Just Enough Power - 11
The most surprising thing about Sung Bo Kim's Tuesday and Thursday planning sessions, thought Lonnigan, was how different they were from senior staff meetings she was used to back in the Mouse's organization. Kim started them at 9:00 a.m. exactly, had a set agenda, allowed some side discussion but kept everyone on task and he let everyone go at 10:00. Meng-Shiu's meetings always started sometime in the middle of the afternoon, and they either ended abruptly when he realized he was late for some evening engagement, or they devolved into drunken dinner parties. At best, they were wide-ranging discussions of whatever Meng-Shiu had on his mind, but usually turned into sprawling conversation pits as the hours wore on. Unimportant matters were debated endlessly, while important decisions were inevitably "tabled" so Meng-Shiu could make the decision later in private, without any input at all.
She'd come to loathe them as a waste of time. After the third time in a row she arranged a convenient schedule conflict to make it impossible for her to attend, she was never asked to be present for another. In the old days, under Meng-Shiu's uncle, meetings were small and short. There were a few top people, with a rotating presence of junior ops, allowed to sit in the room and see how the strings of power were pulled. Lonnigan had been to several of them, speaking only when spoken to.
Meng-Shiu liked things big and loud. He talked about how good it was for morale for everyone to have "informal time" together, how it "fostered community". Bullshit, she thought. Letting your senior staff show off for their subordinates by trying to out-shout each other? Letting those junior people see all the bosses get drunk enough to sing karaoke? That's not community, just mutual contempt. Meng-Shiu's organization became a reflection of his own sloppy, self-indulgence.
As she closed the conference room door behind her, Lonnigan realized that she'd been thinking of her old home in the third person - no longer we and us, but as them and they. She worked for Kim now. How long until she began to unconsciously refer to Kim's organization as her own? Kim and his top advisers didn't trust her, but Lonnigan respected them for their reticence. She wouldn't trust a co-opted assassin either. Not right away.
Her part in the planning meeting was done and she'd been politely dismissed. This was the first time she'd been allowed to go back upstairs unescorted. She knew it was a test, and that they were waiting for a call from Wig or whoever was waiting for her, confirming that she'd come straight back to her room. If she ever wanted to get any freedom of movement, she'd have to earn it with Girl Scout-like adherence to instructions. That wasn't something that came naturally, but she did it anyway.
She walked down the hallway toward the back stairs. Before she'd gone halfway, Adams stepped out from a doorway to block her way.
"So," he said, "have a good meeting with the boss, Lonnigan? Feeling nice and important?"
Lonnigan crossed her arms and said, "What do you want, Adams?"
"Ooh, getting snotty already, isn't she? She must be spending too much time with the big-wigs, thinking she's gonna move up in the world, huh?" He leaned forward as he spoke, punctuating his words with a melodramatic sneer that bared his pale yellow teeth. A vein throbbed under the translucent skin of his forehead. He'd be so easy to snap, she thought. I could probably do him one-handed.
"Step aside, Adams."
"Why? What's your hurry? You got somewhere to be? Somebody waitin' for you?" His eyes scanned down and up, lingering on her breasts before returning to her face. "Ah, so that's how your managing to fit in so well. You're just a... friendly person, is that it? Or are you just good at... fitting things in?" His leering grin was ugly, yet with such a pathetic undercurrent that Lonnigan's fury was checked with disgust.
"Last warning, Adams. Step aside."
"You and me, we should be together, Lonnigan. We're the only Talents in the place, even if you only barely qualify. You know they're just gonna throw you away when they're done with you, right? That's how it works, how the world treats Talents. We're just tools to them."
Whatever toxic mixture of emotions were behind the twisted expression on his face, her sharp laugh wiped them all away. He turned bright red, then paled and began to quiver. "Speak for yourself, you pathetic loser," she said. "I fully intend to be... to be..." Her words trailed off to silence as her own face lost color and went blank.
His voice took on a resonant tone that shook with rage. "I said, we should be together."
