I’m back! Didja miss me?
Probably not. But I’m back now, with all the things for you!
These chapters are about the beginning of the worst few days of my life – and Cass, too. We were both busy, but we weren’t where we wanted to be; namely, with each other. It was still our honeymoon! We hadn’t even been married two weeks yet!
Anyways, off we went!
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Chapter 8: Where to Now?
Kendra was kept cooling her heels in the anteroom for almost an hour before Director Talbott allowed her in the office.
“What the hell goes on?” demanded Kendra. “You stress how urgent this is, how time-critical a mission it is, and then you have me wait on you? Damn you, Amanda, if I hadn’t promised you this last mission I’d walk out on you right now!”
“Shut up and sit down!” volleyed Talbott. “You are still my agent, and you will do what I say!” Talbott’s tone could have carved a diamond. “Not that you had a need to know, but you were kept waiting, princess, because the agents accompanying you were delayed en route.”
Kendra wasn’t going to hold for that. “Then you shouldn’t have summoned me!” she blasted.
Talbott smiled coldly. “Feel better? Not that I care any longer; after this, you’re all done, and you can take a one-way trip to the Phobos Colony if you like.”
Kendra stood mute.
“Aren’t you going to ask me who the agents are? You’re usually more inquisitive.”
“Silent treatment? How mature. Evan Livingstone and Jamey Yarnelle will be with you from here, north to the Imperium, and then onward until you land at the Palmdale shuttle port. At the entrance to the Valley, you will be met by Gary X and Ed Sanchini. They’ll take you the rest of the way.”
“Gary X?” asked Kendra, incredulous. “He couldn’t come up with anything better? And why the escorts? It’s not like I don’t know people there; I did work there, remember? And why Palmdale? Isn’t that part of the Duchy?” California had shattered even worse than the old United States. Almost every county was now a country of one stripe or another; republics, pure democracies, tyrannies, monarchies, any form of government imaginable. San Fernando Valley was a functional anarchy, while Palmdale was the seat of the Duchy of Lancaster. Anything went in San Fernando, while the Duchy was much stricter and more controlled. It made the choice to go into the Duchy first puzzling.
“Yes, it is. We need you to come out of the Duchy, rather than directly from the Imperium. The package – let’s say that it would be expected from the Imperium but not the Duchy.” Talbott ignored her other questions.
Kendra shrugged. “Your show. When do I pick up, and who is my contact in “Nando?”
“The package will be provided to you in Chicago by one of our agents. She’s currently serving in the Northern Imperium’s Navy, so don’t be surprised by her appearance. That’s all I can tell you.”
“Amanda, that’s not how we do things -”
“It is this time. Need to know.”
“Fine, whatever.” She restrained an urge to tap her foot. “Where are they, and when do we leave?”
The door chime sounded.
“That should be them, and immediately.” The door swung open, revealing the two agents. Both were short and dark, with brown hair, but the resemblance ended there. Jamey’s hair was tied in a long ponytail, and he wore what could only be described as “hippie clothes” – faded blue jeans, ripped at the knees and just below the back pockets; worn brown suede jacket with fringe off the sleeves; and a multi-colored shirt with the archaic “peace” symbol on it.
Evan was the polar opposite. From the stylish haircut to the designer shoes, everything about him screamed “professional!” A banker, perhaps, or a businessman. Not a lawyer; they generally wouldn’t come out in public without at least one very large, very well-armed guard.
“Kendra, have you ever met Evan or Jamey?” Now that she was in public again, the “warm” Amanda had returned.
“Jamey, once or twice, but I don’t think I know Evan.” She extended her hand, and he accepted it. His grip was firm, brief – again, professional.
“Ready to go? All clear on the assignment?” asked Talbott.
“You know it,” said Kendra.
“Completely,” said Evan.
“No problemo,” added Jamey. “We’re outta here.”
“Fine. I’ve arranged for an APV to get you into the New Confederacy – I know how you feel about them, Kendra, but they have the loosest border controls. From there, I want you in Chicago in twenty-four hours, no later.” She stood and handed an Impervalope to Kendra. “The rest of your instructions are in there. You are not to open it until you are in the Confederacy. Are we clear?”
