Enoa woke for the first time in her bunk on the Aesir. She’d forgotten where she was. She’d slept deeply and completely, with no awareness of the passage of time, and found herself in a small dark compartment she didn’t recognize. She felt motion beneath her and heard distant machine rumbling.
She remembered herself and drifted in and out of sleep until she heard movement in the Aesir’s cabin. She rolled onto her side, fumbling for her pack and the cell phone she still sometimes carried, though it hadn’t functioned as a phone in years. She checked the time – 9:13 A.M. Had they received the time of the brunch? She couldn’t remember.
Enoa left her bunk room, still in pajamas. She found Orson on the couch, struggling with a jacket. He looked like his hand was stuck in a pocket.
“Good morning.” She watched him struggle to withdraw his hand from the jacket.
“Morning.” He spoke without taking his eyes off the coat. “Sorry if I woke you. Coffee’s ready, if you like it the way I make it.”
“You didn’t wake me.” She walked to the cupboard, found one unlocked and withdrew a mug. “I needed to get moving anyway. I slept way too long. I haven’t been asleep for longer than seven hours for months, since…” Enoa was surprised how casually she almost mentioned Aunt Su’s death. Distance from Nimauk brought distance from its pains and sorrows. She fell silent and poured herself a cup of coffee. She used only a single sugar. She didn’t want to drink the quantity of coffee High School Enoa had consumed. She had mixed feelings about her potential dependency on Orson’s coffee stash.
“I needed sleep too.” Orson kept his attention on the suit jacket. “I only woke up when the crawler started moving again, and I took that as my cue to get some food.”
“Did you order room service?” Enoa sat down in an armchair, opposite Orson.
“I didn’t.” He remained focused on the jacket. She got a clearer look at what he was doing, or attempting to do. There appeared to be a massive hidden pocket that opened up the inside of the entire jacket, between the outer shell and the lining. Orson was trying to fit what appeared to be a long piece of metal into the space. The rectangle was slightly reflective, like metal, but it also moved fluidly, like fabric. “I thought about it, but I didn’t feel like being professional. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve ordered a meal and had it delivered by a spy of one sort or another. So I just stole two of your pancakes.”
“Were they an acceptable syrup delivery system?” Enoa watched him fit the long sheet of metal into the left front of the jacket. He let out a slow sigh. Then he zipped that side and started the same process on the right.
“They were.” He looked up and offered a brief smile. “Thank you. I’m surprised, if I’m being honest, but they were, and it was so good to have the Moonlight Most blueberry syrup. I need to save a little, see if I can’t get more made by somebody else. My buddy Ted’s a true savant at mimicking flavor so I hope he can help. I can’t imagine I’ll ever buy that syrup again, even if they aren’t always a squatterarchy.”
“No, I don’t imagine you will,” she said. “Squatterarchy? I don’t know when you’re making up words and when you know something I don’t.”
“Squatterarchy is one hundred percent a real thing. It’s a society of squatters.”
“I’m not sure I believe you,” she said. “If that’s a real thing then both Mayhill and that little derelict village place were squatterarchies.”
“They were.” He fit the other metal sheet into place. “We’ll probably run into lots of those on this trip. Trying times, right now.”
“What are you doing, exactly?” she asked.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to go to a brunch in my usual gear so I’m armoring this jacket.” He held it up for her to see it. “It’s the same metal that lines my usual coat, and the plates were made to fit this jacket exactly, so it doesn’t slip around or bunch up. Sport coats are stiffer than most garments anyway, so it’s pretty easy to hide stuff. I’ve had it for years, but I have to take the armor out to get the jacket cleaned.”
“You lead a strange life.” She didn’t think she would have noticed anything odd about the garment if she hadn’t watched him armor it. “Do you think I should start wearing armor too?”
