"You did great, Henrietta."
And that was all she needed to hear.
Life Goes On
Gunslinger Girl and Noir are not mine.
Lieselle, Altheus, Childville, Kathryn, and Meir are owned by Nachtsider. Certain story elements were also derived from his various works. They are featured and used with his permission.
The revised story takes place after Volume 6 of the Gunslinger Girl manga and years after the ending of Noir.
To Nachtsider. Thanks for everything. And when I say 'everything', I mean everything.
One fine, sunny Sunday morning in Palermo, a prominent government prosecutor, his wife and his police bodyguard had just finished morning mass when half a dozen masked men gunned them down at the entrance of the church.
It did not prove difficult or time-consuming to compile a list of suspects. The victim had been known for his stellar work against the Sicilian Mafia.
The hit was finally tracked to a rising young don who fancied himself the renaissance of the olden days of untouchable Two would remedy that fatal illusion.
Their orders were simple. Set an example. Kill the offending don, his family and his mission would be officially covered as an internecine war within the Mafia, the don being unpopular with his peers. Unofficially, it would serve the purpose of a warning to the criminal organization. Italy would no longer tolerate such acts in silence. It would fight back– and it now had a weapon worthy of the mission at hand.
As usual, Jean was in overall command. His battle plan followed the classic "hammer and anvil" strategy with the twist of factoring in the third dimension.
Their mark resided in a three-story ancestral manor not far into the picturesque Sicilian countryside. The remote location made it easy for the support groups to cordon the surroundings. The Fratello would have the mansion itself as their exclusive sandbox.
Opposition was estimated to be upwards of forty armed men. Mostly old family hands, they were inferior in combat skills and equipment compared to professional soldiers. The mechanical body operatives definitely outclassed them.
Noncombatants include a small army of maids and household helpers, the don's wife and three children, and the family dog. Not much to worry about those. A few exceptions received the dubious honor of playing unknowing witnesses. The rest were to be terminated without prejudice.
The operation involved five Fratello teams. Rico would eliminate the perimeter guards. Once the way was clear, her sisters-in-arms would assault the mansion from three directions. Henrietta and Giuseppe would storm the mansion's main entrance. Liesel and Altheus would handle the left wing, while the right wing went to Triela and Hilshire. After stamping out any and all opposition on the ground level, the teams would link up and proceed up the second floor to repeat and rinse.
In charge of the 'third dimension' was Claes. Preceding her teammates and working independently of any supervisor, the bespectacled junior operative was charged to slip past the perimeter guards before the assault proper. Her task was to infiltrate the uppermost floor of the manor and clear out any ambushes. She was expected to be the operative with the first and best shot at the don, whose quarters were presumed to be on the third floor. It was a tall order for any special forces operative, even a mechanical body one. But Claes calmly assured everyone that she was up to the challenge.
All in all the operation would employ five Fratello teams, more than half the total number of operational mechanical bodies in the whole of Italy, what with the loss of the Elsa-Lauro team just a year ago. There were watchful eyes on Section Two, and the organization intended to impress its guests.
Present were a trio of observers. One was a stunning blonde Corsican who exuded both professionalism and candor. Jean himself had selected Mireille Bouquet as an impartial outside analyst based on her impressive credentials as a freelance investigator. She made quite the splash during the short time since her arrival, what with her introduction of innovative combat tactics, reorganization of previous weapons doctrine, and reducing paperwork. If she eventually proved worthy of trust, and when Section Two caught a break in the eternal battle for proper funding (including the availability of an appropriate child,) Mireille might one day join the ranks of Fratello handlers.
The other two were from Childville. The Israelis had secretly arrived a week ago to cross-train in urban warfare doctrine and mechanical body operations with their Italian counterparts.
Today's representatives were easygoing Kathryn and her partner-ward Meir. Both of them bore arms. Kathryn carried a Barak SP-21 and Meir brought with him a cruel-looking Stoner SR25K-SD that was totally at odds with his handsome features and pleasant personality.
They would not participate in the operation, though. This was Section Two's time to shine. The Childville team did not want to steal their allies' thunder.
It was through no fault of Meir, though, that his presence exerted slightly detrimental pressure upon one of the Section Two mechanical bodies.
Rico snuck glances off Meir whenever she thought he wasn't looking. When he caught her at it, they shared a blush, though the boy didn't quite know why.
Jean was understandably annoyed. He was also confused. He quietly warned Rico to focus on the mission or be sidelined in favor of Meir. That did the trick. His mechanical body resumed her usual 'mission face.' She did, however,.
I've got to impress Meir…
Henrietta shared her friend's pre-combat jitters. Her conditioning-altered mind stumbled through mental mathematics. She had fallen behind her monthly quota of kills. This mission offered her a chance to redeem herself. Better yet, with a little effort she could actually surpass her current high-water mark. Surely Giuseppe would be very proud of her!
Giuseppe. Her handler seemed even more distant than Rico. Oh, he still showered her with his usual soft-spoken reminders to be careful. But along with those little heartwarming reminders came a low, cold order that was so unlike him.
