The wind tugged at her hair, teasing the short wisps at her neck. The whole world was shrouded in gauze, everything coming at her from a great distance.
She stood on the edge of the balcony, staring at the distant ground forty-six stories below her feet. Vehicles were nothing more than moving spots and people were barely more noticeable. The sounds of traffic were faint music to her straining ears.
Her hands clutched solid metal and smooth wood. The feel of them under her fingers was comforting, providing an anchor to reality. Metal and wood formed the whole of her existence and she wouldn’t – couldn’t – have it any other way.
Open sky gaped before her. It felt as if all the buildings in the city had stepped aside to open a pathway to infinity. Barely there wisps of white tried and failed to fill the sharp blue void. Eternity burned before her.
Her eyes tracked the flight of a solitary bird across the sky, the beating of its wings a counterpoint to her own heartbeat. The rushing of blood in her ears was deafening, making her sway slightly as errant breezes tugged at the jacket of her tactical suit. The harness built into the suit clutched painfully at her skin. It was too tight at the waist while the shoulder and leg straps felt like they were barely there. Once more the wind tugged at her, setting the dangling straps twisting and fluttering. It seemed as if the breezes were calling her to fly with them and nothing connected her to earth.
Tipping her head, she looked around at the other balconies around hers. The mundane details of others lives filled her thoughts. A small grill sitting on a picnic table. Pots filled with bright flowers. Beach towels and children’s swimsuits drying on a railing. Lawn chairs and tables and privacy screens. Normal items indicating normal lives being observed by someone far from normal.
A voice whispered her name in the back of her mind. She recognized it, loved it, cherished it, but didn’t answer in return. She could feel the texture of the balcony wall through the soles of her boots. The solid weight of the building loomed at her back giving the illusion of safety. The whisper came again, accompanied by the sound of a voice behind her.
Once more she looked down, down, down to the ground far below. A sense of urgency was growing in the air. Time slipped away through her clutching fingers. She turned to look at the balcony behind her, unable to easily grasp what she saw. It scared her. The individual parts meshed to form a whole that kept breaking apart.
A third time the whisper teased her thoughts and with a last look at the past behind her, she turned to the infinite future spread out before her eyes.
She took a deep breath, held it for a moment before letting it gust out.
She reached for the center of calm in a whirlwind of emotions.
Acknowledged the whisper with a caress.
And took the first step.
“Hey, Pazu. Bet you 300 yen that these guys think Borma’s just muscle, I’m the data specialist and either you or Azuma are the sniper.”
“Oh come on. Afraid of a sure thing?”
“Morgan, I learned not to bet against Saito a long time ago. What makes you think I’ll bet against you?”
“Rampant curiosity? Besides, Borma and Azuma are already in.”
“Fine, 300 yen it is, but they think I’m the sniper and Azuma is the data specialist. You’re just here to look pretty.”
Morgan laughed out loud at Pazu’s capitulation, sure that she’d be at least 300 yen richer within the next few minutes. The elevator chimed and the doors opened on the forty-sixth floor, the four Section 9 members following Borma down the hall towards room 4638. The police had taken over the apartment to use as a vantage and the team was going to set up a second sniper point there. Saito had already reached his location and was watching his target. A team of two snipers had been brought into the country by a terrorist organization. Notice had been sent that several members of the Parliament were to be targets on today’s date. Section 9 had located the first sniper easily, almost too easily. He’d been followed, but unfortunately, the best location to counter from was far enough away that Saito had to be the one to do it. That had left Morgan to figure out as quickly as possible where the second sniper would take his shot from.
The two guards outside their destination did nothing to stop them from entering. Once inside the apartment, Pazu led the way to the command center set up in the dining room. He found the agent in charge and quickly introduced the four of them without mentioning any roles. Morgan headed towards the sliding doors, removing the large case that had been slung crosswise over her back and setting it against a wall.
Stepping out onto the balcony, she took a scope from her pocket and began scanning the area trying to figure out where the second sniper could be hiding. A few minutes after she went outside, Azuma stuck his head through the open door to call her back inside. Pazu and Borma were still in the dining room getting an update on the situation when she and Azuma got there.
“Has there been any progress on finding out the identity of the other sniper yet?” She asked.
“Not yet.” The head agent answered. “We’ve had our people looking, of course, and our data specialists are still trying to pin down his identity. Would you like to join them searching the net?” He asked Morgan politely.
“Wouldn’t do any good if I did.” She said in response. “Ask Borma, he’s the data specialist here.” The agent stared in surprise.
“But if you aren’t the data specialist….” He trailed off uncertainly.
“What am I here for?” Pazu almost groaned at the note of positive glee in Morgan’s voice. He was already kissing his money good-bye and making mental notes to add her to his ‘don’t bet against’ list.
“I’m the sniper.”
The look of surprise on the agent’s face was completely worth it. Even better was the look on Pazu’s face, although it meant he wouldn’t be taking any more bets from her in the future. Once more she turned towards the balcony, content to allow Borma to search the net while she considered other possibilities.
The route the targeted official planned to travel lay spread out before her. Their current location faced northeast, the main roads crossing from northwest to southeast below. The first sniper was set up facing northwest down the travelcades route. Saito had already positioned himself to counter that threat, now she just had to do her part.
“Anything?” Saito’s voice came over their private cybercomm channel. They’d set it up back when they first met in person. The other members of Section 9 knew about the channel and only dropped in when necessary or when asked to join.
“Nothing yet. What’s your guy up to?”
“Looks like he’s just hanging around on the roof. Nothing suspicious at all, unless you consider thermo-optic camouflage and a rifle normal.” His voice was calm.
