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House Calls
Dressed, for once, rather plainly, Hood sat on a bench watching the entrance to the city metro. People came and went in a constant stream, old women and young couples off to the markets for the inexpensive produce that could be found there even in the heart of the Russian winter, some hurrying to reach the warm buildings the market fled to during the winter months. Others were more pragmatic about it and trudged along, embracing the cold morning air, accepting as something that they could do little about asides embrace.

A weather-worn shemagh was wrapped loosely around Hood's throat, serving it's practical role as a scarf, albeit one better suited to ward off the sun and sand, not the cold. A thick, heavy down jacket with fur-lined hood. As was common for old Moscovite culture, the jacket had a decidedly military cut to it, but Hood wore it more for functionality then for appearance. It had pockets, and was warm. Water proof, and treated against stains. Practical, functional.

Of course, it did look a bit more intimidating then those ridiculous brightly coloured plastic garbage-bag looking things the young folks were wearing these days. That was a fashion he had wished died years ago, but the blasted things seemed hell-bent to hang on. He shook his head in silent exasperation as a group of young men wandered past in jackets of bright yellows and shiny blacks or opulent blues. Ridiculous things. Looked like crap.

On the bench next to him was a nondescript backpack which appeared to be empty, or at most holding something slender or small. He didn't need to glance at his watch to tell the time; it was clearly displayed on the HUD of his Landwarriors, as was a photo of the man he was waiting for. He would routinely turn his head to sweep his gaze across the area around him, waiting for the facial recognition software to spot the man in question, and was satisfied when it finally flashed a man's silhouette and confirmed his ID to the picture.

An office manager for Krasnyy Medved Security Solutions (KMSS), Mr Volodya Fyodorov. The company had recently finished being investigated for four former employees who had been killed in their attempt to kidnap a very rich man by the name of Mr Talanov, and had instead stumbled on the man's former personal bodyguard, Mr John White, of Pervaya liniya Security.

Of course, that was all the cover story for what had been a contracted assassination attempt. Not that either company, or either involved contracting parties, were willing to admit to something like that. So it was all swept under the carpet as bad men doing bad things of their own accord, leaving their parent company, KVSS, free of any bad press.

The man seemed annoyed, more so then an early Monday morning away from the office would usually call for. The man's annoyance was of little surprise, or of any real care, to Hood of course. Who wouldn't be annoyed to enter their supposedly secure work office to find a post-it-note stuck to his computer screen with a copy of his own security code to disarm the building's security systems, and a note of where to meet whomever had placed the note?

Hood raised a hand and caught the man's attention, waving him over to take a seat on the bench. Mr Fyodorov hadn't always been flying a desk; the man was ex-military, although from what Hood could gather, it hadn't been anything particularly interesting. Mundane Air Force BS. Lent well to a resume for private security work though.

Mr Fyodorov approached Hood and stopped without sitting, staring down at Hood for a long moment before glancing around to see if they were being watched. Hood gestured for the man to remove his sunglasses, and with the aid of his Landwarriors was fairly certain the man didn't have any implants for eyes.

"Sit down, neighbour. You're drawing attention."
He jerked his head to the side of the bench such that the backpack would be between them both, and when the Russian man finally sat, Hood dug out a manila file folder and held it without quite offering it to the man.

"All I want to know is who commissioned the team. If you don't know, you will find out and pass it my way. If not...well, you know how these things go, Mr Air Force."
Hood's tone was neutral, almost bored, and certainly confident. This was exactly the sort of thing he did in a past life, after all.

Mr Fyodorov snatched the folder from Hood's hand and opened it to reveal a dozen printed photos, all of the interior of Mr Fyodorov's home. His two guard dogs asleep in the yard. The main panel of their security system turned off. His living room, with children's toys still on the central throw rug. His kitchen, the fridge door open and a hand holding up a glass jug of milk. He and his wife asleep in bed. His twin boys asleep in their room. The usual sort of stuff. With the folder was the details of what Hood mentioned; the four men's names, information on them. Even their bank statements, from before things had been fudged to make the men look like they had been acting on their own.

"Do we have an understanding?"