It suddenly occurred to Lonnigan that Adams was the most handsome man she had ever seen. She thought he was handsome and sexy. She thought he was wonderful. As he came closer to her, it suddenly occurred to her that she wanted him, very badly. She thought that having him touch her would make her very, very happy. A stabbing in her neck from the psi control collar told her something was wrong, but she couldn't figure out what it was. Her mind was filled only with thoughts of Adams, and how handsome and sexy he was.
Adams came in close enough that Lonnigan could smell the old sweat on his body, smell the sour milk and rancid olive oil on his breath. She thought he smelled wonderful. She thought he looked wonderful. With both hands, Adams pulled her face down to his and pressed his tongue into her mouth. She thought he was a wonderful kisser. She thought that his kisses made her very, very happy. His right hand moved under her blouse to shove her bra aside and cup her right breast. Her collar stabbed, again and again as some conflicting thought tried to make itself known. She flinched as the edge of the fabric tore at her skin, but then she thought it felt wonderful. She thought it felt wonderful to have his hands on her breast and his tongue in her mouth.
It suddenly occurred to her that she wanted him to touch her everywhere. She felt his hand leave her breast and grope at the waistband of her slacks. She thought it was wonderful to have him touch her. The pain from the collar was making it hard to think, hard to hold anything in her mind.
Stepping forward like an avalanche, Woczinski gripped the back of Adams' neck with one huge hand and yanked him backwards with so much force that the bony, stick-like Talent flew ten feet down the corridor before crashing into a side table. With his other hand, Woczinski grabbed onto Lonnigan's arm.
She was limp for a moment, disoriented and confused. Then her eyes cleared and her face became as Death. Woczinksi held her firmly, preventing her from moving even half a pace closer to Adams. Lonnigan delivered hard jabs to three different nerve clusters, trying to loosen his grip. Each time, a plasma shock erupted from the nanotech accumulators under his skin, pushing her blows aside and burning her fingertips in the process.
"Let me go!" she screamed. "I'll kill the little fucker, I'll rip his goddamn balls off and choke him to death with them! Let me go!"
"You're not gonna kill him, Lonnigan," Woczinski said, fending off her attacks with inhuman speed and power. "In fact, you're not gonna do anything to him."
"Let me go!"
"Woczinski, don't hurt her but don't let her go." Sung Bo Kim walked past them and moved toward the stunned Adams. Kim motioned to two of the men he'd brought with him, telling them to carry the Talent down the hall, away from Lonnigan. In the silence, Kim watched them go, then turned to face Lonnigan. He stepped within kicking distance, then within arm's reach of her
"Ms. Lonnigan," he said, "you have my apologies. Adams is a disruptive man. I should have made better arrangements to keep him isolated, especially as he is in an unstable phase right now. If he were not an important part of my plans, I would get rid of him today." Kim bowed from the waist. "I apologize to you, Patricia Lonnigan. You will not see Adams again unless it is absolutely necessary."
Her blouse still undone and her arm still clamped by Woczinski, Lonnigan stood in silence for a moment. Then she returned Kim's bow and said, "I accept your apology."
Kim studied her face for a moment. "Ms. Lonnigan, I need Adams for a while longer. Do I have your promise that you won't seek to harm him?"
She thought of all the replies she could make, all the ways in which she could tell Kim that merely harming Adams would be little more than a beginning for what she wanted to do to him. After minutes of silence, she said, "Fine. I won't harm him. But when the time comes, I want to be the one to do him."
Kim laced his fingers together and said, "I'm afraid I've already promised that favor to someone else, in recompense for past offenses." His eyes flicked over to Woczinski, whose expression did not change. "However, if Mr. Woczinski has no objection, I'm willing to let you offer suggestions as to methods."
The huge man shrugged. "Fine with me, Mr. Kim. The slower the better."
"Thank you, Mr. Woczninski. Now then, would you like an escort to your room, Ms. Lonnigan?"
"No." She strode down the hall toward the stairs, but turned back before ascending. "Thank you, gentlemen," she said. "That would have been... unpleasant."
Kim inclined his head slightly, but did not speak. Woczinski shrugged in a gesture that could have meant almost anything.
Lonnigan turned away and went up to her room.
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Posted Tuesday, June 22, 2010