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by Libby



(This story will be completed in a series of installments)

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Chapter 5


The woman fell, sprawling onto the practice mat. She dragged herself to her knees and attempted to get her breath back. Kyra Flynn bounced lightly on her toes.

'Come on, Vicky, get up. You don't have time to breathe!'

'But…I did everything…you showed me…and I still ended up…face down…in my own sweat.'

'Yes…but it took you longer to get there this time. That's progress!'

Kyra trotted forwards to help the woman up…and suddenly found herself on her back with a knee at her throat. Far from being annoyed, for the first time in weeks Kyra experienced a small rush of pride. The fact that she could easily reverse the situation and have the woman in a lethal headlock in seconds was irrelevant.

The group of women on the edge of the mat clapped and one or two whistled. Vicky released Kyra, stood up and bowed solemnly. Kyra flipped upright and put an arm round the younger woman's shoulder.

Everyone was buzzed by the throw and in the next half-hour, they put their hearts into the practice session. As far as Kyra could see, their only problem was that they didn't fully realise how vulnerable they still were. Preston had warned her of the dangers of teaching a little 'self-defence'…it often engendered a confidence far beyond the user's abilities. Nevertheless, the incidence of harassment, assault, rape or attempted rape was increasing and Tatiana had requested she initiate some program for female members of the Council's Administration, who did not warrant personal protection. She really had no choice. Even Tatiana didn't seem to understand that 'self-defence' was simply a mental and physical plan for adverse situations which altered according to need.

The classes, in one of the Centre's many clinical areas, had been amazingly well attended, and yes, the women had made excellent progress, but it was time to hammer home the brutal reality.

That reality appeared, as punctual as ever, bare-footed and in black sweat pants and body hugging black vest. Kyra almost felt the crackle of electricity as twenty four pairs of eyes followed the contours of Preston's toned biceps and ranged over the outline of his sharply defined pectorals and abdomen. It was probably best to get the show on the road before the women started hyperventilating. She snapped her fingers and smiled ruefully as the women shuffled in embarrassment at being caught out.

Kyra had to admit that she wasn't looking forward to this. When Preston had agreed to the demonstration, he'd warned her that he wasn't particularly going to pull any punches. She noticed that he'd left a coolbox by the door. That worried her slightly. She also knew that he'd come straight from Kata training with a group of Acolytes and was therefore at peak efficiency.

He addressed the obviously adoring crowd.

'Why are you all here?'

Twenty-four hands went up. Preston nodded at a tall, thinnish woman with her hair in plaits.

'To learn how to protect ourselves if we're attacked.'

'And how successful do think you might be if that happens?'

'Far better than we would have been a few weeks ago.' The woman sounded peeved.

'Good. So assuming the worst happens, what would you do?' He pointed to another woman.

'Kick the crap out of him!' she announced proudly.

Everyone else nodded and a few clapped. Kyra sighed. She had tried to explain the philosophy that drove her instruction, but to no avail. The women just wanted an opportunity to kick ass.

Preston remained impassive. 'If that is all you have learned,' he said, 'Then you are all in for a very…nasty…surprise.'

Some of the women began to fidget, others looked at him defiantly. Vicky stepped forward. She was one of Tatiana's personal assistants and considered herself to be a fast learner. Her bravado was also fuelled by the fact she acted upon occasion as Robbie and Lisa's chaperone if Kyra and Preston were delayed and therefore felt more comfortable than the rest in challenging the Cleric.

'This is just a scare tactic…a typically male one at that. We know men are generally heavier and stronger…but Kyra's taught us to use the advantage of surprise. We could win!'

'It's not a question of winning…and the advantage of surprise is all you have…it may just enough to give you escape room.'

Twenty-four voices began to chatter in indignation and were then silenced by the Cleric's raised hand.

He pointed to Kyra, now standing about 5 metres in front of him. Then he pointed to the exit, an equal distance behind him.

'All she has to do is reach that door…'

During the first few seconds both opponents judged distance and timing. Kyra shifted sideways, light on her feet, eyes darting between Preston and the elusive exit. Preston altered his own position by a few degrees. Kyra moved to the other side. The Cleric made a slight counter move.

