Her new girlfriend,
Her new desert posting,
Her new fight against a
microscopic spy, violent criminals,
A year after the events of ‘Lifehack’, strict anti-nanite laws
have made life difficult for those in the business.
Lieutenant Cassidy Stanton gets a ‘dear jane’ message from her girlfriend. When she’s offered a new post with the Yute temple honour guard, she sees it as a way to make a fresh start.
Settling into the unusually casual base, she
eventually finds a new love, (despite not looking),
and things all seem well, other than the commanding
officer claiming to hear the voice of the statue in the temple.
When Jacob Kirison begins trying desperately to erase his illegal nanite project, he sets into motion a plan that results in a devastating loss to the Yute temple personnel.
Cassidy suspected the truth, but didn’t want to be right. So she stood there, denying the thought until the box was put down in front of her. As she signed for it, she stared at the return address. It was from Brandy.
It didn’t look like roses. She ripped the corner of the tape, and opened it up. It was filled with the stuff she used to have at Brandy’s. Clothes mostly. A bracelet she had given Brandy once. And a letter.
She couldn’t face this now. Part of her just wanted to burn the whole box, but serenity prevailed for the time being. She sighed, closed the box, and stowed it under her arm. Suck it up, go say hi to McKinney, and go home.
It was around shift change, so she felt she had a good chance catching him at his locker. As she walked there with her box full of rejection under her arm, the uncomfortable feel of the central base crept up on her again. She found McKinney easily enough.
“Hey, stranger.” Only as she said it, did she realize how true it felt. She’d never been super close to him, but now it seemed more so. McKinney looked over to Cassidy ready with a smile, but when they made eye contact, McKinney’s smile… just sort of died. He looked at her silently for a moment, as if he didn’t recognize her.
“Oh! Hi Stanton… how… how are you?”
“I’m fine.” Cassidy said. “How’s my replacement working out?”
“Fine… Stanton… you seem really… relaxed, I guess. I guess your new post is suiting you…?”
Relaxed? What reason did she have to be relaxed? Hell, a part of her… the part still thinking about the box she was carrying… would be quite willing to go hide in a corner and sob. Not that it was McKinney’s business. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is. Well…I better get back.”
“Sure. Um. See you round, Stanton.”
She left him there, both feeling like they had just talked to a stranger. She went to arrange a ride home, and found she had an hour to wait. Not bad, all things considered.
But she didn’t have anything else to do. She didn’t want to go talk to McKinney again. She sat with her box of rejection, and felt the walls closing in. The box reminded her of the telltale heart. It was an entity unto its own. It made her feel sort of queasy.
That damned letter inside. Why wasn’t she reading it? The same reason she never returned her calls. Because it never seemed to bring good news. As a form of pressure relief, she pulled out her terminal, and dialed Brandy. Again, it was blocked, but this time she was almost relieved. Not an intelligent way to avoid the letter; if Brandy had answered, it would have been far more difficult to talk to her than reading a letter.
The letter, and the “BLOCKED” notice wrapped around Cassidy’s throat. It was hard to breathe. This damned place wasn’t helping either. Damn it. Damn it, why won’t that chopper come get her? If it crashed and killed her, at least she wouldn’t be feeling this anymore.
Open the letter.
OPEN THE LETTER.
Open the damned letter. How bad could it be? How much more dumped can she be? Brandy could tell her what a useless girlfriend she was, how much Brandy felt neglected. Brandy could tell her she was worthless. No, worse. She felt that something truly horrible was waiting in that letter. That Brandy would have written something monumentally hurtful. Damaging. But if she didn’t open it, it would just torture her in suspense.
“Leftenent Stanton?” A deck crewman called to her. “Deck eight, chopper leaving as soon as you get on it.”
She crammed the thoughts down under the safe seal of distraction. The letter down, under the safe seal of clothes, and packing tape.
