Monday, October 25, 2010

Pillow talk

The door clicked shut as Maia closed it, softly, carefully. The lights were out on the main floor of the house. Maia checked her watch and sighed -- late, much later than she'd wanted. Tanya would undoubtedly be asleep, and odds were good that Celina would have nodded off waiting for her to get home. But between the debriefings and the paperwork, what could she have done? Lenaris wanted answers, and she'd spent most of the evening at Paxsec headquarters, formal evening gown and all, pouring over surveillance videos and copied documentation.

She took the pistol from her clutch, the purse barely bigger than the handgun, and ejected the cartridge in a practised motion. She left the handbag on the table in the entryway and thumbed the combination to the safe underneath. It opened with a whisper, and Maia put down the gun and cartridge next to her passport, her promotion certificate, and a few wads of cash. She thumbed the safe closed and reset the password.

It wasn't that she didn't trust her family. Of course not. But Tanya was still so young, and who could say what children would do with a loaded gun while left unattended? No, Celina had insisted they purchase a safe shortly after they'd moved to the second terrace -- one of the few material objects she'd ever asked for -- and Maia had obliged.

It was only after the gun was safely deposited that Maia slipped off her shoes and murmured in relief. She padded her way across the thick carpeting, past the plush armchair and upstairs to the room she shared with her wife.

Soft yellow light shone through the crack in the doorway, which opened to reveal Celina reading in bed. She looked up as Maia entered, eyes bloodshot from the adrenaline and tension of the evening. "Hi," she said.

Maia sat down on the bed beside her wife. "Hi. Sorry I'm so late."

Celina shrugged, a resigned motion that made Maia feel indescribably guilty. "It's okay. You had to deal with the fallout, I guess?"

Maia nodded and began taking pins and ties out of her hair. God, she had a headache. "Yeah. I still don't know how..." She shook her head, the loose hair cascading around her shoulders. "Speaking of which, how's the ambassador doing?"

She remembered the moment with perfect clarity: the shot waiter accidentally discharging his weapon, the ambassador exploding backward off his chair and onto the floor, and the single thought in her mind, "Please, God, don't let him be dead."

Celina let out a long breath, and Maia could tell she was going through the details in her mind, choosing which medical jargon it was necessary to relate and what could be skipped over. Finally, "He should be fine. The bullet got his shoulder and missed the major arteries. He's never had a great heart, but he'll recover."

Maia breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good. That's really good." She got up and realized she was moments away from starting to pace the bedroom. Instead she tipped the pins onto her dresser and started taking off the evening gown, if only to give her hands something to do. The floor-length blue silk was more of a pain than it was worth, frankly. It hindered her movement just when she needed it most, and she would have happily opted for pants any day, but Maia was used to making concessions to fashion. The dress shivered to the floor and Maia tied on a dressing gown.

"Sorry about the dress," Celina's voice came low and thick from the bed. Maia turned around to see Celina's face brooding. Clearly, she'd been working up the courage all night to discuss the bloodied evening gown. As if it mattered! As if she hadn't just saved a life and a little of Maia's conscience!

Maia smiled, trying to put her wife at ease. "It's just a dress," she said. "We can get you another one. Besides," she came forward and took Celina's hands in her own, "you were amazing tonight. If it hadn't been for you, Rankin might not have lasted long enough for the EMTs to reach him. You saved my ass. Again." She grinned, trying to defuse the situation.

Celina tugged her hands away and stared out the window. "When did you start packing heat?" Her voice was flat, and there was a hint of resentment to it.

"Since Lenaris made me head of security," she kept her voice light, neutral. It was true, more or less. She hadn't been actively carrying weapons in Peace River before that, and that was, more or less, what Celina had asked.

Not that it had helped. Maia thought back on the confrontation bitterly. She had kept the handgun in her clutch for emergencies, yes, but little good it had done her. Her one shot had gone wide, and it was only luck that prevented another civilian casualty. Her own security team was too slow, the snipers unable to get a bead on any of the disguised fanatics, and it was only thanks to Chambers and his team that all-out catastrophe had been averted. The idea of being indebted to Delacroix and Chambers made her see red, but she was indebted anyway.

Celina turned back from the window, her eyes resigned. "So... what happens now?"

The question could have meant anything, but Maia knew her wife well enough to understand what Celina was asking. "Lenaris asked me to uncover Patriarch Masao's network in Peace River. It's our biggest security threat right now." Obviously, she held herself back from adding.

Celina's brow furrowed. "But that's never been your..." She cut herself off and shook her head. "Did he give you a team?"

And there it was, the moment of truth. Now it was Maia's turn to stare out the window. "I'm sure he would if I asked him, but no. I'm working with outsiders on this one."

She could hear the confusion in Celina's voice, even without looking. "Outsiders?"

Maia nodded, eyes still fixed on the glowing form of the tower outside the window. "Professionals. They can get around some of the rules that Paxsec would have to follow, if it comes down to it, which hopefully it won't."

Celina brushed Maia's shoulder, and she turned back to face the bedroom. "Why do I get the sense there's more here than you're telling me?" It was a question she'd asked before, at least once every few days since Maia had returned home from the ESE. Each time, the answer was the same. "I'm sorry." That was all the answer Maia could give, and Celina had reluctantly come to put up with it.

Celina leaned back against her pillow and put out the lamp. "Anyone I'd know?" The question was lighthearted, clearly meant to ease the tension that had crept into the room, and the answer was equally clear, at least in Celina's mind.

Maia carefully held herself back from flinching. She remembered the look on Chambers' face when he'd realized she'd seen them together. She wondered what he'd asked her, what sort of information he was digging for this time, whether he was planning on using Celina as some sort of bargaining tool. But to betray those thoughts would open conversation doors Maia didn't want to discuss right now. She lay down beside Celina and used every ounce of willpower she still had left to keep her voice light as she give the answer her wife expected, "I doubt it."


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.