Chapter 7: The Hornets’ Nest

        “Hey,” said Kim. “I haven’t heard from you in a while.” The words ‘are you okay’ never left her mouth, but Pigeon accepted this as a call of concern.

        “Hey,” responded Pigeon. “I’ve just been…” she trailed off. What had she been doing? She was so used to Running that all this standing still made her head spin, made her lose track of time.

“Busy,” said Kim. “Aren’t we all?”

“Right,” said Pigeon awkwardly.

“Listen,” said Kim, “there’s another meeting tonight. I heard a rumour you were running with a different crowd these days, but this is an important one and I was wondering-”

“I’ll be there,” said Rook. She needed to get out of this damn apartment before it suffocated her.

****

“Hey, fancy threads,” said Alastair suspiciously as Pigeon stepped through the door way to the Green Room.

“Good to see you again,” said Elizabeth from the couch. “There’s a pot of gumbo on the stove, feel free to help yourself.”

“Good-evening,” said a soft voice from the corner. Peering around Elizabeth, Pigeon recognised Sophie, sitting in the corner, cold black eyes ever watchful.

“Hi,” said Pigeon. This meeting seemed as important as Kim had said it was; this looked like it was all hands on deck. There were a few people in the room that she didn’t recognise.

Once everyone had settled, Elizabeth spoke. “Now, the purpose of this meeting is to discuss the Millennium Project and our response to it.”

Kim pulled out a map and unfolded it on the table in front of them.

“The Millennium Project will encompass most of this region,” said Sophie, indicating the waterfront on the map.” The population density in this region is calculated to triple within the next five quarters.”

“The project isn’t just about gentrifying the waterfront,” said Pigeon, recalling what Natsumi and Holly had said.

“What?” asked Elizabeth, surprised. “What is it about?”

“I don’t know,” said Pigeon truthfully. “I’ve been… running with a different crowd lately. But it seems like everyone is trying to stake a claim on the Millennium.” The room leaned back in their seats, processing this new information.

        Alastair was the first to break the silence, eagerly producing a leather-bound notebook. “We’ve been tracking right-wing groups in the City,” he paused to shoot Pigeon another suspicious look, who shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “And it seems like activity in the eastern part of the city is seeing a huge upswing. Not to mention the suburbs…” He trailed off, the implications clear.

        “What we need,” said Kim, “is a show of force. Show the System that we refuse to stand by and allow this to happen.”

        “I agree,” said Elizabeth.

        “The Skeleton Army is more than happy to run security,” said Alastair proudly.

        “I have an objection!” said a voice from the corner. Everyone in the room shifted to face the speaker. “I don’t think this group has taken into account Indigenous identity and land title. The waterfront has historically been Coast Salish territory.”

        “Yes!” exclaimed another voice from the corner. “And I object to Sophie’s presence here. She claims to be an anti-oppressive activist, but she benefits from colonialism as much as anyone!”

        There was a loud objection from everyone else in the room before Elizabeth responded. “I object to that statement on the grounds that it is blatantly synthphobic.”

“Synthphobic?” asked Pigeon.

“Open discrimination against synthetic humans,” said Sophie. “I’m used to it,”

“I don’t have a problem with her being a ‘droid. My problem is with her writing. Have you read her books? She wants a robot revolution where humans get implanted with microchips like farm animals!” At the word ‘droid, there was a collective intake of breath from everyone in the room.

“That’s way offside,” said Elizabeth.

“I agree with your analysis of Sophie’s work,” said Alastair, “but that’s not an excuse to use a slur.”

“I object to your slanted and narrow minded view of my work,” said Sophie. “Empathy and efficiency can both be boosted through neurological-”

“Can I please bring the meeting back to the topic of decolonisation?” said the first speaker.

At this point, Pigeon was thoroughly lost. Excusing herself as she stood up, she went outside for a smoke. Kim joined her, the two of them staring out into the rain.

“So,” said Kim awkwardly.

“So?” asked Pigeon.

“This new crowd you’ve been running with. They’re treating you okay?”