Kyra had hoped to distract him from the fact that each time she made a side move, she also came forwards a little, but she saw that the distance between Preston and the exit was also increasing. She began to walk forwards. He did the same.

Kyra waited without blinking until he was just 2 metres away then charged, feinting at the last possible second to her left, hitting the mat and extending her right leg half a metre off the ground. To her credit, Preston thought, as he jumped to avoid being tripped, it was not a standard move. A lesser attacker may have been floored at this very point, giving Kyra those vital seconds to reach the door. But he had a point to prove to the women.

Preston landed neatly on both feet, sinking down to the ground. It would have been totally unrealistic to use the full Katas, since any attacker was unlikely to be as highly trained, so he modified his approach.

With her eyes firmly fixed on the door ahead, Kyra allowed momentum to take her into a side roll, pulling her knees up so she would be ready to sprint once the roll lost its power.

Preston turned rapidly and launched himself towards Kyra as she prepared to come to her feet and make a dash for the door. When she knew she would never make the transition in time, she spun round, kicking out with alternating feet. He gripped her right ankle and twisted it hard. Pain seared through her as he continued to twist and spin her round, away from the door. Basically, she was back where she started from. Then Preston let go and Kyra scooted backwards, away from him. He allowed her to get to her feet once more before walking towards her again. Her ankle throbbed, but her mind was racing through possibilities.

The women were forgotten as instinct kicked in. She let her mind sink into concentration and adopted one of the many postures Preston had taught her…each designed to give her maximum opportunity for flight whilst still allowing her to inflict damage on her opponent. All she had to do was get to that door…

This time, assuming that he would recognise the position and react accordingly, she waited again, then flipped sideways to try and put some distance between them. Although he was already turning to match her, she accelerated forwards again, only to be brought down by a body blow to her ribs. She swore she heard a crack, but had no time to be concerned as she tried to bring her knee up under the man's chin. But he overwhelmed her with sheer strength and she decided that an impression of submission might cause him to release her enough to try something else. However, he obviously had other plans. She found both her wrists were held in a vice-like grip above her head.

Because the point of the exercise was to show how a potential rapist would try to disable his victim, Preston slammed Kyra down onto her back and immediately straddled her stomach. She responded by flinging both legs upwards in a scissor action to try to either destabilise him or if she had sufficient power, to get her legs around his neck. Neither ploy worked as Preston simply leaned further forward, released her wrists briefly and clapped both hands over her ears.

He had judged the amount of strength he could safely use, but Kyra screamed once from the pressure and pain. And later, she realised that was where she made her true mistake. She got angry. That had never even been an option when Prozium was sluicing through her willing veins. She had never lost focus.

She knew before she started the 'demonstration', that she couldn't win. She wanted to show these women that they had to fight to escape…that was all. But Preston had hurt her…and he'd known he would…that was why he brought the cool box.

Her mind flipped back to practice sessions when she was a child…allowed until she was eight to train with the Monastery boys. She'd beaten a couple of them a few times, even though some were older than her…but never John. He never saw any reasoning in allowing her a false victory and she realised that still held. The more she fought, the more he would respond.

If she gave up now, nothing would be learned…women being attacked fought for their lives. Damn him! So she forced her body into action, trying to dislodge him. None of the ordered and ingrained Katas would work here. This was pure streetfighting.

Kyra knew Preston couldn't really risk releasing her wrists again, so with his hands occupied, those lethal weapons were effectively rendered useless for the moment. She used her body weight to rock them both up and down, side to side, trying to find a way of inflicting some damage…any damage. Unexpectedly, he let go. She surged upwards, believing she had one more chance, ignoring the warning signs, lashing out with her fists. The last thing she remembered was an almost leisurely counter blow and a flat handed chop to her throat. Then nothing.

Kyra awoke to pain and cold. There was an ice-pack on her throat and she was aware of both a dull throbbing in her ankle and a sharp sensation in her chest when she breathed. She could just see Preston standing to one side, near the door. Part of her was pleased that he looked almost mortified.

Other concerned faces swam into and out of her vision. Vicky bit her lip and Kyra could see that she…and the others…had been crying.

'It's OK,' she said softly. 'We understand now…we really do. Cleric Preston says that understanding might actually save our lives. But we wish….you know…'

Kyra could only whisper. 'I know. And it is OK. You see…It's only him I couldn't ever get past…just him…' And she drifted off into merciful oblivion once more.



