Building a better tomorrow
April looked up when she heard the jingle of the bell over the door. The stir of greetings foretold who it was before she even stood to see over the crowds in the bar. Catching her eye, Yanniv raised a small bag in his hand and nodded slightly. She headed for the bar, and met him there just as Oola, who’d also spotted Yanniv’s arrival, shooed several new recruits off stools to make room.
“Any problems with the batch?” April asked as she claimed the stool next to his.
“No,” he said. “Except I had to increase the interior cavity a little due to the humidity.”
“That sounds like a problem,” she said sharply.
“It’s not a problem, but it will slightly modify the ballistic characteristics at the ranges you’re firing at.”
“Modified sim parameters,” he interrupted, producing a small chip from his breast pocket and putting it next to the bag. “It’s all there. The shooters will be able to run it through their goggles for practice, and pull from it to update their targeting aids when they’re active.”
“Why the change?” she asked, picking the chip up. Looking at it like she could sense the data encoded on it.
“Humidity,” he repeated. She glanced at him, and the older man sighed. “None of you paid attention in class. Or to your homework.”
“There’s bigger problems than good grades now Prof,” she reminded him.
“Yeah, well, good grades is why I’m the best reloader the movement’s got.”
“Just tell me what changed with the rounds,” she said, tucking the chip away and reaching for the bag.
“It’s been raining a lot. More than usual.”
“So, it’s increased the relative humidity several points,” Yanniv told her tiredly. “It soaks into the powder more, and even affects the explosive charges. I thinned the rounds out just a bit, so both powder and charge could be increased to compensate. They’ll shoot a tiny bit different, but retain performance and damage.”
“Good,” she said, rummaging through the bag with her hands. Brass tinkled as she fingered the rounds. Most of them were the large caliber penetrator cartridges that were necessary to defeat armored targets; but he’d done up dozens of the smaller, simpler anti-personnel rounds that her rookie snipers used. There was always a response when they hit a target, and picking off first responders in the aftermath was both good practice and added a force multiplier to merely taking out a VIP or officer.
There were rumbles now that guard details and emergency services were getting more reluctant to suit up for duty. Another step in the right direction.
“Just make sure everyone updates themselves from the chip,” he said. “And be aware that there’s a slightly increased chance of containment breech if they handle the rounds too roughly.”
“Don’t get shot in the ammo bag, or leave the bag near a fire too long,” he explained.
“If we’re taking hits, we’re already in deep shit,” she said, shrugging. “Thanks Prof.”
He hesitated, his mouth open without letting any words fall. April sighed. “You’ve got to let them go.”
“You don’t understand,” he said, finding his voice. Which came out bitter and hurt.
“We’ve all lost people,” she said, patting his hand. Trying to demonstrate compassion and shared understanding. He just pulled his away from hers unhappily.
“It’s not the same.”
“Billy was my friend. And I lost both parents,” she said as mildly as she could manage. “Just for starters.”
“At least they didn’t have to bury you.”
“Professor, we’re fighting to stop anyone else from having to go through this. Ever again.”
“How’s that working out?” he asked, glancing around at the eager and dangerous people gathered in the bar. “I see a lot of new faces.”
“The government’s not ready to roll over yet. They need more convincing.”
“Which is where I come in,” he said with a sigh.
“We need what you provide,” she said quietly. “You know that. It’s impossible to get arms through the screening, and they’ve locked every warehouse and factory down tighter than steel. If you need some help, or if there’s something we can do for—”
For a moment she wasn’t sure if he was about to start crying, or maybe yelling. But he shook his head after some seconds, and stood up from the stool. “Just make sure you keep winning. Finish this.”
“We’re doing everything we can to convince them to back off and hold elections. Real ones,” she promised. “Eventually they’re going to have to.” Then she laughed harshly. “If for no other reason than we’ll have emptied enough seats in Congress.”
“Or driven enough of the corporate paymasters offshore.”
“If the money leaves, they’ll have to listen to the people,” she pointed out.
“Just make sure you win,” he repeated.
“Here,” Oola said, setting two bottles of premium whiskey on the bar between them. Yanniv looked at them for a moment, his eyes dull.
April pushed them toward him carefully when he made no move toward them, knowing it was better than the alternative. “Take them. It’s better than that industrial strength crap you’ve been swilling. It’ll help”
“When?” he whispered.
“Nothing.” He took the bottles and tucked them into the cargo pockets on his pants.
April watched as the fighters in the bar made a path for him to get to the door. Those he passed were respectful, or said something with an encouraging expression on their face; but Yanniv kept his head down. She sighed softly, then climbed up on the bar using the stool. “Okay boys and girls, listen up. Start sobering up, while me and the other cell leaders finalize the target list. We’ll—”
Yanniv let the door close behind himself. The house was dark. He always left it dark. What was the point? There was only one room he ever turned a light on in anymore, and that was just because of revenge. Chemistry and science demanded light to function.
The rest of it though, he left as dark as his life.
Standing there in the kitchen, he opened one of the bottles and lifted it. Ignoring the rain that had slicked his hair back, soaked into his clothes, and was now dripping down from him to the floor. His throat worked as he swallowed from the bottle, liquor draining into his stomach. There it would go to work via well understood processes, and spread through him. In low doses the ethanol could produce a euphoric effect.
He didn’t want to be happy. Which was why he always chugged a good chunk of the first bottle. To blow right past that and get to the stupor.
The haze was better than facing his pain.
When he lowered the bottle, he put the cap on so he didn’t spill it in the dark, and headed for the bedroom. Hating himself. Even now, even though he acted like a common bum when he wasn’t working for April, his mind kept working. Drink in the bedroom. So when he passed out, the bed would be there. Which itself was only five steps from the bathroom.
Unfortunately, it was also where the memories were.
Dropping onto the bed, he considered maybe closing his eyes. He kept meaning to get better curtains for the windows. The light from the buildings across the street always filtered in here, made it hurt. Then he told himself, as the alcohol started kicking in, that facing the pain was part of the process.
“Keep telling yourself that smart guy.”
When he raised his head, the pictures on the wall were right where Rachel had hung them. One of the reasons he’d used to keep himself from tearing them down when he’d first found out what had happened. She’d wanted them there. She’d wanted him to see them whenever he sat here, in their bed.
Because she’d loved him.
Uncapping the bottle again, Yanniv took another long swallow. Shooting the expensive whiskey like it was the rot gut he kept stacked by the case in the kitchen. Maybe he could drink it faster than his eyes could betray him by looking at all the pictures.
There was a distant explosion, followed by sirens. Both vehicular emergency response, and the civil alert devices the Security Directorate had installed to warn “law abiding” citizens of dangerous conditions. Yanniv finally smiled at that. He knew that sound well now; both the sirens as well as the explosion. His work. One more piece of the dictatorship, removed from the equation.
Take enough pieces out of an equation and it collapses. You have to change what you’re solving for.
The sirens were still wailing outside when he finally passed out. They didn’t keep him from the stupor, nor did the crash of one of the empty bottles when it rolled off the bed and hit the floor. In the pictures, his past self smiled down at his tormented present that lacked any real future. Billy and Rachel looked out from alongside happy Yanniv as well. Yanniv didn’t even snore as he lay there, dead to the world.
Dead to the pain.