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The market stretched as far as Nadia could see down the long street before her. Each side was lined with any sorts of things you could imagine. Here, a hawker called of the finest silk anywhere to be found, spun in the very heart of District III and handwoven to ensure that every thread... There, a hobbled over old lady selling home made sweets, little amber colored sugar drops in a little bag... there, an ally full of chickens, of all things, with a man in front scrambling up omelettes for hungry diners who ate on simple bamboo mats at a low table... It was quite the sight to see.

"Stay close, Zoe, and if we get separated, lets meet at the omelette table, okay?" Zoe nodded enthusiastically and immediately began tugging her mother over to the sweet stand. After a couple of dollars were exchanged for the little bag, they made their way a little further down the thoroughfare.

The milling of all the bodies down the busy market was a common feeling for Nadia, though the particulars of the location were new. She had lived in cities her whole life. She was accustomed to taking in a person at only a glance and being a fair judge of safety. Of course, there were always devious pickpockets with a smile on their face, but even for those, she knew most of their tricks. Growing up in a privileged life may coddle some, but Nadia had made a point to be out amongst people and had always had friends from some of the less savory social classes as a child.

Now, watching Zoe eye a few boys starting an impromptu football match up the road, she could feel the beginnings of the same dread that must have clutched her mother's chest each time that Nadia herself "wandered" into the streets. I am NOT my mother. I will NOT make her mistakes. Who was she really trying to convince, though. No one knew who her mother was here in the big city, in the Central Dominance. She was another nameless face, albeit a pretty one, and no one had any expectations for her or her daughter, and if people cared to judge her for being a single parent, well, there was nothing she could do about that. Zoe would be starting into school the following week and she would be just as well dressed and better educated than most of her classmates.

Nadia stopped to observe a street performer juggling very sharp looking knives. She watched with fascination for a moment as deft hands snatched blades from the air, sometimes tossing one behind his back and spinning them in ways where you think it would be impossible to catch safely, yet each time he did. "Hey do you see this Zo--" Her voice cut off as she looked around to realize that the dark haired girl was suddenly no where to be seen. "Zoe?!"
Continued from: Doing the leg work

Chief Inspector Drayson had plenty to think about, and it was too late in the day to go tromping through the service tunnels. No, he'd have to put in a request for an experienced guide; someone from the city's work crews, probably. In the mean time, he pondered over what it might all mean.

A man had been dropped on the steps of the Guardian hospital, with a stab wound that almost hit his heart. He had been conscious, and brought in for surgery without any confirmed identity or insurance or the like. Understandable, considering his condition.

The man had rambling and violent, but easily subdued due to his condition. Wanting to eat the medical staff that were trying to operate on him. They put him under, and did the surgery, but there was evidence the man had been conscious for it. Not unheard of, but rare. And a horrifying experience, from what Drayson could tell of it. Sometimes the patient was paralyzed but still able to feel everything. Other times, they could hear it, which was almost as bad. Hearing the doctors cut into your chest, spread your ribs. And some people thought a trip to the dentist was bad for the whirring of that blasted drill.

Drayson's pondering was paused as he watched a middle-aged man bump into a pair of tourists; French, from the sound of them, a young couple. Apologies were exchanged, and they went their separate ways, the middle-aged Russian with a fat wad of CCD Dollars tucked into a pocket of his jacket.

Drayson sighed and stopped to casually observe the flow of the crowd as the pick-pocket walked towards him. The man seemed to be in good spirits; that bill fold had been a hefty looking one. The man's smile was gone in a flash when he suddenly found Drayson's hand on his shoulder.

"Local economy works on tourism, you know."
Drayson smiled a less then comforting smile, and tightened his grip on the pick pocket's shoulder when the man tried to pull free. A twist of his grip and he had a fist-full of the man's collar, and tugged him off balance just enough to keep the man from struggling free.

"Let go of me, or you'll fucking regret it, limey."
The man produced a knife from a pocket, brandishing it threateningly.

Drayson's smile became entirely amused, which caused the pick-pocket to frown, a brief moment of hesitation. Which was about all Drayson needed, really. His grip on the man's collar shifted, and his thumb dug under the man's collar bone, where his hand gripped onto tightly and twisted. The bone didn't break, but the man let out a strangled scream of pain, his hand holding the knife jerking towards his own collarbone as if to try and bat Drayson's hand away.

Luckily for the pickpocket, he remembered he was holding a knife in time to not stab himself, and instead tried to swipe the blade at Drayson. Again, it was that moment of hesitation that gave him the time he needed. His grip twisted a bit more, forcing the man to half-turn away from Drayson, and he grabbed the wrist of the man's knife hand, then he stomped a foot into the back of the man's knee, driving him to the ground. The knife was released and caught by Drayson, who shifted his weight onto the kneeling man's splayed leg, and kept his grip on his collar bone.