 

Tatiana Volkov slammed her hand on the wooden desk in her office.

'What the hell were you thinking! You could have killed her!'

'Untrue, Senior Council Member Volkov,' Preston replied evenly. 'You seem to forget what I am.'

Council Member Volkov looked momentarily stunned.

'And may I remind you,' the Cleric continued, 'That it was your suggestion that Administrator Flynn teach 'self-defence' to your female staff. I voiced my disapproval at the time.'

'That's as may be…but she's…for God's sake John…she's your partner! Jurgen's even more furious than I am.'

'But every one of those women learned a valuable lesson, Tatiana. Not one of them will assume that because she knows some simple moves she can stay and fight. Or win. All of them will kick and run. And that is what will save them.' He lowered his head and voice. 'Kyra knew what she was doing.'

Tatiana shook her head.

'Alright. We'll leave it at that. Just don't do anything like that again…promise me!'

Preston merely raised an eyebrow.

 


 

Kyra was back in her office early the following day. Her ankle was fine and her ribs just bruised. Ted fluttered around her until he realised she was actually back to her normal self and so brought her the most relevant case files and a cup of herbal tea. She was secretly pleased at his ministrations…not many Administrators could have such a loyal Personal Assistant.

She supposed he had a crush on her of sorts…not that he would ever act inappropriately. In truth, she greatly respected Ted Phillips. His quiet and inoffensive manner belied his inner strength. He had never been a member of the Resistance as such. He simply did his best to help where he could…which mostly involved turning a switch here and there, or even just a blind eye, to obvious polygraph discrepancies. Many a sense offender based at the Palace of Justice had 'passed' a random test when in reality they should have been facing the furnace.

Kyra sipped her tea, feeling the warm liquid soothe her still slightly tender throat. Memories of John's imaginative 'apologies' crowded her mind and she felt her face beginning to flush. It had been almost worth it…almost…she sipped more tea.

The only person who appeared unmoved by her injuries was Robbie…yet even he had the decency not to crow over her discomfort, even when his father and sister were absent. That in itself was a major step forward, although she wouldn't dare say a word to him. Too fragile a situation.

Kyra turned her attention to the brown folder in front of her, wishing once again that the Network was up and running. The accepted view was that the New Resistance had infiltrated the lines and sabotaged the mainframe. Pity. They could really use a break on some of these cases.

As Ted had predicted, no identification had been forthcoming on the unfortunate victim of the hungry rats. At least he had been well and truly deceased before they made him their banquet. His body had turned up in a City skip, one of the many in which waste for incineration was stored. The only reason anyone bothered to check it was due to the inordinate number of flies and of course, the nauseating smell.

That puzzled Kyra. Both men had died within a day or so of each other. No-one knew where. Although the bullets didn't match, the MO did. She finally voiced what everyone else had been thinking. A Cleric. Yet the savagery inflicted upon poor Castle before his death seemed way out of context. Rat Man was left with all his extremities…chewed though they were. Castle was…butchered. What was Rat Man doing? More importantly…where was he doing it?

Preston was still squirreled away with the Free Cleric, discussing further tactics, so Kyra left a message with Ted and headed off down to Trace.

Many of the Technicians there had simply stripped off their latex gloves and skedaddled when the shooting started. They had no wish to be associated with, or mistaken for, those other Technicians across the Great Square in Clinical Interrogation. In point of fact, as Kyra well knew, most of them were interchangeable, but it had all become rather awkward when staff shortages loomed…and no one mentioned it anymore.

Both Kyra and Preston were often bemused by the frequent examples of volte-face made by the Council but they both recognised that neither of them were political animals and just got on with their respective jobs.

'What was the victim wearing when he was discovered? Could I see it?' Kyra asked the duty Technician, who nodded and crossed the room to retrieve a plastic box from metal shelving attached to the light grey walls.

As he removed the heavily bloodstained items from the box, he placed them on the backlit table in the centre of the room. First the jacket, with its telltale hole, then a grimy brown T-shirt with matching hole. These were joined by old, brown cord trousers and a pair of brown boots which had seen much better days.

