Monday, October 25, 2010

The Prodigal Son

Tom had walked from the transit station through the square and into the Chapter building in a bit of a daze. His body was on autopilot as his mind replayed the events of the last days trying to distil avenues of investigation from the mass of details and encounters.

The door was locked to the Guild offices; Tom looked at his watch and found it was late, very late. He punched in the security code which let him in and was soon fumbling with the security alarm when he realised it was not armed. His autopilot switched off, Tom became aware of his actions as well as his surroundings for the first time since he had left Mme Hiro on the first terrace.

The office was dark and quiet, only the wall sconces gave faint illumination. He strained his eyes and ears and drew his compact pistol. He made no sound on the carpet as he moved forward. He couched low behind office furniture and stayed out of the minimal light. He immediately found what his instincts told him was there, another person lay quietly in the shadows.

Tom holstered his weapon, though he had not recognised the form at first, its disarming position -spread out on the couch by the conference room- gave the Doc pause. A second later he knew it was Robert, or rather Strauss he reminded himself.

“Hey Doc”

“You’re a light sleeper Strauss, sorry I woke you.”

“You didn’t, I was awake. I heard you come in, thanks for not shooting me or something.”

Tom knew the kid was in dire straights, it only occurred to him now that Strauss probably didn’t have anywhere else to sleep. Tom chided himself for not thinking of that earlier.

“Tomorrow we’ll sort you out a hotel and a spending account and petty cash.”

“Uh thanks, but Vemeer already said he would take care of that. I just didn’t want to…I don’t know”

Strauss sat up on the couch, he ran his hands through his tussled hair, making it stand even more on end. Tom noticed him adjust he goggles for no particular reason, then he cracked his knuckles before shifting his position on the couch. Tom took a chair and wheeled it over to face the couch.

“What’s wrong Strauss? Is there something you haven’t told me, something about your past or money issues?”

“No, nothing like that, well nothing worth mentioning.”

Seated as he was opposite the orphan on the couch, there was a sense this was a therapy session. It wasn’t intentional and it made both of them uncomfortable because Tom wasn’t there for professional reasons, he cared about this kid. There was a long quiet space as Strauss fidgeted some more and the Doc waited patiently. The situation was no less awkward for Strauss, back from the Badlands, a grown man, one who had sought to prove himself only to return hat in hand. Tom knew it must have been hard to come back to him and Kain to ask for help. The prodigal son returned.

“Strauss, you did well today.”

The former irregulator’s head shook slowly where it hung. When he lifted it, his eyes were just visible in the dim light. “I killed a man; I looked right into his eyes and took his life.”

Tom hadn’t seen this coming, this wasn’t a therapy session, the Guild office shrouded in its dim lights had become a confessional. Still, Tom knew what Strauss was experiencing: regret and doubt.

“The first time I killed someone was right here in Peace River, it was the first day I met Kain. Like you I had to make a choice to stop someone who was determined to die but also kill for their goal. It bothered me a long time; or rather it continued to bother me every time I did it. Until it didn’t.”

“I guess I still have a lot to learn. From you and Kain.”

“No Strauss. I’ve killed a lot of people, and it does get easier, but that isn’t meant to consol you, it is a warming. Learn from Kain and I, don’t become us.”

Tom got up and left without another word. He had forgotten his reason for coming back to the office. He left before Strauss could ask questions or tell Tom he had it all wrong. He left before he sent Strauss away or before Tom cried out to be embraced. He ran away before he thought of the path he was setting Strauss -or Maia for that matter- on. He escaped before he could show how starved he was for affection or how conflicted he felt. He simply fled. On the square outside he breathed a sigh and pulled out his phone.

“Hey, you awake? Good, want to get a drink? No nothing is up; I just need to clear my head. Great, see you there Kain.”


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