Sharp as Sword Blades, ch. 2: Hannah Johnson

Monitoring: Hannah Johnson
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

1:15 p.m Eastern Standard Time
Monday, August 4th, 2014
17:15 Coordinated Universal Time
Monday, August 4th, 2014

“Milk, fruit, cocoa, and kudzu. That’s the part that makes it fit for this restaurant,” the man in green tells Hannah. “Oh, and peanut butter, I think, but they’ve taken our menus away. You aren’t allergic to peanut butter are you?”

He’s smiling. So is the woman in white, but she wears it differently: more softly, not in a gentle way, but as if she’s a bit of clay that hasn’t been fired and finished yet. His grin is sharp, even toothy, but it’s measured, Hannah feels.

Everyone was cautioned that these two might not be any trouble at all, but ultimately they were a pair of ciphers–and like every unknown factor that Hannah has come across, that means that they’re threats. This won’t be the first time that she’s positioned herself between the wolves and her siblings, though, and she made Simon and Austin promise to stick up for her brothers and sisters if something happened to her.

In the meantime, this is an opportunity for Hannah to make another pair of allies, if they’ll let her. She hasn’t forgotten that she works for the CIA, and her encounter with Olivia only served to make her worry about whether she was overlooking something about PALATINATE.

“I’d love some,” Hannah says as she steals a seat from a nearby table. “Do the strawberries come with it normally or are those extra?”

“Don’t worry about it,” says the man in green. “We’ll cover it.” He trades a glance with the woman in white, whose eyes are flickering around as though she’s tracking an evasive fly. “Just like you’re being covered by your fr–” He wags his finger in her direction as she starts to get up from her chair. “Ah, ah, ah, the party’s just getting started. Isn’t that right, Señora Viejo?”

“There are at least two of them,” says the woman in white–Señora Viejo, apparently. “Maybe more.” She cranes her neck around, blatantly scanning the area behind her for anyone else. “You are unexpected,” she says when she turns back and settles her gaze on Hannah. Her knife and fork resume their work, slicing off segments of python and dicing them into little cubes. “You disappeared.”

“Yes,” says the man in green. “Do tell us about that. We were expecting you to be with the Randi Foundation or a similar organization or with your family, at least, but when we thought to check on you, there wasn’t a trace.”

“…Check on me,” Hannah repeats hesitantly. “How do you know who I am?”

“Oh, we’re quite familiar with each other, or at least Señora Viejo and I are familiar with you,” he responds brightly. Viejo’s gaze transmutes into a petrifying stare, but the man in green either fails to notice or doesn’t care. “I’m not surprised that you don’t remember. It’s been a long time since we met.”

“How long?”

“Long,” he says, almost at the same time that Viejo says, “Sinjoro Akvo,” while her knife and fork scratch and screech across her plate.

“What? She approached us. I’m sure that’s permitted. We’re not interfering. There’s nothing wrong with this, least of all if you don’t say anything, Señora Viejo, and don’t tell me that you aren’t as interested in having this conversation as I am.”

Viejo frowns, an expression that’s just as claylike as her smile, and glances at her milk. She hasn’t touched it since Hannah has arrived at the restaurant, so far as Hannah has noticed. “Don’t overextend yourself.”

“What are you doing?” Hannah asks. “Who are you?”

“No,” says Akvo. “I could be coy, repeat the question with an emphasis on ‘you,’ or give you something enigmatic like a Bible verse–several come to mind, you know–but I won’t wear on your patience. This isn’t the time, this isn’t the place, this isn’t…the company,” and for a flash of a second his grin turns razorlike again.

“So, you know who I am. Do you really know what I can do?” she asks, and both Viejo and Akvo nod in reply. “Then…Simon,” she says to Viejo. “You knew who he was and what he could do. Had  you intended to send him a message when you passed him by?”

Akvo shifts his posture and steeples his fingers together. Viejo’s knife and fork stop working on the python, and she glances away from both Akvo and Hannah. “Yes, I did. But I don’t know what it was about or what he learned from it. I could have died doing nothing important at all.”

“I rather doubt that,” says Akvo. Viejo opens her mouth, but he cuts her off. “Regardless, my interest isn’t in Simon,” he says, turning to Hannah.

“It isn’t?”

“No, you’re the more impressive one, by far,” he says. “Why, you’d kill the whole world for the sake of you and yours, if it came to it. That makes you worth keeping an eye on. Of course, it won’t be very easy with that insignificant virtue of yours. Disappointing, but sometimes life is such a crapshoot.”

