[Inspired by a news item I saw the other day about a pair of Girl Scouts who valiantly but unsuccessfully attempted to prevent just this sort of opportunistic theft, one of whom actually did punch the thief in his face through the car window during the getaway.]|
Saturday, April 24, 2337
Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, New Snowdonia
Crown Colonies, Rigel sector
Tesco, Crown Hill Shopping Plaza
1824 hours Gwynedd Summer Time
One of the things that many people in Llanfairpwllgwyngyll looked forward to in the spring was the annual appearance of the Girl Guides. They were always around, of course - they didn't vanish from the planet entirely for the rest of the year - but in mid-spring they were more visible than usual. That was the time of year when they emerged from hibernation and set up their tables outside various local businesses, gathering in groups of two and three to sell baked goods.
The trio at the Crown Hill Tesco had done well all day, employing a wryly self-conscious three-part charm offensive to sway passers-by to their cause. Their table was adorned with a neatly inked banner bearing the Girl Guides of New Snowdonia logo and the unequivocal slogan RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. The tall, slightly brash redhead did the saleswomanship; the perky little blonde managed the inventory and sent every customer away with a smile; and the dark quiet one handled the money with an air of calm competence.
It was this member of the team, late in the afternoon as the sky was beginning to go orange, who retired briefly to the store's restroom while her colleagues packed up the stand and got ready to head out. As such, she wasn't present when the thieves struck. Instead, she emerged from the store a few moments later to find her two comrades in considerable disarray - the cash box gone, the table overturned, the blonde sitting half-sprawled on the ground next to it, the redhead leaning into the open passenger window of a hastily departing automobile, both girls shouting angrily. A moment later the redhead had been cast off and was stumbling to a halt in the wake of the speeding car, shaking her fist furiously.
Having witnessed all this, an ordinary Girl Guide - even one of the famously adventurous Llanfair Regiment - would probably have pulled out a mobilecomm and called the police at this point.
Laura Kinney, on the other hand, gave chase./* David Arnold
"The End of an Aston Martin"
Casino Royale (2007) */
Head down, hands open, arms pumping, she lit out after the car at a dead sprint, going over rather than around any obstacle that happened to present itself. Without hesitation or deviation from her instantly but carefully chosen course, she sprang onto and then off of the roofs of intervening parked cars, vaulted the low decorative wall at the edge of the parking lot, and skidded down the embankment outside, running not directly after the car but instead toward where she could see it would be in a few seconds' time. Traffic on Crown Hill Road was moderate but moving right along as Laura shot across with expert timing, hurdling the flowerbed on the central reservation and drawing a few startled horn honks from motorists.
Ahead, the car she was aiming to intercept - a red Vauxhall Vigilant station wagon, its rear passenger-side quarter panel dented - was slowing to make a left turn at the light onto Henderson Street. Next to it in the middle lane was a builder's van, festooned with ladders and segments of pipe. Laura cut the corner at full speed, then used the hood of a minicab as a springboard to the side of the van, seizing hold of the racked pipes. In perhaps a second she was onto the roof, and in another she was airborne, having leaped at full speed from the far side. For an instant she hung spread-eagled in the air above the red Vigilant, sudden flashes of metal sparkling in the late-afternoon sun at hands and feet, before she came down hard on the Vigilant's roof and drove all six claws into the sheet metal.
She had a momentary glimpse of the passenger, a young, sandy-haired man with the beginnings of a black eye, as he turned and goggled in shock at her through the sunshine roof. They had an instant's eye contact before the car surged forward, shouldering aside the boxy shape of a CityRunner in its haste to clear the intersection. Laura's claws slipped, cutting jagged slots in the Vigilant's roof as inertia dragged her backward against the acceleration. Snarling, she dug in, hoping the ridge above the rear window would hold against the toes of her shoes until she could consolidate her position enough to start making the transverse cuts required to open up the roof and get inside.
Instead, the driver floored the accelerator and hurled the car down a side street, bringing angular momentum into the picture, and with a screech of protesting steel she slipped sideways and came away altogether, flung outward across the corner. She hit a RIGHT LANE MUST YIELD ON GREEN sign, bending its metal post almost to a right angle, then had just enough time to pull in her claws and go limp before hitting the ground, rolling a half-dozen times, and coming to rest against the alley wall of a butcher's shop.
By the time she regained consciousness, she'd drawn a small crowd of startled and concerned onlookers. Ignoring them, she dragged herself upright, leaning against the wall, and limped, her lower right leg feeling broken, to the corner of the shop. The red Vigilant was long gone, of course, the usual patterns of traffic having filled in behind it. In the distance she could hear the whistles of approaching constables.
