Soldier Ragtime, Act 1

There are some that find flying a freeing experience. Not so for Kirk Desmond. Every creak of the helicopter's frame, every tilt or quaver made his hand clench tighter around the rosary in his pocket. If man were meant to fly…well, God had granted man the capacity to teach himself how to fly, so it couldn't be such a bad thing. Then again, man had also taught himself to build bombs…

Desmond glanced once over the New Orleans nightscape, felt his stomach writhe. He turned back to his companions. Neither of the operatives seated across from him seemed to notice his discomfort. A wiry, middle aged man with thing blond hair and a long, drooping mustache sat engrossed in his book, turning the pages with far greater delicacy than Desmond would have expected from a man wearing steel gauntlets. The young man beside him was college age, stocky with punk-spiked hair and too many piercings. The boy remained oblivious to everything but his iPod, banging his blue-green head to guitar riffs audible over the constant whup-whup-whup of the blades.

Even Violet was missing out on the chance to rib at him.

She looked to be thoroughly enjoying her new phone; a replacement for the one lost when a flesh-hungry outsider had firebombed Desmond's car two days before. That was also, Desmond realized with another clench of his stomach, the reason why they had to be transported in this death trap. The Lord taketh away and the Lord giveth with a wink.

A giggle brought Desmond's attention back to his partner. It wasn't the manic chuckles that he was used to hearing. The utter normalcy was almost unsettling.

"Tired of Angry Birds already?" She had been playing non-stop the last two days. Even during firefights.

"Hell no. Just got tagged for a gif," she said, still grinning like a child. "Have I mentioned how much I love this phone?"

"Once or twice," he said.

"Here," she said, shoving the phone into his hands. A video of a half-naked man being chased by a chimera looped over and over. "It's off of MageFunny."

"That looks dangerous."

"It's hilarious." She watched the loop for several more seconds before she tucked it into a pocket behind her flak jacket. "My brother sent it to me, actually."

Desmond snorted. "Since when do you have siblings?"

"Since I was born," she answered, straight faced as she rolled the bullet she always carried across her teeth. "Been his since he was six."

"There's nothing about that in your file," Desmond said, half-accusing and half-curious.

Violet shrugged away offense and sucked away at the eight millimeter bullet clenched cigar-like in her mouth. "You can't find everything about someone from a folder, Dessy. What makes you think my name's actually Violet Smith?"

Desmond blinked hard. "It's not?"

"Gotcha!" Her laughter had her hunched over in her seat, one of those high wicked laughs she used whenever she ambushed someone. The head-banger stopped to stare. His graying uncle remained fastened to his book. Desmond's stoic exterior managed to hold.

"So, what's he like?" Desmond asked once she had calmed down. Violet leaned as far as the chair would allow and rested her hands behind her head, an unfamiliar look of contemplation swimming briefly across her face.

"He's an ass," she said, her face splitting into a cheeky grin. "Thinks he's so much better at everything. Not bad in a fight though. What about you?" As always, the deflections. Don't wanna talk about my life, let's talk about yours, Desmond. It was aggravating.

"Three brothers, two sisters," Desmond played along anyway, "My oldest sister's the only one who knows about what I do. Of course, you would know that if—."

"See?" she interrupted, "Now would I have known that by reading out of some manila folder?"

"Yes, but you never—."

"Dull, dull, Dessy," she said as she waved his protests aside. "You're making us all sleepy. Speaking of dull: Who're these guys again?"

"The team you are a part of," Conroy said, snapping his book shut. "Conroy Higgins? My nephew, Alexis?"

Violet rolled her eyes back into her head and sucked hard on the bullet.

"The S-class operatives assigned to helping you root out Moon Guard agents?" the older man pressed, his words laced with irritation. "We arrived the morning after your fight with the heinabeast?"

She responded with a slow, mechanical swivel and a discouraging noise in her throat.

Conroy sighed. "We met last year at the branch New Year's party?"

"I think I'm seeing it," she said, the bullet clicking against her teeth. "I don't get invited to those often."

"No shit," Alexis said, tugging at one of the many rings imbedded in his ear. "You threw a punchbowl at my head."