Mr Fyodorov was no longer looking irritated. He had visibly paled, and glanced at Hood with barely contained horror. "I have no interest in you or your family asides what information you can get me on this matter. Really, it's in your company's best interests. Your people never should have been stupid enough to take the contract to begin with. Shadow wars aren't meant to be fought where the police are involved. That's what makes them shadow wars, after all. Time someone reminded whoever payed you all that lovely money to remember that."

Mr Fyodorov closed the envelope, but Hood took it and returned it to his pack, casually checking the signal scrambler that sat in there as well. It had a very limited range, but any electronics he or Mr Fyodorov would have been carrying weren't likely to be sending anything. "We do."

"Excellent. You can get it to me..."


Hood walked out of a nearby alley were a burn-barrel and a group of homeless men had set up for the time being, waiting for the lunch hour rush to go back to pan handling. The added fuel for their little fire was received without question.

The file folder. Synthetic skin pads off his finger tips. More synthetic skin pads off his face that had subtly altered his cheek bones and brow, all just enough to thwart facial recognition software from a distance. Better to be safe then sorry, after all.

With that little errand checked off his list for the day, he strolled into the market area. Two birds with one stone; he needed some groceries. Rune had near eaten him out of house and home after she had graduated from the smoothies.
Life had thrown her a box of lemons. Aurora remembered her mom saying to make lemonade from it, or maybe it was her grandmother? Everything was just a blur to her, everything before the crash. Moscow was clear, the doctor's said her memories should start coming back, but they had to as of yet. Her luggage had not yielded any information to why she was in Moscow. Her phone had not rang except for the hospital. She had not been missed. No one had known she was coming here? Why was no one looking for her?

It was all very saddening. Didn't she have a family somewhere? Didn't they care? Or had they all died? Was she really alone? But either which way, she was traveling to Moscow for a reason. Aurora intended to find out why.

And that meant surviving. Every week money was deposited into her bank account like clockwork. It wasn't much but it paid for lodging and food. Food for which she was out of and tired of eating out every night. She thought she knew how to cook? Hopefully. But anything was better than eating out every night. A good home cooked meal sounded wonderful. Fresh ingredients, the smell of herbs and spice cooking in the sauces. For some reason it made her miss her mother. But how do you miss someone you don't even remember, but that feeling still remained.

The cold brisk air of the Moscovian day invigorated Aurora, she was glad to be out and about. She strolled through the market completely lost to what she wanted to make. The market of Moscow served to her people and Aurora had no clue how to make heads or tail of what some of the things were. She wanted a home cooked meal. Chicken fried steak sounded heavenly. But could she pull it off.

Aurora bought oil, and flour and bought fresh herbs, and toss salad fixing. But how does one describe to Russian butcher the idea of a cubed steak? Her accent was clearly American, but even she didn't know where she'd been born, but it was not distinct to a region, completely generic. "A pound of cubed steaks?"

The butcher replied "Cut into cubes?"

Aurora shook her head. "No it's a way of tenderizing the meat. It has a bunch of little holes in it."
Why on the good earth could she remember that and not what she was doing in Moscow?
Hood made his way into one of the long-buildings that housed the markets in the winter, casually tugging his shemagh off his chin as he walked into the warm building. He moved through the crowd around the door easily enough; folks had a tendency to just get out of his way. Once past the brunt of the crowd, he stepped aside and went over the mental notes of what he needed to pick up. He was at the markets anyway, so there was no point not making good on his time and getting a few things for the fridge.

The list was short. Vegetables were easy enough to get, even in the dead of winter. Modern technology and conveniences were truly a marvel to behold. Some fruit was next, added to the same bag he had gotten from the vegetable vendor. Then it was his butcher of choice when he was in the markets.

Hood stepped past a pair of diminutive, bent-over old Russian ladies...why did they all seem to end up like that? At what point did they go from stately, gorgeous beauties to tiny hobbling potato-creatures? It made no bloody sense. Damn genetics. Stepping past the pair, he eyed the woman crowding the table-front of the butcher's shop. American accent; entirely generic.

He stepped up beside the frilly-dressed girl, glancing from the butcher to her and back, "Stroganov meat. Probably the closest you'll get, kid. Plenty of recipes back home use minute steaks for beef stroganov for a reason. Not quite the same, but beggers can't be choosers."
"Stroganov meat. Probably the closest you'll get, kid. Plenty of recipes back home use minute steaks for beef stroganov for a reason. Not quite the same, but beggers can't be choosers."

