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
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
“Oh! Hi Stanton… how... how are you?”
“I’m fine.” Cassidy said. “How’s my replacement
“Fine… Stanton... you seem really… relaxed, I
guess. I guess your new post is suiting you…?”
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
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.
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
Okay, screw the leverage. For now. Focus on the
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
“Cassidy?” As usual, she spoke with only the
“Oh, hey Cip.” Cassidy’s voice was a little less
controlled, but she reigned it in some.
Cipriana stepped a little closer. “Cassidy,
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
“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
“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
“Yeah, in a bit. Go on ahead.”
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
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
“What?! Why not?” Christ, that was less than
respectful. The drink doesn’t smell like almonds, does
“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.