The tiny shop in Burrows, Indiana barely lived up to its status as a bookstore. In reality, it was an online service piped through an office that attached to a rented storage facility. A secondary storage unit had been converted into a repair shop for paper goods.
Flag had gotten to know the place fairly well because of his book collection business. Leonard, the shop owner, was a genius at repairing and restoring antique books. He was also one of the few authorities able to verify the authenticity of the items he repaired, which wound up being quite an asset to the Sivoan's trade.
Unfortunately, the business of book collecting had taken a dive over the past several months, leaving Flag without much to do other than possibly returning to VILE for a distraction; an option that he didn't particularly want to entertain due to personal reasons. Luckily for him, Leonard had need for an assistant to either repair books or run "the shop." Flag chose the former and had settled temporarily into the position.
He had just finished hand-stitching the spines on a small stack of books and was taking them to the office for inspection when he noticed that it was about to rain.
Guess I'll help Leo pull orders. He mused and he rushed to protect the volumes he carried from the afternoon storm.
* * *
A small form in dark motorcycle gear stole behind the back of the store. She belonged to a much larger group that shared her profession, and while once upon a time she’d never worked without them, these days she preferred to work alone.
It was easier when she didn’t need a name.
She'd shrugged off her old one once she began to remember who she used to be, but any new name she'd come up with seemed just as pointless. Using her original name was out of the question, so she made up new ones as she went along. Currently it was Nebuchadnezzar Ulyss, or, (in proper VILE fashion), Neb Ulyss.
Things had gone somewhat normally for a while after the reset, but every year it got harder for her to relate with the rest of humanity, until she found it easier to drift on alone towards a new, audaciously fantastic goal.
Usually Neb could track down most of the information she wanted from the comfort of her computer in some geographically remote location, but every so often she needed to acquire something tangible, and often that tangible thing was not publicly accessible.
“Damn rich people,” she muttered as she carefully undid the cover of the control panel for the book shop’s security system. She had considered just killing the power to it, but that would raise an alarm by itself. Annoying as playing with a live electrical device was, it was still easier than what she’d have to brave if she tried to steal this codex straight from its new owner, Bran Brychanson.
The Antheon Codex was an unusual book with an unusual history that she had been lucky enough to add to before it passed from auction dealer to Brychanson. After failing to outbid the Welshman, she’d managed to cause superficial damage to the book itself, all but assuring that it would pass through here eventually.
All she’d had to do is wait, disrupt the alarm’s ability to send out a call for help, then leisurely take what she pleased. It wasn’t as if there were any guards posted.
Once sure of her work, she picked the lock and slipped inside.
Flag had come in to the sounds of a Leonard lamenting over the stupidity of people that kept his business afloat. This time his complaints oriented around a idiot that had attempted to recondition a leather bound bible with petroleum jelly.
The bookbinder had wiped off as much of the offending goo as he could and separated the text block so that it would not absorb any more oil. It was this that he handed back to Flag as he approached with his own stack. "Hey Eric, can you put this on the red shelf?"
[Eric] quietly added the block to the stack he had in his arms and set the whole bundle on the shelf marked for cover repair. "I put the other cores there as well. Look them over when you can. I'm gonna call it a night." It was obvious that he wouldn't be of much more help around the shop tonight.
The Sivoan typically stashed his personal effects in the main storeroom. This was so that he'd be able to peruse the shelves on his way out each night. In the rare event that he found anything interesting, he'd check it out for a night or two. Tonight it wasn't a book that caught his attention. It was a sound.
Instinct put him on high alert and he narrowed his profile by pressing against a cabinet. After a long moment of silence, he grabbed the bladed arm of a broken paper cutter that had left on the desk and paced the private library. "Someone back here?"
Somewhere across the room, the woman also pressed against a cabinet, her heart pounding. There wasn’t supposed to be anyone here. She’d have to take them out. Neb reached into her jacket pocket for a modified flashbang, then paused.
The voice sounded familiar, but she always thought voices sounded familiar. Having multiple timelines made things difficult that way.