The crowd had parted a bit around the pair at the sudden outcry and display of violence, and suddenly out of the crowd came a uniformed Custodian officer with the recently robbed French couple, who seemed more angry then worried at this point.

"What's going on here?"
The officer had a hand on his taser, but hadn't bothered to draw it yet, but was giving both Drayson and the pick pocket a less then pleased glare.

"Perfect timing, constable."
Drayson produced his own badge, a faint grin as the Custodian's hand tightened on the holstered taser as if expecting trouble. Instead, upon seeing the badge and ID, the man quickly snapped his hand away from his belt.

The situation was quickly brought under control. The French couple were reunited with their money, with instructions on how to better carry cash. For starters, carrying much less at any time. The pick pocket was arrested, and taken away by the uniformed Custodian, and Drayson tucked away his badge and turned to resume mingling through the crowd, when he found himself confronted by something far worse then any pick pocket.

A lost little girl.

She stood there staring up at him with a stiff upper lip and hands on her tiny little hips. "Are you a police-man?"

Drayson frowned and glanced at the crowd for a moment. No signs of a parental figure in a mad panic. And the kid was too well dressed, and clean, to be some sort of street urchin. So he looked down at her and pulled out his ID and badge again, flicking it open for her to see. "Yes lass, I am. Custody Domestic Protection Service. Chief Inspector Drayson McCullough. And you are?"

She nodded curtly, although there did seem to be a strong hint of relief about her. She was doing good at the whole tough kid act, but was obviously in over her head. "You're tall. Can I stand on your shoulders?"

He frowned again, once more glancing at the surrounding crowd as if hoping her parents would come running any moment. No such luck.


He sighed quietly and tucked away his ID, then dropped to a knee infront of the kid. "Misplaced your parents did you? Yeah, I suppose you could see them from on my shoulders."

The kid smiled broadly and darted around his back rather then letting him just pick her up, and soon enough the little girl was planting what were probably going to turn out to be filthy footprints all over the pack of his jacket as she climbed up to his shoulders. "Oh no, I'm looking for the boys with the football! Mom said to meet at the egg-man's carpet if we get lost. But I'm not lost. I wanted to play with the football, but the boys left."

Drayson frowned again, then raised a hand to help balance the kid on his shoulders as he stood up. Instantly, her hands dug into his hair, not that there was much to grab to begin with, but there was a barely contained burst of gleeful laughter at the sudden raise in elevation. He was a big man, even by Russian standards, and she could easily see over the mass of people in every direction. "Well alright then. Do you have a name, lass? And your mother, does she have a name?"

She balanced on her tippy-toes as if that extra inch would make all the difference in the world. Drayson frowned at a few folks who were frowning at him in return, then just rolled his eyes quietly and raised up onto his own toes, giving Zoe a few extra inches of view.

Zoe let out an exasperated sigh then awkwardly lowered herself down to be sitting on his shoulders instead. "They left."

"Well that's what boys do. Disappoint the ladies. You'd best steer clear of them for a few more years yet. At least 20. Maybe 30. But that's up to your mother. So, egg-rug-man right?"

"Egg-man's carpet. But I'm not lost. It's over there."
She leaned part way around his head and pointed in the direction of the sidewalk omelette shop.

Drayson took a breath as if he were going to say something; the kid was a right confident one, that's for sure. He bit back a sarcastic quip, and started walking in the direction she had indicated. "Well, I'm sure your mother will be over there."
And just over joyed that her strong-willed daughter had roped a CDPS chief inspector into giving her a piggy-back ride.

It wasn't hard for him to make his way through the crowd, and once they arrived at the rendezvous point, it was easy enough to find out that Zoe's mother hadn't made it that far yet. With nothing else to be done, Drayson dug out a couple bucks and soon he and Zoe were seated on a piece of carpet with fresh omelettes.
"Zoe?!" Her voice was quieter than she had anticipated. The word was both question and exclamation, but at this point, still question. She spun around the other direction, but no sign of the bobbing dark head could be seen from that way either. No, the strong-willed little lady had definitely set off on her own adventure.

But this wasn't the outskirts of Prague where Zoe had spent her first years romping. Moscow was big, alive, thriving, and filled with the "Wrong" sorts of people. Inside her mind, she felt as though she were grasping out, reaching for something, trying within her mind to find her daughter in the crowd. Calm down. Panic won't find her. She's a smart girl and they had decided on a meeting place. But it was easier to say these things than to believe them.

Her eyes snapped open and the world around her became sharper. She was a good judge of a person to begin with, but now it was like a new light shone within her. Oh gods, no, not now! I don't have time for this! She could pick out with minute detail the world around her. She could suddenly smell the musk of the working men gathered near a door nearby and wanted to gag as it mixed with the odor of the flowers in the cart down the road. She could count the threads in the man selling the silk's fabric even from here. I knew it was a rip-off...

