feel more unsettled as she sat back down?
Damn it. If it wasn't possibly damaging, she'd just as soon zap the girl and send her off to sleepy-land again. But psychokinetics were considered 'delicate' and too much physical force could render them useless.
The girl didn't speak again until the food arrived, delivered by a man who didn't seem the least bit surprised to find Ari with a girl whose ankles were cuffed together. She waved a hand, saying, "that's for over here, thanks. Does this train have a news stand, by the way? I'd appreciate a magazine, if that's okay."
The man glanced to Adrian for confirmation. She nodded, and added, "Let me have it first." Ari had settled in for a second glass of bourbon. She was drinking it slowly. Her metabolism tended to burn things up quickly, so the alcohol was leaving her system faster than it was being put back in. She preferred to be sober for a job, from start to finish. After the finish, it was anyone's game.
When the man left, Ari moved, picking a closer seat by which she could watch the girl eat. It didn't matter, Helios versus Metro, no matter what she'd said. All it took was a good strike at the right time. Adrian didn't like to make foolish mistakes. She sat at the desk, deciding to write up the girl's inventory sheet while she was there. She started with the girl's clothing, noting it all down meticulously, and then started on the purse and its contents.
"I have a black lace garter belt and stockings, as well," the girl remarked after a few moments of silent eating. "And underwear. I don't remember if those need to be put on inventory lists of not, they never sent me after anyone when I still worked there."
She fell silent again, finishing her meatball sub and sipping her juice, looking thoughtful.
Adrian added those items to the inventory. "I add them. Others tend to be a bit... lax when it comes to proper cataloguing. Make and colors?" Her tone was neat and level. You could have set a shelf by it.
"Esther May matching set, in cobalt lace," the girl said calmly, finishing her juice. "The garter belt's Esther May as well, they're the best you can get in Luxemburg and it's better to pay more for underthings that'll last longer. The stockings are nude silk Veneers."
She copied the information, only mildly curious. Her own clothing was given to her by the Echelon. The military suits, anyway. Her 'comfortable' clothing was her work clothing. She had a preference for black, choosing to wear men's pants and shirts. Her gray and green hunting uniform had been tailor made to her specifications, and that had cost a pretty penny, but was worth every bit of it.
Had she ever considered the state or style of her underwear? No. The question didn't even require thought. What reason would there be for that?
Still. It didn't stop her from wondering what the difference could possibly be.
"Do you know what they're going to do to me?" the girl asked after a long silence, sounding more curious than anything else. She stretched her legs, pointing her toes, and relaxed against the mattress.
"Nope," said Ari, not looking up from her inventory. She was past the purse now, and working on the small collection of items and jewelery she had taken from the girl. "Not my territory."
She kept her tone neutral, still. Treating it dismissively would only draw more attention.
"Fair enough, I was just wondering. Some sort of reconditioning, probably." She yawned, curling up on her side. "Thanks for undoing my hands. I'm sort of tired, and sleeping on my back always makes it hard to breathe. You mind if I nap? Being knocked out by a tazer isn't exactly restful."
Adrian rolled her eyes. "If it'll keep you quiet, be my guest. I draw the line at singing lullabies."
The girl laughed softly. "You're not half bad, Metro. Catch you on the other side."