[identity profile] ancalagon-tb.livejournal.com
It is the spring of 2052, southern France, in the city of Orange. A schoolteacher, mother of 2 young children, is about to be arrested, for teaching some less than flattering facts about the angel occupiers. Not a very wise thing to do, but understandable, given how her husband was killed during the last angel war. The resistance has heard about this impending arrest and has moved quickly to extract her.

Theo waits near his small truck for his "cargo". He will take them to a safe house, then make arrangements for the trip to Spain then Portugal (the eastern border being too closely watched at the moment). He is feeling nervous - the operation was thrown together too quickly. He
knows he can quickly escape if need be, and had made sure his vehicle cannot be traced back to him. He's on the ground floor of an old roman building, abandoned at night, with thick walls and several exits. The truck is idling with the lights off, ready to leave at a moment's notice.

Voices ahead, from inside the building. Ronald and Marie, leading a scared but determined woman and two anxious children, a boy and a girl. The third member of the extraction team, an American drifter that Theo knew next to nothing about (another source of concern) was no where in sight. Theo shifts slightly, puts a hand on his pistol hidden inside his jacket.

-You must hurry, gasps Ronald, I think we may have been followed!
- I reckon we have been - a deep voice, thickly accented, from behind the fleeing figures. A tall figure looms, clad in a duster and broad-rimmed hat, stepped forward. He looked at the small group assembled.
-It's only a small squad, not enough to surround the building, he adds. Go now, I will delay them. They aren't ready for trouble.

The figure turns on his heels and heads back into the gloom, his steps making but a whisper.

-Hurry, for all our lives, urges Theo, we have no time! The mother and frightened children rush into the truck and hide.
-Are you two going to be OK or do you need extraction too? adds Theo.
-We know a way underground out of here, answers Marie, they didn't get a good look at us. Go and good luck!

Theo drives away with his charges. Over the rumble of the engine, he could hear gunshots in the night.


Sep. 25th, 2006 09:40 am
[identity profile] ironphoenix.livejournal.com
"Fourteen hundred chickens." I hand over the clipboard with the manifest and let him scan the ID chip.

The border guard looks skeptical as he goes through the motions, but I'm not worried. His uniform is clean and tidy, and so are those on his rifle-toting pals.

"Henri, check out this guy's load. I'll check the cab." Sure enough, Inspector Clouseau the Second isn't too keen on going anywhere near the trailer. The ammoniac stench is starting to permeate the little border station, and tourists headed for the Riviera for the weekend are struggling to keep from gagging.

I let him climb up into the tractor's cab and open everything he wants. He looks in all the usual places--fuse box, radio, engine compartment, and so forth; they must all have the same Goddamn checklist and not a neuron to spare on original thought. "Henri" is officiously walking around the trailer, trying to make it look like he's doing his job to the gungoons without actually touching anything, especially the filthy and cantankerous caged birds themselves. He does his best to look through the truck, but with all the rustle and bustle, it's impossible to get more than the occasional glimpse of daylight out the far side. The underside, of course, gets the customary mirrorstick-and-flashlight treatment.

Clouseau finally finishes his inspection, and officiously asks to see the vehicle safety records, customs filings, and so on, hoping to find some pretext for holding me that will give him an excuse when the chickens' destinee complains about the condition of the birds on arrival. It's only been about an hour, but when that's added to ten hours of driving time, the cargo starts to get into a foul mood.

I motion for him to look through the clipboard: it's all there. I know people who know people, and so on, but the paperwork is clean. The chickens, the truck, the shipper, the destination--all perfectly in order. By now, tourists in the lineups are yelling in assorted languages to get either them or that motherfucking stinking truck out of there, and some of them are turning around to go to another crossing 45 minutes away.

Finally, the guards have had enough. They're getting nothing unless they start shifting cages, and they know it. Damn few people get paid enough for that, and the things that do tend to be too proud to get their wings dirty. As it is, everything they're wearing will have to be washed tiwce to get the choking odor of chickenshit out. I don't even have to offer them the customary bribes this time, but the envelope is in the clipboard anyway: I may have to come back this way next week, and it'll smooth things over with the crew. If they they ever find anything, of course, I'll have to add a hefty premium to the package to keep them quiet, but I've won this round.

By the time we get to Bern, it's dark. It's not by accident: chickens go to sleep automatically when the lights go out, and nobody wants to get their fingers near the cages when alert birds have gone without food for most of a day. At the loading dock, a few thinner envelopes get passed out, and burly men wearing heavy gloves and gasmasks start shifting cages. Six ranks in, they stop, and I unlatch the middle cage on the bottom.

A gasmasked figure crawls slowly and painfully from the opening. I motion him towards a corner with a safety shower, and yank the ring. The water almost drives him to his knees, but he scarcely complains, shouting hoarsely in triumph as he flings the gasmask away and strips out of his clothes to let the flood of frigid water wash away all vestiges of his ordeal.

The workmen's jokes are muffled behind their masks, but under their mockery is admiration for the dedication of this traveller. They remember stories of their great-grandparents resorting to such measures to escape in the old Soviet days, and hope that they will never be the ones giving their life savings to escape murder by a cruel and capricious government. I wave to them and they return the gesture; perhaps we will meet again, perhaps not.

As the shower finally trickles to a stop, I walk over with a towel and a small suitcase of clothes. "Good luck, friend; I hope to find you prospering when next I return!" We shake hands, the tears in our eyes excusable by reason of the ammonia in the air. As I turn to go, he asks why I'm not taking a shower and new clothes myself. I motion for him to follow me, and duck into an empty alley.

As he looks on, I take off my jacket and shirt, and he sees the tattooed circle of golden stars and the gull soaring above them, but he doesn't understand yet. To him, I'm just an unsavory guy he paid a lot of money to, so that he could get out of Harpyland before somebody even more unsavory came to "ask questions" about his brother's connections. His brother has a circle of stars too, but is a lot more dangerous than me; he works with Hunters.

"But... it's cold! You'll freeze!" I smile, and ... change. My pants and boots flop to the ground as I hop out of them, shaking my wings free As he stares open-mouthed, I climb into the chilly air, insulated by layers of grey feathers and energy-rich fat. I circle once, give a cry of farewell, and head for France.

When I lose sight of him, he's still looking up into the clouds, wondering what kind of world he's stepped into. All I know is that it's bound to be a lot better than the one he's stepped out of.

May 2013



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