Maybe just this once, the light would help her. Normally, these moments of clarity terrified her. Ever since the sickness and Zoe's birth, they had come to her, and strange things always surrounded their arrival. With her mind and her heart, she reached out, searching for that familiar feeling, seeking the smell of slightly damp linen and daisies and shoe polish that for some reason was what her daughter always smelled like. She looked for that slightly golden sheen that you could only see glisten from the dark locks in the noon-day sun, surely a trait that carried over from her father's side, though this was only an assumption as Nadia had no memory of the man.

She felt like she was flowing on a river, and the river was guiding her, first a bit further down the road. There seemed to be some sort of altercation, and a police officer was leading away a large man who was swearing to the unimpressed looking Custodian that he didn't know how that money had ended up in his pocket, and surely there was some misunderstanding. A French couple were also nearby, looking slightly relieved but a bit flustered.

Still, she followed the feeling, until suddenly it swung around behind her. Discouraged, she sighed. She had been sure that she was on to something, but why would the feeling double back upon itself like that? Giving up, she turned back to head towards the omelette maker. As she walked, the feeling of the world being more clear around her stayed. She felt like she really could smell that smell that was so unique to her daughter, the lilac of the shampoo they used, but it was mixed with another smell. A smell of heavy wool and manliness and gunpowder. The two very conflicting senses felt like they moved together to this supernatural melody which rang in Nadia's ears, and while she felt more nervous than ever, she followed it right to where she found Zoe, sitting besides a very large man, eating an omelette.

As soon as her eyes confirmed that the girl was unharmed, both the pent up fear and extra sheen of color faded away. "There you are, Zo! You can't be running off like that here." She turned to the man beside her, trying to get a better read on him. Wool and gunpowder indeed. Even with her senses back to normal, she could feel the air of authority that the man exuded. But if he were a Custodian, wouldn't he be in uniform? Maybe military? Should she be thanking this man or had he played along to the girls plight in order to extract something from the relieved mother? Well, haven't you become bitter?

"Who's your friend, then?" Zoe looked up from her omelette, wrinkled her brow a little and shrugged. "I dunno, he has a lot of names and a badge. I think he's a police man. You shoulda saw him with that thief guy, mom, it was something else!"
And suddenly she had launched into an entire account of the incident with the thief. The detail which she used was impressive, if probably a bit exaggerated, but the girl was a bit of a story teller. By the time the tale was spun, an omelette had been placed before Nadia, too. "Well, that is quite the story. Thank you for helping Zoe find her way back, officer?" The last word was a bit of a question, but she had to assume by the tale that he was some sort of authority.

"No, Mom, I wasn't lost. He was helping me look for the football players, but they had left."
Ah, so THAT was what she had been up to. Nadia hoped that this urge of hers to run off would be quelled by some new friends once school began.
Drayson glanced up from his food only long enough to identify that the woman who was speaking was indeed the mother of the errant runt he had picked up. She was a good kid, level headed, and he had to assume most of that came from the parents. They had a meeting point figured out in advance, it was only a matter of time before the mother made her way to it.

So he glanced up, listening to the two speak, and returned his gaze to his mouth to shovel another plastic spork full of omelette into his gaping maw, only to nearly spill it over himself when he glanced up a second time to come to grips with what his brain registered the first time. Zoe's mother was quite the looker.

He covered it smoothly enough and returned to eating as Zoe went into her detailed description of how he had caught the pickpocket. It certainly seemed more action-packed in the re-telling, but then again...from her point of view, it had probably seemed like more of a fight and less of an arrest.

He inserted the occasional affirmative sounds at appropriate points in the child's story, but eventually it was his turn to actually speak. Luckily, his paper plate was already empty. "Chief Inspector Drayson McCullough. Custody Domestic Protection Service."
He produced his badge and ID for her to peruse as she saw fit. "We take the safety of our citizens very personally."
He offered her a bit of a smile to help dissuade any suspicion or worry; they weren't watching her family. It really had been just a coincidence.

He stood up, producing a handkerchief with which to brush away any errant food from his mouth and wipe his hands clean, and gave little Zoe a soft tap to the head with one knuckle, "She's a brave lass you have here."

Tucking away the kerchief, Drayson turned and knelt down in front of Zoe to fix her with a very serious look. The way he knelt, his jacket was open just enough that the little girl could catch a glimpse of his holstered pistol, tucked away under his jacket, "Moscow's a lovely city, child. But a dangerous one. Stick close to your mother, and if you ever have any trouble, find a Custodian."
"You know, had you wanted to play with the boys, you should have just asked instead of running off." That earned her a stern frown, but for once she had no witty retort. When it was presented, Nadia checked the badge and ID. If they were fakes, they were well made ones. The picture certainly seemed to match the looming stature of the man now cleaning up his plate of food, and he had rattled off his title and name without hesitation. Just give the inch, Nadia.