“Yes,” said Pigeon. In the ensuing silence, she thought more on the question. How was she treated? She was certainly well paid and well looked after. But hadn’t Elizabeth looked after her when she fed her? When Kim gave her a place to stay? Generosity, offering all that they had to give. Did they pay? No.

But a guilt was gnawing at Pigeon’s stomach that she couldn’t quite place. A lesson she had learned from Anita, and Maria. She had thought of herself as an agent of death for so long, she had trouble remembering what it had been like to breath. She had been Running for so long, she had forgotten what it felt like to stand still. She had trouble believing that she would ever be free.

“You know,” said Kim, breaking the silence. “If you’re in deep with these people, you should consider being our woman on the inside.”

“What do you mean?”

“Give them a call, see what you can find out what their plans are,” said Kim, grinding out her butt on the porch railing.

“Yeah,” said Pigeon, doing the same. “Yeah, maybe I will.”

****

So it was that Pigeon found herself standing in a nightclub downtown, a flurry of construction happening around her.

“What do you think?” asked Natsumi. “We’re gonna push the walls out, get some plush seating against the walls. Really trick out the VIP. It’s gonna be high luxury, top quality stuff.” Pigeon nodded uncertainly.

“No,” continued Natsumi. “This isn’t your of expertise. You’re one of the killing people, people. Shoot stuff and blow things up, am I right? What’s the matter sport, is my killer losing her edge?” Natsumi had seen Pigeon grimace at the mention of her body count.

“No,” protested Pigeon. “It’s just that I-”

“Hey, darling. Bare concrete, exposed wiring… I really like what you’ve done with the place.”

Pigeon was spared having to come up with a plausible excuse when she was interrupted by Holly swaggering down the front stairs.

“You two know each other?” asked Pigeon as Holly and Natsumi exchanged a quick hug.

“Oh yeah,” said Natsumi. “We go way back.”

“We have the same alumnus,” explained Holly.

“It means we went to the same university,” said Natsumi.

“I know what an alumnus is,” lied Pigeon.

“Bullshit,” said Natsumi, calling Pigeon’s bluff with a wide grin.

“Okay okay okay!” interrupted Holly. “Let’s get down to business.”

“Right,” began Natsumi, “the purpose of this meeting is to coordinate strategies. Thanks to Holly’s ingenuity, I have been able to acquire this formerly mob-owned piece of real estate.”

“Now,” she continued, “we’ve done a good job of breaking up the mobs operations. The New Millennium is almost here. All we need to do now is deliver the killing blow.”

At this, Holly spoke up. “We’ve discussed our plans for the Millennium project. And you know where I stand.”

“Where do you stand?” asked Pigeon.

“Revenge,” said Holly simply.

“As you can tell,” said Natsumi, “Team Good Guys has been at loggerheads for a while.”

“And I keep telling you. that’s a ridiculous name for this so-called partnership,” said Holly.

“Do you see what I have to deal with?” Natsumi asked Pigeon jokingly.

Natsumi and Holly exchanged another quick hug, before Holly said, “Okay Bird, you’re on me. Let’s get this done.”

****

Holly had Pigeon drive her to an empty field in Stygia, their breath misting in cold night air. A faint patter of rain set the grass twinkling in the low, light-pollution illuminated clouds.

It was just the two of them, standing in the dark. Pigeon was nervous. She didn’t know what was going to happen, but the thought of being alone with Holly for any amount of time set her on edge.

More importantly, the lack of her usual entourage made Pigeon uncomfortable. How were the two of them meant to take on the mob in this little stretch of grass and dirt?

Too many unanswered questions, said her Runner’s sense.

After a few minutes, a late model luxury sedan pulled up to the opposite side of the field and four bodies piled out. As they approached, Pigeon’s stomach dropped as she recognised Petey, Paulie, Don, and Frankie.

“Oh, this is too good D, the snake and the rat,” said Paulie as each party squared off against the other.

“Oh, we’ll deal with her in a second,” said Don, glaring at Pigeon. “You think you can fucking murder my niece and I’m not gonna find out about? You’re dead, Bird.”

“We’re gonna take you apart real slow,” added Frankie.

“Maria was-“ began Pigeon, but Don cut her off.

“A what? A fucking snitch? You think I buy your shit for one goddamn minute?” demanded Don furiously.