“Damn it, this is bugging me though! This spot should be excellent to spot the second sniper. It’s got a perfect view of the field of fire, so where the hell is he?” She couldn’t keep the frustration from her voice.
“You’ll find him, just relax.”
“I know that, it’s just….” Morgan broke off suddenly as the significance of her previous words finally registered.
“Morgan, what is it?”
“Hold on.” She stuck her head back into the apartment and called Pazu and Azuma over to help her.
“I need you guys to hold me steady. I want to look at the other balconies quick.”
The two men stood side-by-side and she placed a foot on each of their thighs. Perched on the balcony wall, their hands clasping her wrists tightly, she stood up and leaned back over the edge, looking along the side of the building. The vast empty space below didn’t bother her at all; she was too busy concentrating on her search. After a moment, a disturbance on another balcony caught her attention and she strained to see.
“Azuma, hand me my scope. Hold on to my leg instead of my hand, I need to twist a bit to use it.” He carefully handed the tool to her and she felt his hands grasp her leg around the knee and ankle, helping her stay balanced as she brought the scope up to her eye. Without being told, Pazu shifted his grip as well, leaning forward slightly to hold onto the belt at her waist instead, freeing up both her hands. She hung suspended over the railing, dependent on the hands of her teammates to keep from falling.
“Found him. He’s at the far edge of the building on a balcony at this floor. He’s already set up and ready to fire. I can’t.…” Her voice faltered and drifted away. She didn’t even notice Azuma and Pazu pull her back to safety.
“Morgan, can you take the shot from the balcony or not?” Saito’s voice rang over the cybercomm channel. She just stood there dumbly, unable to think clearly. “Pazu, does she need to go over the edge to do it?”
“Yeah. Borma’s getting the cables for the harness. We’ll get her set up and take care of her. Don’t worry. Azuma, grab her rifle and get it ready.”
“Hurry up, the travelcade is coming into range now. We don’t have any more time.”
Morgan felt as if the world had stepped back, leaving her alone in a vacuum. She barely noticed Borma come onto the balcony with a set of straps. Pazu pushed her arms out of the way as he reached around her body snapping cables to the harness specially built into her tactical suit. He pulled and tugged on the straps, making sure they were connected properly while Borma looped them around his back and arms, prepared to anchor her. Once he was satisfied every strap was secure and her harness was tight, Pazu grabbed her around the waist and lifted Morgan until she stood on the edge of the balcony. His hands gripped her calf tightly; she’d find finger shaped bruises there after this was all over.
Azuma shoved her rifle into her hands, the scope attached and ready. He took his position next to Pazu and gripped her other calf. More bruises for later.
“Morgan, can you do this? You have to get ready now.” Saito said across their comm channel. “The cars are almost in range.”
The world stood still as his voice whispered in her mind, soft against the cotton smothering everything around her. Time stood still in the realization of what she needed to do. She couldn’t do it. The straps had broken last time. Someone had cut the straps. She couldn’t do it. She was going to fall again and this time she wouldn’t make it. She couldn’t do it.
“Morgan, you ready? We’ve got you here.” Pazu’s voice surprised her. It was tight with tension and a sort of anger. She looked around vaguely before turning to the men behind her. Borma didn’t say anything, but she could see the determination in his face; he’d hold her, wouldn’t let anything happen, she wouldn’t fall again. Pazu and Azuma looked equally determined. These weren’t the teammates from before. They would take care of her.
A deep breath, a sigh, and then she stepped off the balcony into nothing.
The strongest set of straps was attached at her waist; it wouldn’t do to have her shoulders jerked out of position as she fell. Her left foot simply dipped over the edge of the wall, her toes gripping the side and the heel unsupported. Her other foot came down with a jarring impact further down the side of the wall, Azuma’s hands slipping for a moment before he reestablished his grip around her ankle instead. A glance sideways showed her Borma’s face, calm and unstrained despite her weight hanging over the edge of the balcony. She could see the straps wrapped tight around his arms, digging furrows into his sleeves. She stood on the wall of the building and calmly raised her rifle into position, taking aim within seconds.
At his command, she took out the target further down the building from her, the other sniper never even realizing where the shot had come from. He couldn’t have expected a shot to come from along the building itself. The fading echo of another shot drifted through the air.
The scramble to get back onto the balcony was uncoordinated, ungainly and frankly scared her. But once she was safe and surrounded by her teammates, the truth of what she’d just done sunk in and she couldn’t stop the tears. Standing there, she felt first Pazu’s, then Borma and Azuma’s arms come around her, sheltering her from the view of the other officers clustered at the open door.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“I’m fine, I’m fine. They held me and I didn’t fall. The straps didn’t break. I’ll be fine.”
“Good.” In the one word reply, she could hear the relief in his voice. She finally disengaged herself from the other men, and grabbing their hands, thanked them one more time. She could see in their eyes that they wouldn’t have allowed anything to happen to her. She was safe with her teammates.
None of the Section 9 members explained what had just happened to the others in the apartment. They just gave directions where the second sniper could be found and waited as Morgan packed up her rifle, the straps coiled and placed into a side pocket of her case. Slinging the case across her back again, the four headed down the hall towards the elevators. The Prefecture Police could handle the rest, their job was done.
“Oh, hey Pazu?”
“Don’t forget you owe me 300 yen.”
Note: I have another story about how Morgan first met Saito and how she ends up joining Section 9 rattling around in my head; I just haven’t had a chance to write it down yet. This little vignette oozed onto the keyboard first along with another GitS story that I’m still working on. For the record, I prefer to write about “secondary” or non-main characters and OCs; it works best for me.