"Henrietta. I want you to kill all of them."
That order would elicit different reactions based on who was giving it and who was receiving it. Rico would not need to be told twice by Jean, or at all. It was probably the same with Claes, though Raballo was now nothing more than a nameless memory. Literal-minded Angelica would happily take to such a command– and would probably get into trouble out of her sheer desperation to prove herself in Marco's eyes. In contrast, Triela would have hotly debated the issue, though not for the sake of morality as for the Schadenfreude pleasure of provoking a reaction from the dour Hilshire.
As for Henrietta, she happily bobbed her head in the affirmative. Armed with Giuseppe's convictions in addition to her own, she was more determined than ever.
Security at the mansion proved light and lax. The don was not expecting any trouble despite having kicked up a hornet's nest.
Claes was first in. She took full advantage of the brief change of sentries and made it to her last checkpoint in record time. Though laden with climbing gear and her MP-5K, she made a thought sound noisy. Her only encounter was with a very startled maid whom she... 'persuaded' to stay silent. Once in position, she used a flashing mirror to quietly signal the other mechanical bodies to "rock the house", as Kathryn put it aptly, before proceeding on her own.
Impressing even Jean, though he would be the last to admit it, Rico methodically and swiftly sanitized the perimeter of sentries. Not a single man sighted in her scope lived long enough to sound the alarm.
Henrietta, Liesel, and Triela advanced upon their assigned areas, automatic weapons primed and ready. Their handlers followed closely to support their wards if need be. But the need never arose.
In fact, Giuseppe only slowed Henrietta down. The diminutive girl was a Fury freed from legend, Tisiphone given human form and modern automatic weaponry, an avenging angel of justice. She ranged far ahead of her handler and the other teams, tearing through wooden doors and human flesh like a compact wrecking ball.
She was not berserk, did not fight carelessly or recklessly. The world-shaking thunder of a flash bang grenade always preceded her entry. Then what should have been a one-sided battle became a massacre in her favor.
At one point, a pair of guards managed to outflank her as she engaged another opponent. Instead of blocking their bullets with an arm as she and her sisters-in-arms were wont to do, Henrietta grabbed a nearby corpse and hauled it onto her back. Her attackers faltered a moment at the sight of the gory meat shield that had been their coworker– enough time for Henrietta to gun down her initial target, P90 wielded one-handed, before turning on the new opponents. Mere seconds later, she was on the move again.
The initial onslaught of Section Two operatives culled a grim tally of the don's bodyguards before the latter even knew they were under attack. But the remaining mafiosi rallied valiantly, and their brief resistance bought their master the time he needed to flee.
The don wasn't totally unprepared. He, his family, and his three most trusted men, rushed to the secret subterranean tunnel built at great expense. And they almost made it, too.
Henrietta made it to them first.
She expended her last few rounds on the first two guards. Without missing a beat she hurled her expended P90 at the head of the third. His skull cracked open with a sickening sound. Before his body had hit the ground, her Sig was out and aimed at the don's perspiring forehead.
The man began pleading for his life and for his family. His wife and children were frightened, crying, afraid of the girl who was Death materialized.
But all Henrietta could hear was Giuseppe's order.
"Henrietta. I want you to kill all of them."
Brown eyes hardened.
When Claes arrived, she found eight bodies and one mechanical body.
She smiled at her friend. "Mission accomplished, Claes."
"No one escaped?"
"No. Not a one."
"All right, then," Claes told her. "Let's get back to the others."
Jean disapproved of Henrietta's "antics" but limited himself to a slight reprimand. In addition to the primary targets, the don and his family, Henrietta also killed fourteen guards. Rico was the closest with ten kills, all perimeter sentries and 'easy' kills. It was Henrietta's best performance yet, setting a record in both personal and organizational accounts that would stand for quite a while.
Triela teased Henrietta for hogging all the glory. Rico, Meir, Kathryn, and Claes chimed in with their own congratulatory commentary. And while Liesel brought up of the unprofessionally irresponsible way Henrietta handled things, she also seemed mildly impressed with the results.
Aside, Mireille finished her silent notary and sighed to herself in acknowledgement of some obscure truth.
But all the praise Henrietta received from her peers did not compare to Giuseppe's approval. Only his opinion mattered. He made her world run. He was everything to her. She was nothing without him.
At first he didn't say or show anything save sparing her a slight smile that was worth its weight in gold. Only when he and Henrietta were alone in his red Ferrari did he speak his mind.
"You were reckless out there. Jean was right."
He said it without any emotion. She took it like it was a stab to the heart, but gamely went on.
"I'm sorry, Giuseppe. I just wanted to do my best and do what you wanted me to."
He kept silent for a long while. Biting her lips lightly and clutching the hem of her skirt, she waited almost in vain for the sun of his appreciation to rise and shine upon her.
Giuseppe smiled. He reached out and ruffled her hair with one hand. His eyes were actually twinkling.
"You did great, Henrietta."
And that was all she needed to hear.
To Be Continued
People try to protect the ones they love. But you cannot protect them from everything. Next on Life Goes On: Morte.