'Any undergarments? Socks?' Kyra asked.

'No,' replied the Technician.

'Oh.'

'We believe he may have been wearing gloves on both hands, although only one was found.'

The Technician placed an obviously chewed glove on the table.

'Could the rats have pulled the other one off?'

'It's possible…they're very determined creatures.'

'What's that stuff?' Kyra pointed to a yellowish powder coating the what remained of the ends of the fingers.

'Ah!' said the Technician. 'Now that is interesting.'

He turned over the Jacket, to reveal more powder traces and upended the boots to show still more caked on the back of the heels…

'It's the unrefined base form of NPD…neoprozodiazepine.'

'Prozium…'

'Indeed.'

'So our victim was in a Prozium factory or Storage facility prior to death?'

'So it would appear.'

'And you didn't think to tell us this?'

'Nobody asked me. I just establish time and cause of death.'

 


 

As Kyra reached the top of the stairs on her way back from Trace, she spotted Preston striding across the polished granite of the Hall of Enforcement's central reception area. She hurried to catch up with him and they walked together to their offices.

'Dare I enquire how your meeting went?' she asked.

'Better than I expected,' he replied, allowing a faint smile to flicker briefly across his lips. 'At least, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Stannard's proving to be an intelligent and diplomatic Cleric. His partner Freimann's got potential…still needs more discipline, but he seems popular and could be useful.'

'Any Intel on New Resistance movements?'

'Not really…but there may be a few leads we could follow up.'

Kyra knew John wasn't being deliberately vague…it was just general security and when he had something more concrete, he would share it…but she was also aware that a few of the Free Cleric were unhappy with her position in the Council…or rather her relationship with Preston. So much for tolerance and equality.

However, the information from Trace was burning a hole through her mind so she briefly outlined her findings. Following Preston's suggestion that they use the City map in the main Briefing Room, they made their way quickly to the second floor.

Apart from the jagged crack which ran almost the full diagonal of the 4m x 3m backlit map of Libria, its controls were virtually intact. The map had been discovered lying unceremoniously on its back, a result of its being wrenched from its housing and flung onto the floor, a spasmodic flickering the only sign it was still functional.

A few of the touchpads were beyond salvation, mostly due to the impact of enthusiastic Resistance boots, but the various zoom features required could be accessed via other controls…it just took a little longer. It could be also be little temperamental and needed gently coaxing on occasion.

'Let's see…' Kyra's slender fingers danced over the pads. 'Ratman was found here…'

She deftly superimposed an outlined yellow square over an area slightly north of Industrial Sector 3 and zoomed the image.

'The green dots are the locations of waste collection skips. He was thrown into this one…'

'Despite what was done to Castle,' remarked Preston, 'I'm inclined to agree with the view that he was never intended to be found. If we assume that the one who dumped your Ratman is the same person who disposed so carelessly of Castle, I would guess that he was killed not too far from where he ended up?'

'Agreed,' Kyra nodded. 'I'll start by pulling up all the storage depots within a two block radius. The factories were mainly blown to Hell, so it's more likely he was trawling the depots in search of something to use or trade.'

More yellow squares appeared. As Kyra accessed the data on each depot, the information scrolled lazily over the screen.

'Hmmm…we may have caught a lucky break. Look…' She zoomed in on a medium-sized depot just on the fringes of her search criteria. 'All the surrounding depots were cleared some time ago, but this one is still showing a power drain…'

'Interesting,' said Preston, a slight smile forming.

'Definitely worth investigating,' grinned Kyra.

The prospect of leaving the endless paper mountain behind for a few hours was most appealing.

 


 

At about the same time Preston and Kyra were plotting points and extrapolating data on the huge interactive City map, another altogether more sinister plan was being finalised in a warm, brightly lit basement room a few Sectors north of FLS headquarters. The tendrils of deception and obfuscation snaked ever outwards towards an unsuspecting City.

Several of those tendrils had already wound tightly around the greedy fantasies of men who saw only profit and power in exploiting Libria's innocent rebirth. Years of persecution had hardened their Prozium-free hearts. There was no longer a place there for morality.

And so they smoked cigarettes and celebrated their good fortune at cutting a deal which would give them everything they'd ever dreamed of.

Or so they believed.



Chapter 6










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