All three nodded.
“Good.” Without another word she sat down and returned to her work.
Chapter 9: You Talk Too Much
After Kendra left, Cass let Mac back into the quarters without a word. Sensing her mood, Mac refrained from her usual stream of chatter and busied herself at the terminal, apparently catching up on a bit of work. Only a few minutes passed before Cass realized that she would sink into a funk if she didn’t get out, so she said, “Mac, why don’t you show me the gym? I think I might take you up on that workout.”
OutLook had a complete fitness center on the third level down, taking the entire floor, and that’s where Cass and Mac ended up. “Weights, treadmills, all sorts of exercise machines for people who don’t want to do sparring or some other sort of interactive exercise, but those aren’t for me, they keep telling me that I have to be ready for anything even though I work mostly here and not in the field, there might be a job they need me and if I can’t defend myself where will I be?”
“I agree,” said Cass. “Where’s Master Cordova’s studio?”
“Oh, down this way, but if we’re going to do anything we have to hit the locker room and change first, wouldn’t do to try Hapkido in street clothes, and did you bring a gi of any sort with you?”
“That’s okay, I can get one for you to borrow, it’s not a big deal, people come and go here all the time, you wouldn’t believe how much laundry actually has to get done, it was one of the tasks I was given, to write a program that would track whose clothing was being cleaned and how often, not all that interesting really but a little challenge because people didn’t want anyone “official” to know how often their underwear was being washed, pretty silly huh?”
They had passed several doors, some open, and Cass had peered into every single one, not caring what people thought. They were all pretty similar, with padded walls and floors, though she had seen a couple rooms with punching bags and speed bags, as well as what she would have sworn was a ballet studio.
“Here we are.” Mac stopped in front of a pair of doors. “Do you want to observe first or do you just want to see if Master Cordova can get you into the lesson, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind either way, but maybe you should watch for a while first since you don’t know Hapkido, it’s the door to the left, that leads to the gallery, I’ll go down and talk to him and maybe convince him to do a demonstration?”
“Sounds like a plan,” laughed Cass, wending her way through Mac’s speech to the eventual point. The door slid away in front of her.
The gallery was fairly small, a couple rows of seats set about three meters above the studio floor, and she was the only one present. Cass could see one person, presumably Master Cordova, standing in front of a group and leading them through a series of moves. The Hapkido version of a roda, she figured out. She watched, fascinated, as they repeated a variety of kicks, punches, sweeps, and other moves. Some students were quite advanced, while others were obvious novices, yet the Master had patience for them all.
Several minutes later, Mac emerged from a door beneath the gallery dressed in her gi. Bowing, she approached Master Cordova, who stepped away from the class with a smile to talk to the diminutive agent. Although Cass couldn’t hear the conversation, she had no trouble imagining it:
“Master Cordova I brought someone new today who might want to do some training, she’s doesn’t know anything about Hapkido but she says she used to study something called capoeira, she didn’t really explain too much about it, she doesn’t have a gi so we’d need to get one for her and she’s sitting up in the gallery waiting for me to talk to you so here I am and what do you think?”
The end of the sentence was apparent, as Master Cordova turned and took a quick glance at Cass before returning his attention to Mac. Whatever he said was brief.
“Come down!” called Mac, heedless of any decorum.
Face flushing as every eye in the studio turned to look, Cass found her way up then back down to the class to be met by Mac.
“Master Cordova said yes!” blurted Mac. “Isn’t that great? It’s going to be so much fun, and -”
“What was the question?” Cass interrupted the spiel.
“Oh! I asked him if you could join for a few days but explained we have to get you a gi first so let’s go and find one then we can come back after this session is finished and Master Cordova can maybe do a personal lesson with you since you don’t know anything about it.”
A gi was quickly located. Cass found herself inexplicably nervous she approached the studio door again. Perhaps it was being without Kendra for the first time in months; perhaps it was the borrowed clothes; perhaps it was not knowing what she was walking into. For the first time since her flight from her wedding, she was at loose ends, and it was uncomfortable.
“Earth to Cass?” Mac’s voice broke through her ruminations.
“Sorry. Woolgathering.” Taking a deep breath, she stepped through the door.