A moment later her two colleagues emerged from the crowd, pushing their way through with excuse-mes and one-side-pleases to her side. They were not, it has to be said, particularly surprised that she had done what she did. Laura had been a member of their cohort for more than a year now, and not for nothing was her photograph in the 2336 Llanfair Regiment Yearbook labeled DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME. The two with her today were veterans of the previous December's Snowdon Adventure Retreat. They'd seen her fight the monster and deal with the avalanche. To them, this was just another day at the office.
Not that this stopped the redhead from saying with an affectionate kind of exasperation, "You mad fool, what if they'd had a gun?"
"One of them did," Laura replied. "He was too surprised to use it." Frowning, she felt experimentally at her right elbow, then twisted something within it back into its proper alignment with a crunch that made the blonde wince. As though she hadn't done anything particularly unusual, Laura went on, "We need to get out of here."
Nodding agreement, the others flanked her and helped her hobble back into the alley. Not knowing quite what to make of the way the three Guides had the situation so obviously in hand, the crowd slowly dispersed in confusion, allowing Laura and her colleagues to fade into the backstreets and be gone before the police arrived.
"Did they get everything?" Laura asked as they made their way down Severn Avenue South, her gait becoming steadily surer.
"All the money," said the redhead glumly. "Rhian tried to hold onto it, but the bloke who grabbed it was too big."
Laura nodded. "The passenger. I saw." She regarded her blonde comrade for a moment, then smiled slightly and said, "I am surprised you did not bite him."
"I thought about it, but who knows where he's been?" Rhian replied pragmatically. "Anyway, Mairwen hung a good one on him through the window before they shook her off." Scowling, she added, "I hope she split his lip. And I hope it gets infected."
Mairwen sighed. "No such luck. I think I got him in the eye, though. But what're we going to do now?" she went on. "We must have sold almost a thousand quid's worth of stuff today. We're on the hook for all of that to the Central Council. And we can't just ask Sir Victor to cover it," she said warningly, before Laura could speak. "He already had to pay for what you and that thing did to the Mountain Retreat Lodge."
"It was not a 'thing', it was a wendigo," Laura said patiently. "At any rate, I was not about to suggest it. I know what we must do."
"What?" Rhian wondered.
Laura paused, leaning against the wall of the building they were passing, and regarded her two fellow Guides seriously. In the fading daylight, her green eyes almost seemed to glow as they looked from one to the other. As she spoke, the last of the road rash disappeared from her face and arms.
"The honor of the Regiment is at stake," she said. "This requires direct action. We must recover the money ourselves - and teach the thieves that the Guides of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll are not to be trifled with."
Mairwen grinned. "I love it when you get like this," she said.
"But how are we going to find them?" Rhian asked.
Laura smiled a cool, predatory little smile. "Leave that to me," she said. "For now, return to Tesco and placate the police. When they release you, go to your homes and collect your gear. I will meet you at 2030 hours on the corner where they shook me off."
Creedmanse, townhouse of Sir Victor Creed (1st Baronet)
1912 hrs GST
Sir Victor Creed looked up from his perusal of the Evening Standard at the sound of the front door. "Ah, there you are, my dear," he said. "I trust your day's enterprise was a suc - ah." Seeing Laura entering with her Class A Guide uniform torn and bloodied, and a look of dudgeon on her face to match, he left the rest of the remark unsaid.
"Who steals from Girl Guides?" she asked rhetorically, then headed for the stairs. Halfway there she threw the answer to her own question back over her shoulder: "Fools."
"Do call if you're going to be out past midnight," said Sir Victor mildly, returning to his newspaper with a satisfied little smile. "Enjoy your hunt."
Sir Victor hadn't been entirely sure about Laura joining the local Guide Regiment, even given their well-known reputation for intrepidity; but on the other hand, giving her opportunities to socialize and make friends with girls of her own age was even more important in her case than it was for normal teenagers, so he'd given his consent. Despite the expense involved in clearing up after the Mountain Retreat incident - which had quite demonstrably not been her fault, after all - he had never had a moment's cause to regret the decision.
Corner of Henderson and Larch Streets
2030 hrs GST
The traffic on Henderson Street was much lighter at eight-thirty that night. The neighborhood wasn't a lively one in the evenings; most of what nightlife Llanfairpwllgwyngyll had took place to the west, in the central district, or down south of the river where the Anglesey Warriors football club had its stadium. This area was mainly shops that shut by six and bars that did a only a desultory business until after ten. Pedestrians were few and the streets quiet at this hour, and nobody in particular noticed a couple of Girl Guides meeting up on a corner.
