Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Strange bedfellows

It was mid-afternoon when she saw her house again, exactly as she'd left it. Four days wasn't the longest she'd been away, not by a long shot, but waves of nostalgia washed over her as she turned the corner and it came into view. She walked slowly, the pain in her abdomen gradually getting the better of her. Sooner or later, she'd have to lie down. Probably sooner rather than later. But some things were higher priority than bed rest.

Kain Delacroix walked beside her, matching her pace. She'd had mixed feelings about inviting him, but in the end it was him or a PaxSec agent, and she surprised herself by realizing that at this particular moment, she trusted the Southerner more.

"Thanks for coming," she said, but Kain was already distracted by his quarry. He gave an absent nod, his eyes already sweeping the building, looking for tell-tale signs that Maia would never have seen. Which was precisely why she'd brought him.

They moved down the Second Terrace boulevard, Maia concentrating on subduing the pain enough to walk naturally, Kain on the house. He raised a hand as they approached the steps to the front door, and Maia stopped.

Kain inched forward, eyes darting over the doorframe and the facade. Years of experience drew his eyes to a small drilled hole just above the lintel, to the tiny electronic whine of a machine humming to life. Maia moved forward, already pulling out her bug detector. The little machine was definitely transmitting.

Kain took a longer look, then reached in and plucked the sensor from its concealed nest. Satisfied that it wasn't the trigger for an explosive, he dropped it on the ground and crushed it under his boot. Maia's bug detector went dark, and she nodded.

Kain gave the door another cursory examination before allowing Maia to use her key. The younger woman wondered, briefly, what her neighbours would think about a large, armoured man entering the house with her. And then she realized it didn't matter. She'd probably never see any of them again.

Maia turned off the security alarm as Kain made a sweep of the house, checking for explosives and whatever other devices the BRF might have decided to plant. After ten minutes, he returned to the front hallway, where Maia sat on a small stool, eyes closed.

"It's clear," he said. "Whatever they were planning, they either didn't get around to it or weren't planning on doing it in your house. Or they're dead."

Maia nodded and stood up, wincing only a little. "Thanks," she said. "If you like, you can go back. I know the way to the Maglev station."

The soldier shook his head. "I'll escort you back. How long do you think you'll need?"

Maia took in the living room from where she stood in the entryway. So many things to leave behind. But then again, she'd spent most of her life on the road. She was no stranger to leaving things behind. "Not long. I'm not sure what's still good in the fridge, given that no one's been here in four days, but you're welcome to help yourself to whatever you find."

Kain nodded, but Maia noted that he didn't make a move towards the kitchen. She sighed and made her way upstairs.

In truth, there wasn't much to pack. Celina and Tayna had already taken most of their highly treasured possessions, so Maia was left packing her own things and those items of sentimental value she thought her family might miss. She took out her travelling bag and began to pack, the practised motions of someone who was rarely in one place more than a half-season at a time. Into the bag went clothing, jewellery, make-up. Also more esoteric items: a small electronics and mechanical repair kit, a dataglove, a few discs of Celina's favourite music.

She copied the full contents of her computer's hard drive to her PDA and wiped the desktop. If anyone decided to confiscate her computer, all they'd find would be a long line of 0s without a single 1.

Her own belongings packed, she took out a second, smaller bag. This one took longer to fill. A small part of her wanted to take everything: the luxury crystal, the hand-embroidered wall hangings, the designer paintings. She sighed and shook her head. Instead, she began to collect up family pictures, important papers, a small teddy bear that Tanya had loved as a toddler.

She'd been barely fifteen minutes when she walked down the stairs again, two suitcases in hand. She was surprised to find Delacroix staring at the picture above the mantel. The face of a younger Maia beamed forth at her. Beside her, Celina in her nurse's uniform and a five-year-old Tanya in her arms, happily licking a popsicle. Maia remember the day: she had just returned from her first trip abroad and decided to surprise Celina at work. They'd gone out for dinner, Maia remembered that, though she didn't remember where. She hadn't known at the time that Celina was staying with her parents on the Third Terrace when Maia was out of town.

She cleared her throat and Kain looked up, eyes glancing at the two suitcases. "Got everything you need?"

"Almost," said Maia, and moved around the living room, plucking a few books and pictures, including the one on the mantelpiece. She placed them all in the second, smaller bag and zipped it up.

Finally, she sighed. Part of her, she realized, didn't want to leave. Even though she'd been home seldom in the last ten cycles, she looked to this place as her anchor, a place to return to no matter what hellhole Mullrose might have chosen to send her. Still, she would have another home in Khayr-ad Din, maybe even one where her family would be happier.

Kain was looking at her, and she realized she'd been drifting. She started at the sight of him, then breathed deep and straightened. "Ready."

She reached down to her suitcases, but Kain was already moving forward. She gave a token protest, then allowed him to pick them up, handling them far more lightly than she would have. "Anything else to take care of? Security arrangements, sensors...?"

Maia shook her head. "Just the alarm. Someone's gonna be living here after me, and I'd rather they settle in painlessly."

Kain moved to the front entrance as Maia set the security alarm. If he was disappointed that she wasn't taking further precautions, he didn't show it. "Have you sold the house already, then? Got a buyer lined up?"

They moved outside, and Maia locked the front door. "Not yet," she said. "A friend's brother's in real estate. He's handling the sale for me."

She put a hand over her bandages as they walked down the front steps. She would definitely need to rest soon. There was only so long she could keep pushing herself, and if she arrived in Kahyr-ad Din with a still-bleeding abdominal wound, Celina would never forgive her.

"You could sell it to us," Kain said.

Maia nearly tripped. "What?"

Kain shrugged, completely unhindered by the two suitcases. "We'd buy if from you. Save you the trouble of real estate."

Maia blinked. "What would you do with a residential house on the Second Terrace of Peace River?"

"What wouldn't we do?" She was certain he meant it as a joke, but Maia shivered anyway. After she'd rested, she would definitely, definitely need to have a talk with Doc Chambers. A man as inured to torture as Delacroix unsettled her. Frankly, she was glad it unsettled her. It meant she still had a moral compass.

She forced herself to smile. "Thanks for the offer, Smith, but I think I'll go through channels on this one."

The large man shrugged again as they moved back down the shrub-lined boulevard. Maia breathed deep and didn't even look back as they turned the corner and her house slipped out of view.


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