"Ah, Bowl Head Boy!" a guffaw burst from Violet's throat. "I remember now. Hee-hee, though I reckon I should call you Blueberry Head now. At least it doesn't match the punch anymore."

Desmond rubbed his eyes, glad he spent the holidays with his family. S.T.A.F. parties had a reputation for getting out of hand, but adding Violet to the mix just sounded dangerous.

"Five minutes to target," the pilot's tenor called from the cockpit.

Violet lounged back in her seat, her mirth fading into grumpiness. "Remind me again why we need four S-ranked folks to drag one mob boss out of his den. Or one, for that matter. I thought the MS lost interest in these Trinity yokels when we licked their Moony babysitters the other day."

"Because, Agent Smith, they have still received a shipment of magically enhanced weaponry from the Moon Guard," Conroy said, his voice smooth and diplomatic. "And with yours and Agent Desmond's cover blown—quite literally—Chief Radley has decided upon a more direct course of both retrieving those weapons and preventing them from receiving any more."

Violet scowled at Alexis' superior grin.

"I knew that. Not quite the answer to my question, though," Violet said. "Apaches or any other battle squad woulda done just as well."

"The Chief said something before we left about how he wanted you to learn to clean up your own messes," Alexis smiled through his nasty smile, "And about your partner not doing his job. And Uncle Conroy and me are good at fixing all types of messes."

"'Uncle Conroy and I,'" Desmond corrected. He nearly snapped the frames of his shades as he adjusted them in his tightened grip. He hoped his partner would not do anything rash. He wouldn't know who to side with.

"At any rate," Conroy said, clearing the air's malevolence with a saw-like clearing of his throat. "We cannot know what additional defenses the Moon Guard may have provided for Trinity's headquarters. And we must factor in the high plausibility that they will use those weapons against us, as well as the limitations of our agents. As their aliases indicate, the Dozer and the Bullet Queen specialize in offensive tactics." Inch long spikes sprung from Conroy's gauntlet as he clenched them tight. "While the Grey Aegis and Frost are well known for a strong defense. That we should work together is simply good tactics."

Violet shrugged, but her soft laugh held a tone of admiration. "I guess you can tag along then," she said, "just so long as you don't get in the way. And Frosty keeps his mouth shut."

"Violet…," Desmond said, ignoring Alexis as the boy made a face.

She groaned a sigh. "Ah, that's right. The plan. You boys go in from the bottom, I stay up top and keep anyone from escaping. 'And don't bring the building down on top of everyone else,'" she added in a passable impression of the boss. "Hmph, sounds more like Radley's trying to keep me out of trouble."

"Ya think?" Alexis said, crossing his arms over the front of his suit.

"True, but it still makes me a bit disappointed in him," Violet said with a tiny shrug. "He should know better by now."

"We'll, I'm up, then," Violet said. She rose, letting her long coat slide off before plunging her hand beneath her flak jacket. It resurfaced clutching a long, silver barreled pistol. Desmond stumbled back and rested a hand against his knotting stomach as the door snapped open, flooding the compartment with the whips of cold, swirling wind and the slashing strands of Violet's black hair.

"See you inside, boys," Violet said through her pointed smile. "Don't have too much fun without me." She winked and saluted with her gun, then threw her arms out wide and fell back into the city sky.

"Bitchy show-off," Alexis muttered as his uncle struggled to pull the door shut.

"She's right, though," Desmond said, holding his stomach close as the chopper peeled sharply to the left. His insides churned like a spaghetti factory. "Four S-class agents is overkill. We won't be here long."

To Be Continued

Author's Note- So, so sorry for the long wait in updates! Things have been so busy at college. Plus the video games. Yesssss…the video games are always to blaaaame! Anywho, per the results of my profile poll, Bullet Queen gets the first update. I'm trying something a little different and posting chapters in parts, so as to avoid monstrous chapters like the two New Orleans Blues chapters. Mini-arc, really. This mini-arc will finish up the New Orleans Arc of the story, and start integrating this story more with the plot of Mahousen Izumi. Let me know what you guys think of the new formatting.