Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Colonel Lenaris' office was cool despite the late spring heat wave, yet Maia Kessler felt as though she were melting under the force of a particularly powerful spotlight. Despite the head of PaxSec's extraordinarily busy schedule in the wake of the BRF attacks, he had managed to carve out a full hour to go over Maia's debriefing report. And the Colonel was not one for pleasantries.

It had taken Maia the better part of a day to compile the document; it was comprehensive, chronicling the four days when she had been "off the grid" with Chambers and Delacroix. The only part she had omitted was the very end, the negotiations in Hell's Gate. Chambers had impressed upon her the importance of PaxSec -- and all of Peace River -- believing that Gabriel was alive and Ormand was dead. So, at the very end of her report, Maia had been deliberately vague, stating that her wounds had prevented her from reaching Hell's Gate, and that she had only her colleagues' reports about what had happened.

Naturally, Lenaris did not believe her.

The last fifteen minutes of their interview had consisted of Lenaris pressing for more information, and Maia repeating the party line. It occurred to her that the intense fear she had originally felt upon meeting the Colonel had mostly dissipated. He was still an imposing and intimidating figure, of course. And he could make her life incredibly difficult with three words to his subordinates. But it was difficult to avoid comparison with Delacroix, who had ripped out a man's throat with his bare hands. Next to that brutality, even Lenaris paled.

"That's really all there is to it, Colonel." She'd said it at least seven times in the last few minutes, hoping each time that he would finally drop the issue. Her energy was beginning to wane as the pain from her midriff stabbed at her in waves. Chambers had wanted to put her on painkillers, but she had refused. She needed her wits about her to speak with Lenaris, and so she dealt with the full force of the gunshot wound unassisted.

Lenaris sighed and put the datapad down. "Fine," he said at last. "Then I suppose there's little left to discuss."

Maia understood the request even before it was explicitly voiced. She pulled out the PaxSec badge she'd carried as a shield for the last two weeks and placed it on Lenaris' desk. She winced as she leaned forward. Lenaris was considerate enough not to comment, and barely glanced at the badge.

"So, back to your old job?" It was the mingled tones of someone making polite conversation without really caring about the answer, and the professional curiosity of the head of Paxton's intelligence agency.

Maia gave a tight smile. "Not exactly."

He stared at her for nearly three seconds before speaking. "I see. If I might offer some advice: be careful how closely you associate with Chambers and Delacroix. They leave a swathe of destruction behind them a kilometre wide, and their names are tagged in some less-than-savory files. I'd hate to see you connected with all that."

"Noted," replied Maia. She stood up, cringing as the effort stretched the bandages and the wound beneath.

"Made up your mind already, then. Very well, Kessler. You know the way out. Good luck in your future endeavours."

And with that, she could tell, he had already dismissed her from his mind to tackle the next project before him.

She made her own way out.


She spent the next two hours with human resources, filling out paperwork and negotiating her severance. The last two weeks netted her a particularly nice bonus: hazard pay, overtime, and pay equivalent to a PaxSec officer, i.e. an Executive. She'd had to stop herself from whistling when she saw the base pay that the highest class of Peace River received as a matter of course.

She could have left all the notifications to them; it was, after all, their job. But Maia chose to make one last professional visit as a Paxton employee.

Karly Mullrose's office was elegant as always, with two windows overlooking the Second Terrace and a few exotic greenhouse plants scattered in strategic locations. Maia knocked and walked in without waiting to be invited.

Mullrose looked up and scowled. "What is it, Kessler? I'm kinda busy here."

Maia grinned wide and put the datapad on Karly's desk. The older woman looked at it as though it was a dead rodent. "What's this?"

"A gift. For you."

Karly's face as a veil of suspicion, as she looked from the datapad to Maia and back. Maia just kept smiling.

Finally, Mullrose snatched the datapad and scanned the contents. "32 Spring... undersigned... full faculties... resignation?" She looked up. "What the fuck is this, Kessler? Did Lenaris decide to hire you full-time?"

Maia shook her head. "No, I'm no longer working for PaxSec. Actually, I'm no longer working for Paxton at all. Celina found work elsewhere, and I'm following her."

While Maia was talking, Karly continued to scan through the document, mostly as a way to avoid eye contact. Maia could tell immediately when she reached the last page. Karly spun the datapad around so that Maia could see the carefully-chosen, full-page picture of herself, smiling and shaking hands with Mme Hiro and President Simosa at the gala dinner, nearly a week and a half ago.

"What the fuck is this?"

"Oh, that," said Maia, as nonchalantly as she could. "A souvenir, to remember me by. You can frame it, if you like. I don't know your taste in picture frames."

It was, actually, mostly due to chance that the picture existed at all. An over-eager photographer had approached the head table just as Maia was doing her rounds of introduction and had snapped the semi-candid shot on his own initiative. But there was no reason not to use it now, especially since Maia knew it would make Karly furious.

Maia knew that Mullrose would delete the picture the moment she left the office, and the second she did so, it would trigger a hidden subroutine in the file that would quietly copy itself to Karly's dataglove and workstation. Then, every few days, it would randomly appear on the screen for a half-hour or an hour, just long enough to annoy her ex-supervisor but never long enough to be present when the computer technicians arrived. It was, Maia had to admit, an elegant piece of work, given that she was hindered by a bullet wound to the abdomen.

"Right, thanks," said Karly, with as little enthusiasm as Maia had come to expect. "Is there anything else?"

Maia shook her head and walked to the door, stopping just inside it. She paused as though thinking, even though she had rehearsed this little piece of dialogue several times for optimal effect. "Oh, I wanted to thank you, Karly."

If Mullrose had been suspicious before, now her expression verged on hostile. "Thank me?"

Maia nodded, face full of sincerity. "It was thanks to you that I was involved with this at all. I mean, if you hadn't posted me to Basal, I'd never have met up with Chambers and his associates, and there would have been no reason for Lenaris to appropriate me for the Free Emirate negations. I'd never have gotten the chance to speak with Hiro, or with Simosa for that matter. Never had the chance to work for PaxSec or save the city. It was all, ultimately, because of you. If you'd posted me to a more routine destination, I'd probably still be sitting in your basement right now. You've helped me move up in life, and I can never thank you enough."

Maia smiled her most sincere smile and walked out of Mullrose's office for the last time, leaving her former supervisor in a state of near apoplexy. It was, she reflected, a beautiful day.


Certain Betrayal said...

I loved it from beginning to end, but this is something which I feel we need to come back to later:

"But it was difficult to avoid comparison with Delacroix, who had ripped out a man's throat with his bare hands. Next to that brutality, even Lenaris paled."

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