“That depends on how good you get at that gun jamming technique thing you did yesterday morning.” He stood and slipped on the dark navy jacket over his T-shirt. He stretched and waved his arms. “If you get good at that, I don’t see why you’d have the need.”
“Whatever that was.” She could hardly remember her latest use of Shaping. “It didn’t work on the ray gun that one trooper had.”
“You also don’t know how that ability works yet.” He opened one of the nearby lockers and got a look at himself in a mirror, inside. “And nothing works against everything. It’s pretty easy to block energy weapons and attacks with my fire sword, but way harder on physical projectiles. Most bullets blow up when they pass through the heat shield around the fire, but some just get sliced in two, and then you’ve got two bullets in your face.” Satisfied, he closed the locker and removed his jacket. “Everything’s rock-paper-scissors.”
“Is there a lesson in that, or are you just being philosophical?”
“No, there’s a lesson. Always make sure you’ve got rock, paper, and scissors, at all times. That’s how I get by.”
“I never know how to take your advice.” She realized she likely had only a brief time to get ready for brunch. If even Orson was getting dressed up, she’d need to dig out something reasonably nice, as well. “I’m not sure if you’re an optimist or a pessimist.”
“I like to think of myself as a realist, but I have a positive slant from surviving so long.” He folded the jacket over his arm. “Can you be ready in about forty-five minutes? Brunch is at eleven, and it will take time to get there in a vehicle this big.”
“I think so? I haven’t had to do everything on the Aesir before, and I’ll need to dig through my luggage.” She mentally thought through her packed belongs. “I’ll aim for that.”
“Cool. Then we can get some food, and we can both get to work.”
Enoa tried not to think about training. She showered and fell into her normal morning routines, but mindless normalcy wasn’t possible on the Aesir, surrounded by constant reminders of her new situation. When she paid attention, she felt the crawler moving beneath her and hear distant sounds, noises from the Solar Saver behemoth or from the traffic that followed in its wake.
Enoa found dressing in her room would require her to stand on her bed and she had not packed a mirror, so she returned to the small bathroom to get dressed. The bright purple pants and floral sweater made her look much younger than her twenty years, nothing like the elegant image she held of herself in her mind’s eye.
But she didn’t have time to try other outfits, and she doubted her other limited clothing options would satisfy her any more. It had been years since she’d worn anything beyond her day-to-day work attire.
“Staff or no staff?” Enoa returned to the main cabin as Orson slipped his blaster up his jacket’s sleeve.
“Bring it.” He nodded. “I’m even on the fence about the sword, here, but formally I should really wear it on my belt, like at my waist, and the sheath strap isn’t ideal for that.”
“How many weapons do you have on you, right now?” She retrieved the staff.
“Do you count individual stinks in my set as different weapons?” He idly slid his hand to a small sealed pouch that hung from his belt.
“Uh, yes?” she said. “Honestly, your ability to hide weapons impresses me more than the weapons you own.”
“Like seventy, if you count the individual stinks and smoke pellets.” He returned to his own room and collected his sword, struggling to connect its strap to his regular belt. “I guess we’ll go with the sword. Go with the knight look for today. Your staff is better. It could be cultural. Most people know absolutely nothing about the Nimauk and that could help you.”
“I guess, except the futuristic staff doesn’t exactly scream Nimauk.” Enoa knew she had only the brunch between herself and the start of her training, and she wasn’t sure she wanted that constant reminder. “When I come back here to train, I’ll set up the screen and projector like we had it before.”
“Sounds good.” Orson finished fussing with the sword. “Ugh, I like the long hilt when I’m fighting but it’s just in the way other times.” He looked at her. “Are you ready?”
“Yep!” She tried to summon her initial adventuresome excitement, lost in the constant procession of battles they’d survived. “Let’s see this place.”
* * *
Duncan heard the shouting as soon as the elevator doors opened. He’d arrived at the ‘Captain’s quarters’, the apartment Kol Maros had occupied for two years, and the sparsely furnished corridor outside was loud with shouts and other noises, crashes that Duncan could not immediately identify.