“No, you fucked up real good, Bird,” said Frankie. “Now, you and your friend here-“

There was a crack like whip and Paulie’s face shattered into a mess of skull shards and brain matter.

“What the fuck?” asked Petey, before another whip crack stove his head in.

Pigeon noticed a strand of grass shifting, against the wind. Had she imagined it? No, the patch of grass was definitely moving. In a moment, it had taken human form as a man in a ghillie suit stood up, sniper rifle trained on the back of Frankie’s head.

“You want to keep playing games, or should I just shoot this piece of shit now?” Holly asked Don.

“Mother’s wishes!” confirmed the man with the rifle. Even from a distance, Pigeon could feel his cold gaze.

“Jesus Christ,” exclaimed Frankie, throwing his hands up in the air, Don following suit.

“Did you really think you’d be able to walk into the hornet’s nest unstung?” asked Holly as she approached the two helpless men.

She stopped a few millimetres from Don’s face, squaring up against him, her cold blue eyes boring into his dark brown ones. After a few moments of frosty silence, something in her brain snapped and suddenly she was on top of Don, raining blows down on him with a hatchet. He squealed in pain and shock, almost pig-like.

Before Pigeon could react one way or the other, Frankie was pulling Holly into a chokehold, handgun pressed against her temple. Don wheezed on the ground, blood pouring out of him like water from a broken main.

“Pigeon…” gasped Holly.

“Don’t you make a fucking move, Pig,” said Frankie. “You still owe me for that phone. Don’t make me have to collect.”

Without thinking, Pigeon had drawn her revolver, aiming it at Frankie who shifted Holly to cover his centre of mass.

“Don’t be stupid, Bird. You touch that trigger and I’ll blow her fucking head off. You dumb fuck, you stole from us, wasted my cousin. You think you’re protected ‘cause you sided with this psycho and her Asian girlfriend? You’re already dead, you just don’t know it yet.”

“Shoot me,” Holly wheezed. “Kill him.”

“Bird, when we meet again, you’re in for a world of sh-“

Pigeon dropped her aim to the ground and leaned into the trigger. From close range, the heavy steel-coated round over-penetrated his foot, kicking up a cloud of mud and bloody severed tendons.

Frankie let out a shrill cry and stumbled backwards, releasing Holly. She gave him a quick shove, before another whipcrack tore his knee cap out, blood splattering on Holly’s chest.

Frankie collapsed to the ground, panting, unable to support his own weight. Holly reached to her waistband and pulled out a walkie-talkie.  “We’re clear. High value target is in custody. Send in your team.”

A few moments later, a beat-up cube van pulled up alongside Holly’s truck and several camouflage-clad young men jumped out. One of them was clutching what looked like a cross between an eggplant and a horse rein. The rest were wielding assault weapons of various makes and origins, each one moving with single minded intensity.

Two of them hefted Frankie off the ground, slinging him over a rotting tree trunk while another two started binding him with thick, rusty chains. As they moved, Holly took the strap-on from the militia member and began stringing it on over her sweatpants.

“Pigeon,” commanded Holly, “use your phone camera. Take a picture of this piece of shit, so that everyone knows how I take care of business.”

A sick feeling began to work its way through Pigeon’s stomach, her Runner’s sense blaring an alarm in her head. She suspected what was coming, but hoped to God that it wouldn’t play out like her imagination told her it would.

****

Violent lives, ending violently,” whispered Anita. “This is the world we’ve made for ourselves, babe. Part of us wants there to be light in the world. But deep down, part of us knows that there never will be. There used to be innocence in our lives. Now there’s an abscess.”

Pigeon nodded. The continuation of a conversation they had been having off and on over the last week. My god had it only been a week? It felt like years had passed since she had been saved, sitting in that park.

“I need you to understand baby, respect is everything. The only thing that matters is respect. Do you understand?”

Pigeon nodded again, as Anita produced a bulky tube from beneath the blanket.

“So baby, you know what you need to do, don’tcha?”

A light smattering of rain was beginning to fall as Rook stood across the street from the filthy brick tower. She was smoking a cigarette- for all she knew, her last one. The pistol Anita had given her was tucked into the waist band of her sweatpants.

