River Of Night – Snippet 40
He hated to use one of their few remotely ignited charges for nothing more than a delaying tactic, but he had committed to the bridge. The remotes had the advantage of omitting wires, making them easier to conceal. Additionally, timing was simpler since he could wait for the proper moment to explode the charge.
But, Murphy always takes a cut. Tom’s gamble hadn’t paid off, so he was only going to get a few individuals, not a truck.
Lesson learned there. Or relearned, as it were.
Chagrined, he dug the firing remote out of his pocket and lifted the safe and arming switch cover. With a second glance to check that their adversaries were within the blast radius, he pressed the button, sending a radio frequency signal to the waiting charge. The signal was designed to close a small circuit, allowing a battery to very rapidly heat the bridge wires in the detonator. Acting just like the element of an old fashioned incandescent light bulb, the wires would ignite a chemical explosive that was very sensitive to heat. In turn, that very small explosion would ignite the secondary, or booster charge. The booster created a much larger, sharper explosion which would detonate the main charge.
Of course, all of this happened much faster than a human could blink.
Except that it didn’t.
Nothing. Could be a slow detonator. Tom waited.
Misfire. Damn it.
He stowed the remote and positioned his carbine. The range was a bit long, but all he expected to do now was to make them deploy, slowing their advance and buying some time.
Through his optic he selected one figure who was staring curiously at the underside of the bridge. Four hundred meters. The bullet would drop more than a foot over that distance. He repeated the familiar shooter’s mantra as adjusted his point of aim in order to compensate.
“Front sight focus, breathe in, slowly exhale and squeeze…”
Paul squeezed the door knob in his right hand as he paused in front of Kohn’s door. The growth in camp population meant that nearly all the CHUs were shared, so having a private office with a door had become a pearl of great price. The Acting Administrator had made a show of accepting the office from her fawning staff. Paul knew that it was a symbol of her power. He released the doorknob, swallowed and knocked.
The medical center salvage mission had been a barely mitigated disaster. The most recent losses on the clearance mission had further reduced the original security staff to less than a handful. In contrast, Kohn’s coterie had grown. The original city staff, new refugees, commodity analysts from the bank and now, even Kendra were firmly embracing her leadership and a promise of collaborative safety.
He had already compiled the after action report. Three missing, presumed dead. Two more dead of their wounds. More seriously injured, including a few gunshot wounds. The Executive Committee would meet tonight to receive his verbal digest, but he wanted to pre-brief Kohn.
He recognized that he was delaying. Like it or not, Kohn was in charge. He knocked a second time with two firm raps to the door.
“Please come in,” answered a familiar contralto.
Joanna was seated, but stood to reveal that instead of the usual dove gray trousers which matched her uniform tunic, she wore a knee length pleated A-line skirt in the same color. She came forward across the reclaimed carpet, circling the desk, and took Paul’s hands in her own.
“I am so glad that you have safely returned, Paul,” she said with a barely perceptible catch in her voice. “We have all been so very worried about the risks that you take.”
“Um,” Paul searched for a response to this unexpected reception. “I’m very sorry, Ms. Kohn. You know by now that we lost two of the wounded. Septic shock. Four are badly wounded and may not recover to the point of returning to the team. We took on a target that was just too big. The risks of using only small teams and not investing in realistic training were eventually going to catch up with us.”
“Of course, Paul.” She pulled him into one the chairs that faced the desk before taking the adjacent one. Her hold on his hand didn’t waver. “You must call me Joanna in a time like this. The loss of the team members is a terrible tragedy. You were right about the risks. You must forgive yourself!”
“Ah, well, sure?” Paul said, feeling a little whiplashed by the way the conversation was developing. “Like I tried to explain, inevitable. I feel badly about it, but honestly, there wasn’t a lot that we could do. We had to enter the building to search for the centrifuge and filtration gel. Our numbers were limited. Sooner or later we were going to end up in a close quarters fight without enough ammunition or shooters. That day arrived early, is all.”
Joanna scooted her already close chair a fraction of an inch closer, and crossed her legs. The motion flashed a surprising amount of thigh in Paul’s peripheral vision.
“I, I would like to propose the formation of a larger, dedicated security group which I can train up,” Paul said, startled by the unexpected display. He attempted to rally and continue with his brief. “The current policy enforcing the rotation of personnel prevents anyone from establishing the base of experience which becomes critical during an in extremis event. This reduces the effectiveness of our salvage sweeps and if we ever have to truly defend this camp, it’ll reduce our combat power there, as well. We need a larger security group, trained to a higher standard.”