“The Liberty Corps doesn’t own this building,” Kol Maros shouted. “Mrs. Greco owns this building. The only Corps involvement was our work to rebuild this place. I only live here because of the reduced rent.” A low, quiet voice replied, but Duncan could not hear the other man until he rushed into the room.
“Ms. Greco is being relocated as we speak, as are all residents.” The other man wore a white uniform with the silver, red and blue rank bar configuration of a Lieutenant. There were other troops in the room, who were boxing the apartment’s contents, everything from the china in the cabinets to the books on the coffee table. Sounds of motion came from Kol’s bedroom, indicating yet more people. “Clothing he’s cleared to keep, once you search it. Put the rest on the truck.”
“Truck?” Duncan stepped up to the Lieutenant. “What the hell is going on here? The hearing is about an alleged conduct violation. This level of examination is unheard of outside of a full criminal investigation.”
“Property seizure can be requested by S&I,” the Lieutenant said. “And it has been requested.”
“As Kolben Maros’s representative, I have a form R97 filed to stop this unlawful seizure.” Max appeared from the hallway along the back wall of the now-boxed apartment. “We are reporting improper conduct from an intelligence officer.” Max pointed to one of the boxes on the floor.
“R97 forms cannot be filed during seizure,” the Lieutenant replied without looking at Max. “But you can submit that form once we’re finished with the relocation.”
“Where the hell is Kol supposed to go?” Duncan approached the Lieutenant, and stood between him and his team.
“He will go to one of the relocation dormitories we have set aside, just like everyone else.” The Lieutenant looked around Duncan toward the hallway and toward his people in the bedroom. Duncan turned around and looked at Kol, who again had an expression of hopeless defeat in his eyes.
“The books, china, and a few personal items are mine and cannot be confiscated under section 11 of seizures.” Max held Kol’s portable terminal and was rapidly flitting through virtual pages. “Those belong to me and a standard property seizure never accounts for the belongings of an appointed representative.”
The lieutenant did not immediately speak. He sighed and exhaled from his nose. “Operative Divenoll made it clear that Mr. Maros had not yet chosen a representative. Now,” he rounded on Max. “If you interfere again, without cause, I will take you into custody for obstruction.”
“Maxwell Maros is my representative.” The look of defeat hadn’t left Kol’s eyes, but he raised them to meet the Lieutenant.
“When did you make this decision?” The Lieutenant asked. “Right now?”
“Last night,” Kol said.
“Cease the seizure.” The Lieutenant yelled down the hallway.
“Why?” A woman called back. “We have three more floors to relocate.”
“Check-in.” The Lieutenant stepped from the living room without so much as a glance at Duncan or the brothers. Duncan watched after the Lieutenant and barely noticed Max approach and take him by the arm.
“Duncan, get your things,” Max whispered. “They’re moving faster than I expected.”
“What?” Duncan turned toward him.
“They will find some pretense to seize your belongings too. I’m surprised they haven’t removed you from your position, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. Go gather everything you can’t live without and withdraw the funds you need.”
“What are you talking about?” Duncan hadn’t considered himself implicated. This had been Kol’s problem, and he’d strictly been support.
“You are my brother’s known confidant,” Max said. “You need to be prepared. Now, start thinking. What can’t you live without? It can’t be enough that they notice strange behavior from you. You’re still a Corps member, and I can’t protect you, especially if they assign a new Captain for the Newtown division.” Duncan had not considered this possibility, either. He’d discovered the Liberty Corps with Kol, joined with Kol, worked and fought by his side.
“Other than me getting my stuff,” Duncan said. “What’s the plan?”
Max looked back in the direction of the hallway. The Lieutenant must have gone into Kol’s bedroom to make the call. He could not be heard.
Max turned back to Duncan. “Meet us at the old Septa Station in two hours.”