Kirison studied himself in the mirror. What was the right ‘look’ for this kind of meeting? He’d heard rumors that Mr. Book was connected, but Kirison didn’t have any exposure to them himself. He made a mental note that should pushing come to shoving, the fact that his boss was connected might be a useful bit of leverage.
Leverage? What was he thinking? For one thing, he was in deeper than the boss was already… maybe… and for another thing, he was about to meet people who didn’t respond well to nobodies trying to wield leverage around them.
Okay, screw the leverage. For now. Focus on the image.
He didn’t want to priss up too much; they’d eat him alive. He didn’t want to look too tough; they’d sniff him out as a poser.
Kirison had a laugh at himself. As if he knew how they think. His knowledge on the topic was entirely rooted in movies. Screw it. Dress ‘business casual’, be respectful, and try not to throw around too many big words. He wouldn’t want to seem condescending.
He was ready to go. Maybe. He had agonized earlier about how to get there. Drive, and chance his licence plate being seen there, or take a taxi, and risk disappearing, and not leaving behind a car that could help solve his murder. Of course, if they wanted to go to that length, they could make a car disappear, too. He had finally decided he was being paranoid, and that once again, his lack of knowledge about them gave him very little information with which to make smart tactical decisions.
Of course, smart decisions weren’t what got him into this position, was it? He walked right into a rabbit hole and had been falling ever since, not even aware of it until just a few days ago. And now he was looking for a grappling hook that he might as easily lodge in his own eye.
Clips from cheesy movies popped up in his head all the time as he was driving there. The restaurant he arrived at was nice, but not too nice. The lights were low inside, like a movie cliché. It was not a comforting thing.
“I’m here to see him.” He said to the lounge bartender, hoping he would know what he meant. The bartender silently lifted one finger, to tell him to wait. The bartender knocked on the mirror behind him, and went on with his business. Shortly after, a very large man in a very nice suit came out from the back.
Kirison wondered if this large man would be gentle when giving him cement shoes.
Cassidy cleared the helipad back at the Yute temple base. Another light dusting of sand swept across her, but lighter than the first time. It probably was just helicopter backwash after all. Her box of rejection felt a little lighter now, and the biting self-loathing she was developing at the central base was mellowing into a softer sorrow.
She got back to the barrack to find three of the others asleep there. She put the box down on her bunk and sat next to it. The flap rested open enough that the letter could peek up at Cassidy, who eyed it back with a mix of fear, dread, and resentment. Cassidy just watched it sit there for a bit, expressionless. From behind a cloud of fatigue, she felt slightly braver than earlier.
“Fine,” she thought to herself; to the letter, “let’s get this over with.” She slowly put her hand on the letter and pulled it forward. She opened it, and unfolded it with steady, measured movements. Hand written. Brandy had the most beautiful handwriting. The light was bad, but not so bad that Cassidy wanted to risk waking anyone by doing anything about it. “Okay, okay, stop making excuses, and read the damned thing.” She sighed.
Where do I start? I met someone. There’s nothing going on, but I found myself wishing there was. It made me realize that I had felt like I had been single for a long time now. I thought for a while that it was just the long distance thing. That’s a big part of it, I’m sure. But it seems like you haven’t done anything to keep things going.
To be honest, in the last month, I had a theory that you’d already dumped me, and were just avoiding telling me. That would be really cruel. But I know you a little better than that. I think I can just chalk it up to you being…. Lazy? No. I don’t know. I’m just going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say you fell out of love with me, and didn’t know what to do about it. It took me a while to realize I’d fallen out of love with you, so maybe you didn’t know. Whatever.
You may have noticed I blocked your calls. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but I was really ready for a clean break. I wish I could think of something more appropriate to say than ‘have a nice life’, but honestly, nothing else comes to mind. The good times were good, and the bad times… just kinda snuck in while we weren’t looking. While you weren’t calling.
have a nice life
Well. That was that, wasn’t it? Cassidy was split about it. Brandy hadn’t called her a bitch or anything. Might that have made it easier? She was just so polite about it. Cassidy pulled out her terminal, ready to dial again. If by miracle Brandy picked up, what could she say? “I read your letter. Nice handwriting.” She put the terminal away.