She listened for the other to move again so she could pinpoint his position, then tossed the stun grenade his way.
He heard the canister hit and recognized the sound simply as bad. Reflexively, he cursed in his native tongue and dropped to the ground, covering his eyes as the concussive blast hit his ears. That was when the smell of ammonia hit him and he realized what was going on. “Are you stupid?!” He shouted in rage even though he couldn’t hear himself. “There’s nothing but books in here!”
“Oh calm down, it’s mostly smoke,” the woman called back, even though she was sure he couldn’t hear her. She hoped he couldn’t hear her. She flipped on her goggles to seek out heat and found what she was looking for through the smoke, yet even as she sped towards it, something clawed at the back of her mind.
That voice. That angry, pissed off voice.
Now was not the time. Neb got behind him and jabbed the prongs of her taser into his back.
Flag was surprised more at the speed of the trespasser than he was at the electricity coursing through his body. In fact it was almost a pleasant feeling in the familiar sense, but his rage at being attacked prevented him from enjoying it. Instead he acted on his knowledge of his assailant’s location and channeled the electricity through the cutter arm in his hand, which he then aimed at her head.
‘What the hell?’
Neb pulled away immediately when the man failed to fall. She was unable to see what he held with her heat vision on, but by the way he lifted it, it had to be heavy and a decent length.
She wouldn’t be able to clear its range in time, so ducked under his arm as it swung wide, then seized his arm with her left hand as she came up inside and thrust her right under his chin as hard as she could.
He was already moving upward when the punch connected, so he didn't feel the full impact that his attacker intended... but it still hurt.
Oh f*ck this.
With his captured arm already half way around them as per their own doing, he dropped the blade and caught his assailant around the waist and hauled them over his shoulder. He then threw himself backwards, twisting so the trespasser was the only one who would fully impact the floor. It was as they were falling that he caught sight of Leonard entering the room with his shotgun at the ready.
For a moment Neb lay dazed on the floor, half bent up in pain. Nothing felt broken, but getting up was going to be difficult.
Dammit, what the hell was wrong with my taser? she thought as she pulled off her goggles, no longer functional after their impact with the ground. Only then did she notice that there was another person in the room, and he had a gun.
"Eric. I told you to keep your business out of mine." Leonard stepped into the aisle that lined the book stack. He kept the gun trained in between the two targets, ready to shoot either if he needed to.
Flag rolled his eyes. "I don't think this brat is my... " He cut himself off as he realized the girl next to him had a vague air of familiarity that he couldn’t quite place. Then he realized that she had moved and been over-equipped like an ACME agent. "Whatever. I'm leaving."
As he stood up he less than gently nudged the intruder with the toe of his boot. "Outside."
A memory shimmered to the surface as she felt the man’s boot against her shoulder, but it faded just as quickly beneath the urgency of the situation. With as little show of pain as possible Neb rolled over onto her knees, then patted her reinforced motorcycle jacket gratefully as she stood. There was a reason she wore this, aside from the fact that she actually rode a bike, and as she ran a quick system check of her implants she knew it hadn’t failed her tonight.
But something else had.
'Dammit, this shouldn’t be happening,’ she thought as she followed the man out. ‘The ol' daze-n-taze always works. He should be tied up in a closet, not chucking me on the floor.’
He clearly knew how to fight, and in her current state she was no match. She only had one other option, and reluctantly removed the glove on her right hand.
The unmistakable sound of a shotgun cocking its ammo into place resonated behind them "nothing funny missy. Just get outta here."
Neb raised her hands in surrender as she walked off, right hand bare.
Flag had overheard the commotion behind him and glanced over his shoulder at her as he grabbed his satchel and hoisted it over his shoulder. He exited the building first, but knew that Leonard wouldn't follow them out the door.
When the girl came through, he grabbed the wrist of the uncovered hand and pinned her arm behind her and he shoved her up against the wall.
"Who are you?" He growled in her ear.
TO BE CONTINUED!
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