“What do you mean, my ‘virtue’?”

“Your gift, your talent, your endowment,” explains Akvo. “There was a time when it meant ‘power.’ You may not be a god, but the sense still fits.” He reaches over to two of the pennies that Hannah had pulled out, and subsequently set on the table, and pushes them over to Viejo. “Sense, cents,” he says, tapping each of the pennies in turn, and Viejo’s mouth turns up at the edges in a tiny smirk.

“Oh. I get it.” She chuckles, and Akvo shrugs at Hannah.

“A bit of a stretch,” he says, “but then, stretching things is what we’re doing right now, isn’t it?”

“Why can’t you tell me more?” Hannah asks.

“Because there are limits to what we’re allowed to do. Nobody’s running the show, per se, not in the way that you’re thinking, but there are lines that we can’t be caught crossing. Reasonable lines, granted, or mostly reasonable, but aggravating all the same. I’m sure that your friends have some experience with those sorts of restrictions, although I imagine that you, with your history, might have a rather different feeling about it.”

He does…something then. Hannah isn’t sure what, it comes and goes too quickly, a twitch that might have been a wink, and then he leans across the table extends a finger over Viejo’s ice cream. “Are you going to wait until it melts and the milk turns bad?” he asks.

Hannah doesn’t catch what Viejo says in response. It occurs to her, briefly, that they haven’t gotten around to actually ordering any ice cream for her, but then a more important realization rises in her mind: Akvo is intentionally creating a lull in the conversation. There could be any number of reasons why, but with all this talk about rules, even bringing up Hannah’s relationship with, well, at least some rules, he’s got to be hoping that she figures out some kind of loophole.

They can’t say anything now, but that didn’t keep them from sending a message once before. Maybe it won’t stop them this time either, Hannah thinks as she texts Blank.

Newsome should be inside by now, which makes for a minimum of four PALATINATE agents in the restaurant. Simon will be fine.

She hears his steps coming up behind her not long after. Akvo is still fussing with Viejo, urging her to actually do something with her ice cream, but that “something” seems to be cutting it into blocks with her knife and fork. She does have a spoon, Hannah notes, but is either unaware or uninterested in using it.

“S-Simon,” Viejo says, and her hands clench, turning white around the utensils in their grip.

“Should we pull out another chair?” Hannah asks, but nobody responds. Simon is standing to her left, closer to Akvo than Viejo. Her knife is blade-deep in the ice cream, chocolate slowly melting over the front of the handle, and her face is utterly blank, like she’s a human-shaped computer that’s just gone to bluescreen.

“So, Hannah says that you might be able to help us, but that you’re in a tight spot,” Simon begins.

Akvo nods, ever so slightly. Viejo looks at him, the power of expression slowly returning to her face, in what might be surprise or shock or nervousness. Her hands are frozen, still wrapped around her knife and fork.

They’re acting so weird, Hannah thinks.

No, not weird, says another part of her brain. They’re acting wrong. Not just unusual, but the sort of thing that ought to have set off an alarm except that the whole affair had been peculiar enough that she had been eased into it, so that she didn’t parse the difference between weird and wrong. Dangerously wrong, like a voice that gets quiet when its angry, instead of loud.

The realization takes just two or three seconds to spark in her mind. She’s moving before she knows why she’s moving, acting on a sort of reflex, but it doesn’t kick in before Simon is reaching for Akvo’s ungloved hand.

“Simon, no–” she says, just as somebody else says the same. Hannah pushes Simon out of the way and they fall to the ground. There is a scream, then something crashing, metal showering the floor, scattered cries from all around her and terrified yelling, and a sound that breaks through the air like thunder, one, twice, thrice.

For a brief moment: quiet, disturbed only by sobbing and a hoarse, wet laughter. Then the restaurant is full of noise again, Heron and Guthrie racing past while Newsome shouts something about being the police and Rucker pulls Hannah up and off of Simon and draws them both away. Hannah looks back and sees Akvo standing at the table. For a second she’s about to scream at Rucker to turn around too, but then she realizes that he’s being supported by Heron. His forest green suit is dark and stained with blood; his hands are cuffed, and his left index finger is gone along with a sliver of his hand. The table is overturned, resting on its side, and extending past it, the edge of a white sleeve ever so slightly visible, is a hand with fingers curled upward and a knife resting in its palm.

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