Aurora smiled, the man was clearly American. While he didn't have an distinguishing accent like herself, it was still American. With a friendly laugh, "You heard the man. 1 pound...
" Aurora pulled out her wallet did a quick conversion of pounds to kilos. "I mean half a kilogram of stroganov meat."
That was more than a pound but not by much.

The butcher nodded and went about his work with a smile that said he'd taught the stupid American something. Aurora turned to her new hero. "Thank you. I appreciate your help."
Aurora tilted her head and grinned. "You get many home cooked meals? I know I'll make more than I can eat all by self. I can't tell you if I'm a good cook or not."
Aurora laughed. "There's a lot I don't know about myself right now. But I think I can cook. It feels right."
Aurora was rambling, she knew it. It happened a lot.

Edited by Aurora, Sep 11 2014, 02:22 PM.
He had seemingly lost all interest in the woman after his helpful comment; the butcher was working to meet her order, and once she was done he could get what he was after and be away. When she spoke to him again, apparently going so far as to invite him for a meal, he frowned slightly and turned to glance at her. He studied her briefly, then the crowd around them, scanning for the tell-tale signs of wingmen, or plain-clothes agents lurking in the background.

A neutral-accented American woman, that just happened to be at a location he had been frequenting of late. It was pure luck they had actually caught him at this one; it was going to be one of his last stops to the area, at least for a few months. He did not do like having patterns in his life. Made it too easy for someone to target him.

Maybe that CIA agent he had spotted all those months back, when he met with Mr Talanov at that shit club, Manifesto, and had run into Spectra, had actually spotted him, and recognized him. That would certainly be problematic. Of course, they were clearly underestimating him if they thought a piece of eye-candy pullin' a mysterious background portfolio was going to hook him.

On the other hand...walking into a trap you knew was coming was always fun. And if it worked out well enough, he could dissuade them from trying any of this shit again in the future.

He smirked slightly and lifted his own bag of fresh-bought food, and shrugged. "Every night, near enough. Wouldn't say no to some company though."
He waved off the butcher as the man set her order on the counter; there was no point in him getting any meat if he were just going to be spending the night killing a few spies.
"Every night, near enough. Wouldn't say no to some company though."

Aurora smiled. Of course he had, he was at the market. It wasn't exactly what she'd meant. "I suppose I phrased that incorrectly. Had anyone cook for you in a while? Anything from home?"

Aurora wasn't exactly sure where home was. Right now it didn't matter. She'd come to Moscow for a reason, and she intended to find out before heading home. The pile of books at home were a complete mystery. The drawing even more mysterious. And they left her with nothing more than.

Aurora held her hand out. "I'm Aurora. Is there anything you truly miss from home?"
She didn't know if she missed anything, nothing called out to her. But country fried steak and a salad seemed right at home for her. But she didn't know why.

Edited by Aurora, Sep 13 2014, 12:47 PM.
Hood glanced at her hand when she first offered it; no rings, so no micro-injector. He'd make a point of washing his hand in short order in case there was some sort of poison or traceable isotope. His grip was calloused and warm, but not uncomfortably tight. Her line of questions was strange, to say the least. Probably some bloody ridiculous CIA code phrase that he didn't recognize. He always hated working with their 'regular' field agents...their department was a mire of bloody ridiculous code words and fake identities and double-agents.

Well, whatever the code was, he didn't know the response. Hell, how backlogged was their paperwork if they thought he might actually know the response? Probably all the damn budget cuts. They always cut from the working ranks, not the bloated idiots floating at the top.

"Russian stuff is fine, but nothing beats some old fashioned bacon-infused pancakes. American food ain't the healthiest stuff around, and it's sure to kill you if you eat it too long, but much bigger on the flavour. But I suppose it's the deep fried icecream I miss most. A heart-attack waiting to happen, but hey, a nice treat sometimes."
Aurora grinned. "Bacon makes everything better."
She picked up a half kilo of it too, or rather cured pig's belly. Same basic idea, she knew what to order there. It would work well for added flavor, and bacon on the salad and just alone would be fine.