When Mairwen and Rhian met under the bent RIGHT LANE MUST YIELD sign, they were no longer dressed in their Class A uniforms - the lightweight khaki dresses, dark green Eisenhower jackets and berets, and low town shoes so readily identified with the image of the Girl Guides of New Snowdonia in the public mind. They had both known immediately what Laura meant by "collect your gear": They were going hunting, and for that they wore what was officially known as Field Dress (Regular).
The FD(R) was essentially battle dress, very similar to that worn by the New Snowdonia Defence Forces, but without the body armor and ammunition supplies. It consisted of a utilitarian tunic and trouser set of woodland-camo ripstop synsilk, light in weight but comfortable across a wide temperature range and proof against most sharp things to be found in the forest; an equipment belt fitted out with everything the enterprising camper might require to manage a week's stay in a reasonably temperate wilderness environment; and sturdy, comfortable boots. Only the beret and bright yellow neckerchief, reversible for camouflage purposes, carried over from the Class A.
Decked out in their full field kit and seen at moderate range, older New Snowdonian Guides were often mistaken for commandos or Special Branch police officers, and in truth there was something of both in their makeup, particularly those senior Guides holding the exalted rank of Ranger. Rangers wore a slouch hat instead of the beret and were authorized to carry the hallowed Woodman's Pal, further heightening their resemblance to commandos. None of the three who met that night were old enough to be Rangers yet, though it was confidently expected among the girls of the Llanfair Regiment that Laura Kinney would earn her dragon (the Ranger's badge of office, derived from the mascot on the New Snowdonian flag) within hours of her impending seventeenth birthday.
For now, though, she sported the same uniform as the others when she arrived, apart from the optional cargo kilt she preferred to the standard trousers. She appeared from the uptown end of Larch Street, looking darkly satisfied, and greeted her colleagues by saying,
"Follow me. I have their trail."
"What's the plan?" Mairwen asked as she and Rhian fell in behind Laura.
"We will track them to their lair and determine their numbers. Then we will strike quickly and without mercy. As the defenders, they will have a natural advantage. We will negate it with shock and awe."
Rhian looked skeptical. "We're Girl Guides," she pointed out.
Laura smiled slightly. "That will provide the shock," she said./* David Arnold
Casino Royale (2006) */
Rhian and Mairwen had seen their strange colleague track before, and so they knew she was very good at it, but that was tracking animals in the woods. It had never occurred to them that she'd be able to perform the same feat with an automobile in a city, but over the next hour and a half or so they learned. Steadily, patiently, her expression never varying, Laura methodically followed the faint traces left behind by the thieves' red Vigilant. Exhaust fumes, long since dissipated for any but the most discerning of noses; streaks of rubber left on the road by a rattled driver's too-sharp turns and accelerations; tiny flecks of red paint shed, like blood from a wound, by the places where the car's outer skin was torn - nothing escaped her, even when they left the well-lighted commercial district, and then the city proper, behind altogether.
"Well, I'll be damned," Mairwen murmured as the three of them crouched just short of the crest of a ridge in the suburban village of Llantysilio. Twenty yards beyond stood a small house - bungalow, really - with a partly enclosed carport, and protruding from that carport was the rear eighth or so of a red Vauxhall Vigilant with a dented left rear quarter panel.
"Now we wait," Laura said.
"For what?" Rhian asked. Before Laura could answer, the one light showing in the house, through the front window, went out.
"For that," Laura said.
Wayne Colton was having a hard time getting to sleep. The weirdness of the afternoon's score kept coming back to him. It had been a spur-of-the-moment thing, grabbing those Girl Guides' cash box. Jerry had noticed what a brisk trade they were doing, and while they were considering whether to make a move, the one nearest the box had gone into the store. At that point, Jerry joked, it would be criminal not to take it, so they had... and then things had gotten strange.
Getting the car fixed was probably going to cost more than whatever was in the box. Neither Wayne nor Jerry had a clue what the crazy girl who'd jumped on the roof had used to make those ragged gashes in the steel, but whatever the hell it was, it'd made an almighty mess of things. Part of the anxiety keeping Wayne awake now was born of the realization that the cops would have no trouble at all establishing that yes, this was the red Vigilant used in the great Tesco Girl Guide cookie robbery.
Jerry, with her usual inability to take anything too seriously, had laughed off his fears - no cop would ever believe that such a thing had even happened, mad Girl Guide with an axe or whatthehellever jumping onto the roof of a getaway car. Hell, she wasn't sure she believed it had happened, and she was there. Then, with an instruction to get hold of Joey the Fisherman in the morning to get that cash box opened and then call someone about the car, she'd sloped off to bed to sleep the sleep of the unconcerned.