Stamping the butt out against the bottom of her shoe, she crossed the street quickly, hoping to lose whoever was trying to follow her. Through the doors, past the empty concierge desk, up the stairs, two at a time. Floor number seven, room seven six eight. Two guards with stubby shotguns.

There had been other lessons over the last week. Anita knew a lot of people, and between all of them Pigeon had learned the basics of survival. Not the kind of survival she had been doing, but how to survive in the real world.

She had learned how to lift products in stores without being noticed. She learned how to jack and wire a car. How much caffeine to cut with heroin and horse-dewormer with cocaine. How to pick a lock. And, as was most relevant right now, how to shoot.

Walk towards them at the diagonal. Conceal the firearm until the last possible moment, the same way you’d lift a hard drive. Two shots, one to the base of each guard’s neck.

They sort of shivered and toppled over, like poorly built snowmen. She snatched up one of the shotguns, flicked off the safety, cocked the weapon, and kicked open the door.

Two in the kitchenette: one, pump, two, pump.

A shot past her shoulder wizzes past, whining against a stud in the wall behind her. A third shot, catches him directly in the centre of his face, the skull imploding, turning itself inside out as teeth and grey matter splattered the bare wall behind him.

Pigeon dropped the shot gun and ran; ran until she was weeping, and snot dripped from her nose, her whole body on fire. She took the long way back to Anita’s tenement, stopping under the illuminated EAST PAC cross for a cigarette. Sweat poured off of her, getting lost in the rain.

Jesus. What had she just done?

****

When it was done, Frankie lay limply against the tree trunk, weeping openly. Pigeon was rooted to the spot, queasy. Stripping off the strap-on and handing it back to one of her militia members, Holly got down close to Frankie’s face and hissed at him in a whisper.

“Now everyone is gonna know that you take it up the ass from women.”

A light drizzle began to fall as Holly ordered her men to pack up and exfil the site.

“Pigeon, hold on to those pictures. That’s all we’re gonna need to keep this piece of shit in line. From now on, I run this town. Me. Meet me back at the club, and we’ll discuss our next move.”

The van drove off, leaving Pigeon alone with Frankie’s weeping. When she could hold it back no more, Pigeon doubled over, vomit narrowly missing her feet. Shakily, she began to walk away, no particular destination in mind. She just needed to be away from this place. The rain built steadily to a downpour as she walked, so that by the time she had made it a dozen blocks away she was drenched through to the bone, short hair plastered against her neck and forehead.

Finding a dry alcove, she curled up into a ball, rocking back and forth as she wished aloud that she could just disappear.Her break down was interrupted by her phone ringing. Glad for the distraction, she answered on the second ring.

“Hello? Who is this?” she asked. Static on the line crackled.

“…Pigeon…”said a voice.

“Anita?” demanded Pigeon. “Anita, is that you?”

“Yes,” said the voice weakly.

“Anita how is this possible? You’re dead. I found you,” said Pigeon.

“Pigeon, I’m scared. I don’t know where I am. But I’m cold, and it’s dark,” said Anita.

“Anita,” said Pigeon, tearing up. “Anita I’m scared.”

“It’ll be okay baby,” said Anita. “I promise. But the Millennium is almost here. And you need to stop it.”

“Stop it?” asked Pigeon. “How?”

“Baby,” said Anita. “I love you so much. Please…”

Static crackled on the line again, before the handset went dead in Pigeon’s hands.

****

Still soaked thorough with rain, Pigeon knew where she needed to go, back to where it had started: the park where she had met Anita, where they had carved their initials into the foundations of the city.

Climbing the slippery steps of the ARTrain station, she wasn’t sure what had brought her back to this place. But she thought maybe that seeing it again would help to fill in some of the connections.

When she arrived at the park, however, she found the whole thing was roped off. A crew of land surveyors had set up a small laser-level device, and were recording measurements on digital clipboards. A white van with the Kuroyama logo was parked a short distance away.

“Hey!” she said to one of the surveyors. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Lady, this area is off limits. You’d best clear out,” responded the man without looking up from his notes.