"Again, thank you for your assistance, Inspector McCullough." An Inspector. That certainly roused a whole new set of questions, and his attempt at appeasement made her possibly more nervous than his silence would have. Had the Ascendancy already discovered that little Nadia Sokolov was not in fact dead? Did they already know what happened to people who survived the sickness? "I am Nadia Bortnik, and I believe you have already met Zoe."

She reached into a pocket that was hard to see unless you saw it open, and began pulling out a few dollars for the omelette man as Zoe popped the last bite into her mouth. She would have to remember this spot. The food really was quite good, and he knew some of the other patrons by name. Regulars meant consistent quality, and while it was an odd atmosphere, it was a pleasant change from eating at home, or in a crowded and cramped restaurant.

"Yes, Mister Drayson, sir. I like Moscow so far! It's a lots bigger than Prague!"
Zoe piped up. Nadia was glad that Zoe had just gone along with the last name swap. It wasn't the first time they had done it, and really she should go through the process of making it legal. Sokolov was a dangerous name to run around with. Zoe inspected the gun, but not with fear. It was more curiosity than anything, as she had seen plenty of guns in her short life already. "Hmm, that gun looks different than Mommy's. Do Chief Officers have their own special kind?"
He couldn't help but chuckle, both at Zoe's outburst about his sidearm, and also for the unfortunate family name. Bortnik. Sounded like a children's show bad-guy name. Little girls were supposed to be intimidated by big scary men with guns, but this one just wasn't playing the same game, it seemed. "It probably is. Sig Sauer P226 Equinox."
He patted his chest where the pistol was holstered, but didn't actually pull it out.

The weapon had all the common bells and whistles; built in laser sight, bio-metric lock, coded to his thumbprint and readings. Rails for whatever ridiculous attachments he might want for a pistol, and it chambered a .40 round. It was the chosen service pistol mostly for the intimidating size and sound of it, coupled with a good service record.

While seated with Zoe, he had been watching the crowds, and more importantly, puzzling out his missing heart-surgery patient. He was aware of the kilometers upon kilometers of forgotten tunnels beneath the city streets. There was efforts of late to start sealing them up, but like all things, the more money that was put into the effort, the slower it went. Government bureaucracies were never efficient things.

Drayson stood and brushed his knees off in the process and waved off Nadia's money, "Consider it your tax dollars at work, Mrs Bortnik."
Pistols were legal own and to carry, with the proper permits, so he let the girl's question go without suspicion. Wouldn't do to reunite the mother and child, only to have to turn around and arrest the other for something so silly. Besides, he had more important things to worry about then to process the paperwork. "New to the city, I take it?"
Zoe's inspection of the gun was satisfied by Drayson's answer. It wasn't one she had seen before, and the man didn't seem inclined to show it off to her (to her disappointment), but she could always look them up later. She looked around and wondered how many of the people around her were carrying guns, and why carry them around if they were never gonna use them. I mean, the police officers, sure, and Mom said that she carried hers to protect Zoe in case something happened, but what about everyone else? Why was that guy carrying one on his hip now? He didn't have a kid tailing after him. Oooh, maybe he was a bad guy! He didn't look that bad, but maybe it was his cover identity and at night he was a masked vigilante!

Nadia was caught a bit off guard by Drayson's offer to pay, but nodded slightly and tucked her money back away. Zoe was people watching again, and Nadia decided it was a habit she didn't mind her keeping, really. It was useful to notice things about people, good to be perceptive.

Nadia nodded to the Officer's next question. "Mmm hmm, my work just transferred me here from Dominance VI. Miss Zoe here will be starting her new school next week." This earned a very emphatic nod from the young lady in question. "Yep. They even put me ahead a year!"
"A year ahead is it? Well done, and don't let the older kids give you a hard time."
He was of mixed opinion about letting children advance in grades. While they benefited from the steadily increasing difficulty in curriculum, they were often victims of bullying or segregation from other children who saw them as different or felt threatened by the younger child's intelligence.

"Transfers to Moscow are often seen as very prestigious things. You must be very good at your job."
He had worked hard, but arriving in the capital wasn't his end goal. He would have been just as happy in London, but it was a new challenge and he wasn't the type to shy away from such a thing.

The child's curiosity was obvious, and he assumed, rather boundless. Coupled with her overwhelming confidence could spell trouble for the kid, and endless stress for her mother, but the two did seem to get along together rather well. It was a rather surprising dynamic, considering how young Nadia seemed to be. A child Zoe's age, and doing so well as to warrant a transfer to Moscow, at...what, maybe 22? surely no more then 25. She had gotten a very young start to life, apparently.

Edited by Drayson, Aug 9 2013, 06:19 PM.

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