Wayne envied his sister that ability, at the same time he was convinced it was going to buy them both a lot of trouble some day. He sat in the living room in the dark, nursing a beer and not really watching a Dalek 207 movie on the next door neighbor's cable, wondering if he'd be able to drink the image of the crazy girl's face out of his mind. Because when he closed his eyes he could still see it. Well, not her face, really. He was sure he'd seen it all through the sunroof, but the only feature that stood out in his memory now was her eyes, this incredible shade of green, fixed on his with such consummate but contained fury it had damn near paralyzed him.
He opened his eyes and they were still there. So was their owner, crouching like a gargoyle on the coffee table, maybe a foot away. She had the neckerchief of her Guide uniform tied around her face like a bandit's mask, but the eyes - the eyes were the same.
"Aaaaahh - !" he yelled, lurching backward so hard he nearly overturned his recliner. Reflexively, he reached for the gun on the end table next to the chair. Her left hand shot out faster; a metallic sound, a glint of bright metal, and the gun lay in three pieces, deep grooves carved in the tabletop between them. Wayne stared at it for a moment, then looked at her hand, transfixed by the sight of the gleaming blades protruding between her knuckles. He'd heard of gear like that before, but to see it in person - on a Girl Guide - was so profoundly shocking he wasn't completely sure he wasn't imagining it.
"Wayne, what the haaargh!" Jerry's voice came from the bedroom doorway behind him, followed by a resounding thud as of someone tripping heavily over an unyielding object. Wayne didn't turn around to investigate. He was far too busy trying not to wet himself.
Seeing that she still had his undivided attention, Laura slowly retracted her claws, turning the simple act into a statement. Wayne stared at her hand in terrified astonishment as the narrow wounds the blades left behind healed almost instantly.
"You have something that does not belong to you, Wayne," she said, her voice quiet but full of menace.
"Y-yes," Wayne whispered, his eyes returning almost unwillingly to hers. In the background, he heard but did not register the sounds of a furious scuffle. If he had looked, he'd have seen two more masked Guides expertly lashing Jerry to one of the kitchen chairs with the clothesline from the back yard, but he could no more have done that than he could have gone in for a spot of astral projection.
"In the course of taking it, you could have injured my comrades seriously," she pointed out.
"I'm sorry," he said, and he had never meant anything more in his life.
"Good. Where is the box?"
"Th... there." He pointed hesitantly. "By th-the door."
Another masked, uniformed Guide - almost certainly the little blonde out of whose hands Wayne had wrenched the cash box that afternoon - appeared from behind his chair and collected the box from the stand by the door. "I have it," she said, her voice muffled slightly by her mask.
"See if our money is there," the green-eyed Guide told her. She opened the box and took a quick inventory with the help of a penlight held in her teeth.
"Looks good," the blonde reported, then departed from his field of view the way she came, taking the box with her.
"Please don't kill me," Wayne begged.
The girl with green eyes leaned forward slightly, making Wayne squeak with fear and press himself back into the cushions of his chair.
"In the morning you will turn yourselves in for the other crimes you have committed," she told him. "You will plead guilty. You will serve your time. And then you will learn a useful trade and repay this community for the burden you have been upon it."
"Like hell we will!" Jerry's voice cried from somewhere off behind Wayne, then trailed off into muffled cursing as someone, from the sound of things, put a pillowcase over her head.
"You will," the Guide said. "Because if you do not, you will see me again. No matter where you go. No matter what you do. I will find you."
"Eeee," said Wayne.
"Do you want that, Wayne?" she asked.
"No," he squeaked.
A little, he thought.
The girl stepped lithely down from the coffee table. Just before she passed the chair where Wayne still cowered, she turned and told him, "If you report this incident, you will not be believed."
Wayne nodded, not sure precisely what he was agreeing to, and she was gone.
He remained in the chair, not daring to move, until dawn.
Sir Victor Creed was still in his chair in the drawing room, now perusing volume four of History of the Middling Ages, when Laura returned home looking vaguely pleased with herself. He closed the book on his finger and looked up as she entered, but did not rise.
"Good evening, Laura," he rumbled. "I trust your hunt went well."
"Mission accomplished," Laura replied. Then, yawning, she proceeded to the stairs, saying as she went, "Good night, Sir Victor."
"Sleep well, my dear," said Sir Victor, returning to his book with a satisfied little smile.
"Direct Action" - an Exile mini-story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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