“Well, Paul, I am certainly open to re-opening that line of thought…” Kohn said as she moved one warm hand to lay manicured fingers on his forearm. “We were together at the start of New York’s response to this threat and we can understand each other like so few others can. Really, we should work more closely together, after all. We can lead this group to be the start of a new recovery for humanity.”
“Well, that’s the idea, Ms. Kohn,” Paul tried to shield himself with the formalities which had become common place. Was it his imagination or could he actually feel her body heat across the narrowing gap that separated their chairs?
“Joanna, Paul. And I need your support too,” Joanna said, not quite purring. “If we could amend the Operating Rules, several options become more accessible to the Council. It would be easier to expand your security team, selectively improve and increase rations and so on.”
“You can’t change the Rules without a unanimous vote, Joanna,” replied Paul. He could see her game now. “The Council must sit a bank representative. As I’ve stated in my objections for the record–“
“Now, Paul,” Joanna dropped her hand to Paul’s upper thigh, where it rested lightly. “I am aware that your relationship with Ms. Jones ended some time ago. I have been alone since the start. It is fitting that the two principal leaders who were together at the start continue to… support one another, do you not agree?”
Her finger tips beat a brief tattoo. On the material of his trousers. On the worn, thin material of his trousers.
Paul abruptly stood up, appalled by the implications of her offer and by the uncomfortable if involuntary response of his libido. He hadn’t had a woman in a long time â€“ well, a long time for him. Way too long, his libido assured him. In fact, this new direction that Kohn was proposing seemed just dandy to his libido.
Kohn wasn’t unattractive physically. In a flash, his libido helpfully noted that she was fit, smart and apparently kinda into him. She was just creepy as hell. And she was a murderer.
“I think you misunderstand my position, Ms. Kohn,” Paul said as firmly as he could, even as he jammed his hands into his trouser pockets. “I’m not going to change my position on the Camp Rules. They’re there for a reason. And… I’m not interested in other than a professional relationship.”
“Paul, you do not seem quite sure.” She stood up with him, noting the position of his hands. A smile crept across her face. “In fact, you seem of two minds…”
“It’s. Not. Going to happen,” he said as his anger asserted itself. “I’ve known for a long time about your record as a juvenile. About murdering your friends with a crowbar. About your boyfriend who died in a freak fall down marble stairs, his head so damaged that he must’ve fallen two, maybe three times. Some other deaths around you that remain question marks. Tom Smith knew, and he convinced me that we needed someone like you, in fact, particularly like you, if we were going to save the city. And we saw how that worked.”
“Paul, the partnership between the City and the bank worked quite… well.” Joanna didn’t bother to repress a smirk. If his revelations disturbed her, it wasn’t evident. “We survived. Civilization may yet survive. Expressly because Smith knew, like I know and in your heart, like you know â€“ the end will justify any means needed to get there.”
She inched a bit closer, her chest only a few inches from Paul’s. He noted that the motion of her blouse. It strongly suggested that she hadn’t bothered with a, ah, foundation garment.
Her voice lowered a bit.
“And we all used the same vaccine,” she said huskily. “We all have the same guilty knowledge. Would you give up your protection from the virus just because of the source?”
“Yeah, we all used the same vaccine, Joanna,” Paul said angrily as he stepped further back. “The difference is that I saw Tom throw up almost every day, sick from running the whole bloody mess. It was required to survive. Meanwhile, you slept like a baby. And that’s the difference. So you and I… no. Never. Work with you to advance the Site? Yes. Get personal with you? I’d sooner fuck a bag of scorpions.”
“Oh, I see.” Kohn said as her face slid into immobility, her eyes calculating. “And my offer?”
“I’ll continue to support the refuge and your role as Acting Administrator,” Paul said, keeping his hands in his trouser pockets. “However, the Site Charter and the Rules are clear. At some point soon, we need to establish permanent governance and a permanent coordinator. Which may or may not be you.”
Kohn regarded Paul at close range, looking first into one eye, then the other.
“I do see.” She spun on her heels and stalked back to her desk, the gray skirt swishing pertly side to side.
“That will be all, Mr. Rune.” Kohn said, her voice perfectly composed. “Please close the door behind you.”
Paul stepped backwards, keeping his eyes on Kohn. In turn she ignored him, and sat, opening the same red folder which she had closed upon his entry.
He felt for the doorknob behind him before turning and then retreated, swiftly closing the barrier that separated them.