She turned to her company for the night "You got a name? Or do I call you My hero?"
Aurora laughed. She headed out of the shop, it wasn't far to her rental. It wasn't much. It was small even for a studio apartment back home. But it served her purposes. The bed was covered in her things. She'd been rifling through things. The books were opened, every single one of them had weird pictures showing through. The picture of the oroborous, sat on the table next to her laptop. She'd been searching for any meaning in the drawing when hunger hit her.

The kitchen had two burners and a sink, a small icebox. The table was rickety, but and the chairs were worse, but it was what she could afford. She had no idea what she even did.

"Sorry for the mess, I wasn't expecting company."

Aurora started prepping in the little kitchen. "Make yourself at home."

Hood fell in as she led the way out of the covered markets and back into the chill Moscow air. "John will do better I think."
He sure as hell wasn't the hero type. Hell, he'd only helped her at the butcher's shop to get her out of the way sooner. And had only agreed to have dinner with her because he was confident it would give him a chance to kill someone. Or at least set the record straight on his current life choices.

Her place of residence didn't exactly dissuade the belief at first. A dive little apartment near the markets. Not the richest of neighborhoods. A place where it could be safely bet that unusual activities would go 'unnoticed' by the neighbors. The walk there was short, but he kept an eye out for agents that may have been following them. When none were seen, he could only assume they would be waiting in the apartment.

Again he was wrong. The apartment was too small for there to be anyone lurking in there. Unless they were standing in the washroom he supposed. He stepped in as she led the way, and gave the room a quick once-over. No signs of hidden cameras, but that sort of tech was near impossible to spot these days.

Then he saw the books, and the drawings. He set his bags next to the door, then crossed to the table and looked at the images, even going so far as to pick one up for a closer look. Yep...that was that damn idiot snake-thing all those Atharim idiots insisted on stamping themselves with. What kind of secret society had gang tats? long was it going to take before the cops caught on, once they really started going after those God-things of theirs?

"Just moved in I take it?"
He set the drawings down and was about to take a seat on one of the chairs when he found it to be dangerously wobbly. He frowned at it, then neatly stacked the stuff on the table before putting the chair up to get a better look at it. A simple diagnoses; it was old, and the screws had come loose.

He eyed her as she worked around the kitchen, and drew a multitool off his belt, easily flicking out a screwdriver bit. A few moments later the chair was set back down. It was still a bit lopsided; one leg was shorter then the others, but it wasn't likely to collapse under whomever sat on it next. "Got a thing for snakes? Snake eating itself. Means rebirth or some philosophical bullshit like that, right?"
His tone was off-handed, disinterested, as if he were just making conversation.

Atharim tended to be a bit sensitive about folks bad-mouthing their ancient holy symbol. And they weren't usually good liars; misdirection and disguise wasn't their style usually. If she were one, it would probably be enough to get a rise out of her, and then'd he would have to wonder why the Atharim had lured him like this. A test of some sort? Or had he out-lived his usefulness?
John was a good strong home town name. Pretty generic too. It made Aurora wonder. But she wasn't really sure why it was a curiosity to her, anymore than the books and drawings on the table.

"Just moved in I take it?"

Aurora laughed. "Yes and no. I don't expect I'll be here too long, or at least I hope not. Once I figure out why I'm in Moscow and where Home actually is, I'll be on my way I'm sure."

John was becoming more and more heroic each minute. It was all humor, he was being handyman now. Fixing her chairs and the light. Aurora laughed. "Careful they don't kill you here. Nothing seems to be well built, but it's a roof over my head. It'll do for now."

And then he asked about the snake drawing on the table. Aurora stopped what she was doing and turned to look at him. "I have no idea hat it means, or why I have it. Or the books on the bed. Or why there are creatures of horrible nature in those books. Clearly I did before the plane crash. In one of those books, there is a creature a Quetz.. something or other. In the margins, I wrote a note. 'Torching a swarm works best' and then it goes into specifics on what kind of fire and elements should be used."
Aurora went over to the pile of books rifled through the papers and pulled out the paper she'd written the exact same phrases down on. "I clearly wrote it."

Aurora dropped the book and paper on the table and went back to working on dinner. Frying steaks was not something she intended to leave alone.

"If you know anything. Anything about this stuff I'd love to hear about it. Maybe it'll jog my memory. So I can get home, and find what I'm missing."
She had the distinct feeling since she woke up that she was missing something and something very important to her. She had to find it. It drove her every waking hour.

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