She tightened her fist around the letter, and punched down into the mattress. She needed a walk. Remembering the sleeping people again, she composed herself enough to avoid stomping until she got outside.
Without purpose or destination, she stormed off between ruins, letter still crammed in her fist. It wasn’t hate she was walking with. Maybe it was. But not towards Brandy. She stopped at a convenient place to lean, and rested against a handy chunk of stone ruin. Half formed thoughts fired around her skull, aimed nowhere, getting nowhere. During all of this non-thinking, Cipriana had found her and quietly walked over.
“Cassidy?” As usual, she spoke with only the required volume.
“Oh, hey Cip.” Cassidy’s voice was a little less controlled, but she reigned it in some.
Cipriana stepped a little closer. “Cassidy, what’s-“
Cassidy interrupted by holding out her fist, and opening it, letting the half-crumpled letter open like a flower blooming in her hand. “Have a read.”
Cipriana took it and flattened it out a bit. She turned to catch a little more moonlight to read by. A few moments passed, and Cipriana handed it back. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Cassidy said, taking the letter back. “It’s not news. It’s just the recap.” She re-crumpled it, and let it fall to the ground, “I took her for granted. I ignored her, really.”
“Then… why do you care?”
“I… I didn’t think about it. I guess I never thought she had noticed. I barely noticed. I never wanted to hurt her. I’d be perfectly happy if we were still a couple.”
“If you loved her, why did you ignore her?”
“I think I loved her still. I mean.. I never saw her, but as long as she was out there, and we hadn’t broken up..”
“Then you weren’t alone.”
“Yeah.” Cassidy slumped, siding down the wall until she was in a crouched position. She could have sworn that the crumpled letter had reached up and dragged her down. “But this thing..”
“Last nail in the coffin?”
“That came a while ago. Maybe I hammered it. This is the last shovel of dirt.”
Cipriana sighed. “Go to bed. Calvert’s coming to inspect tomorrow.”
“Yeah, in a bit. Go on ahead.”
The man who Kirison finally met with after lots of waiting and an entirely new appointment, was significantly less terrifying than he had feared. He expected some chain smoking, overweight, middle aged man with sunken dark eyes, massive rings on every finger, an expensive yet tasteless suit, and an expression as warm as an undertaker.
The reality of “Mr. Irving” was a downright skinny old man, tall and lively. He was also dressed business casual, not too far from what Kirison had chosen for himself. That was good.
Regardless, Kirison’s paranoia found little difficulty imagining a viciously dark evil side to Mr. Irving, with a wide wicked grin and some kind of hammer dripping with the blood of someone who’d crossed him.
Let’s not think about that. Let’s sip the drink, and let the Mr. Irving think. That won’t get you killed.
Unless the drink was poisoned.
Okay, stop thinking like that. The nice skinny beanpole career criminal has no reason to kill you.
“Well Mister Kirison,“ Mr. Irving said with a light enough tone, “I really don’t think I can help you out.”
“What?! Why not?” Christ, that was less than respectful. The drink doesn’t smell like almonds, does it?
“Two reasons. For one thing, it’s not really our kind of turf. At all. By any stretch of the imagination. I’m sure you can understand.” Kirison nodded, and waited for Mr. Irving to continue. “The other thing is, with things being the way they are now, anything nanite-related is kind of a spicy area to get into in general. And besides that, there’s really zero profit in it!”
Kirison stared at the wet ring on the table where his glass had been earlier, and sighed. “Well. I certainly understand that. I wouldn’t touch this with a ten foot pole, if I could avoid it.” He sighed again.
“Look…..” Mr. Irving took a genuinely sympathetic tone. “I know of this group… they might be interested… but you might have to be… creative… they ain’t as stable as you an’ I, if you get my drift.”
Beautiful. The rabbit hole suddenly looked just that much deeper, and the fall was only gaining speed.