Pigeon rummage around in her jacket pocket, producing a laminated Company ID.

“I work for the company,” she said assertively.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, finally turning to face her. “I didn’t realise. We’re just following orders, you know the drill. Company wants this plot of land staked for the Millennium Project, we stake it. You know the drill,” he added, repeating himself.

A prickle ran up her neck, her Runner’s Sense telling her that she was being watched. She whipped around, nothing seemed out of place. Someone in a window perhaps? She checked the rooftops for silhouettes but saw none. There was a short line for the ATM, but no one was paying her any heed.

The feeling of being watched intensified. She needed to get out of this place.

****

When she arrived at the night club, the first thing that Pigeon noticed was that the construction was nearly finished. When she commented on this, Natsumi grinned broadly.

“See? Money is power, kiddo. When the work goes around the clock, it hardly takes any time at all.”

Holly sat next to Natsumi in the VIP section, silently simmering with rage. They must have broken off an argument right before Pigeon arrived, and she was clearly itching to restart it.

“Listen,” said Pigeon. She had made a stop at her apartment and had changed into something more casual, dark jeans and a baggy sweater. “I’ve been thinking-“

“That’s a mistake,” said Holly shortly. “What did I tell you? Thoughts rot your brain. They are the enemy of action. Don’t think, just do.”

“Right,” said Pigeon. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Go ahead,” said Natsumi. “Please ignore my compatriot’s surly attitude.”

“Well,” began Pigeon, “you’ve had me working for you on this Millennium Project. But you’ve never explained why the Millennium is so important.”

“The Millennium,” said Natsumi, choosing her words carefully, “is a very sensitive time. Do you know about the Y2K bug?”

“No,” said Pigeon truthfully.

“At midnight on New Year’s Eve, all the computers shut down,” interjected Holly.

“Yes, essentially,” confirmed Natsumi. “What that means for this City’s power players is that there’s a golden opportunity, a window, during which everything will be up for grabs. With the mob out of the way,” she nodded at Pigeon, “that just leaves it up to Team Good Guys to divide the spoils.”

“Which is where we appear to have reached an impasse,” said Holly.    

“Impasse?” asked Pigeon.

“It means we’ve reached disagreement,” explained Natsumi.

“I know what an impasse is,” said Pigeon defensively. “What’s the beef?”

“Natsumi thinks I’m taking things too far,” began Holly.

“And Holly doesn’t think I’m taking things far enough,” finished Natsumi.

“So what does that mean for me?” asked Pigeon.

“It means your loyalty is going to be tested,” said Holly. “We’ve done a lot of good work together but this next step is going to take someone with ice in their veins.”

Pigeon shifted uncomfortably. Images of Frankie, lashed to the tree trunk, flashed before her eyes, while Anita’s ghostly warning ran through her head.

“Is there any way we can, you know, forestall the Millennium? Put the project on hold?” asked Pigeon.

“What’s the matter?” chided Natsumi. “Is my killer finally having a change of heart?”

“This project,” said Pigeon. “I was just talking to some of the Company surveyors. This project is going to affect me, personally.”

“Exceptions can be made, compensation for loyal employees,” responded Natsumi. “Yes, that’s possible. But the Project is so much more than that. It’s about creating a plutopia on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. A playground for the rich and famous, free from crime and filth and disease.”

“Or,” added Holly, “we take our anger to the streets, show the System we won’t be pushed around any longer.”

“Unless you’ve lost the stomach for the criminal lifestyle,” said Natsumi, searching Pigeon’s face.

“Well,” began Pigeon, “the last job we did-“

“Oh, you mean little bitch boy? When we put him in his place?” said Holly, laughing. “That’s nothing compared to what I have in mind for the Millennium.  If you can’t handle that, then I recommend you stay out.”

“What do you mean?” asked Pigeon.

“I mean, it might be time for you to fly away, little bird. Before you get hurt,” said Holly.

“Here’s the way I see it,” said Natsumi. “Either you stick with us, or you go crawling back to the freak show that we rescued you from, books and losers and that ridiculous Skeleton Army.”

“Just know that if you take option two, you’ll be making powerful enemies,” threatened Holly. “Choose wisely.”

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