I was up again the other night, and had an inkling to visit in on Jeremiah again. I’ve had requests to keep this story going on my blog, so, here is Part 2.
The door clicked shut on his travel bunk and he sank onto the tiny mattress. His Merc had given him five more minutes in his quarters to gather some clothing and his travel kit before she bum-rushed him to the waiting open door of the transport. Once inside, she had produced travel identifiers for him, under his alias, including Inter-Solar System passports and birth certificates. Apparently, the UCBI had thought of everything.
Now that he was alone, he could look through the information on the tablet the Merc had given him. As he read through the documents on it in more detail, he came across a fairly well hidden audio file, and he opened it, lowering the volume in case the walls had ears. They looked suspectly thin.
“Jeremiah, this is Agent Hudson. I am hopeful that you remember me.” The voice said. Jeremiah felt some relief, knowing that someone who had worked on his protection docket was aware of the situation. The last thing he needed was more drama over this whole thing. He had spent three years being Herman, and to suddenly be brought back out into the light as Jeremiah was going to be a whole heapload of rumpus. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that yet. He was off the mining planet, praise the Lord, but now the Huunari and their excellent network might just catch wind of one of their prime kill directives to descend on him like a pack of hungry wolves. Good with the bad, he thought.
“I am quite sure you are wondering what has happened, for us to send for you in such a way…” The voice continued, and Jeremiah leaned back on the bunk, put his feet up, and listened with his eyes closed. “…We believe that the Huunari have infiltrated your company over the past three years, and had gained your brother Kensington’s trust, helping him make the management decisions necessary to run the company into the ground….”
“Ken was always too trusting.” He muttered to himself.
“…Once they discovered your brother knew nothing of your disappearance, they murdered him. I’ll leave out the details…”
“…We have your sister, Yasmine, in protective custody, since we assumed she was next on their list.”
That made Jeremiah sit up again. Yasmine. His baby sister was a smart cookie, but also in danger in this, and he had to remember that. He hit pause on the audio recording, rubbed a hand over his tired face, got up, paced for a few moments. He wondered, as he looked down at the tablet, why in heck they were putting him back into danger, if the Huunari were angling in on his family and company. He poked the play button on the interface again.
As if the recording was going to answer his thoughts, Agent Hudson’s voice went from amiable to terse, and business-like. “… We need your help to apprehend the new north American leader. His name is Iakati Tenagri, and he’s got an influential finger into the gangs in Asia as well as here in North America. You might recognize the last name, and you may know him as the half-brother to Yanling Tenagri… that… err…” and then Agent Hudson cleared his throat uncomfortably, “Well, you compromised yourself with, in attempting to apprehend her father Quian.”
Jeremiah shook his head. That little tryst was going to follow him forever, wasn’t it? He’d felt like James Bond when he’d seduced her at a cocktail party, thinking he might get further info out of her in a more pleasurable way, and felt like an idiot afterwards, when he was rescued from the Huunari compound by the UCBI agents he was working with. He had still been as naked as a jay-bird, tied to an uncomfortable wood chair, love-bites and lipstick still covering his thighs and nether regions. The group had a good laugh over that one.
“…We want to bring you out of hiding, and parade you to see if we can flush Iakati out. We want to bring you back to active duty, Jeremiah. it’s imperative that we work quickly to….”
“You could have just called and asked, you know.” Jeremiah said peevishly, to no-one in particular, and then hit the stop button on the recording. He didn’t want to hear any more. He’d get a briefing soon enough in person. He noticed, as he closed the file, that it seemed to disappear. Smart man, that Agent Hudson. It was a self-deleting audio file.
He toyed with the tablet in his hands a moment longer, leafed through further media reports and briefing documents, and then turned it off. It was a ten day journey back to Earth, and he intended to use it to catch up on sleep. He also had a lot to process, and to get used to being Jeremiah again, the high-powered CEO/UCBI informant, and general society big wig that was constantly in the tabloids, and as far from inconspicuous as possible. He wondered if his suits and cars were still at the family manor, or if he would even be able to take back the life he once had in the same way. He hoped he could see Yasmine. Certainly he still had access to his money, having transferred it, at the agency’s expense, to an untraceable account in the Cayman Islands. Being a rig supervisor did not pay well at all, and that money was his anyways, damnit.
He also wanted a haircut. Men weren’t supposed to have ponytails, in his opinion, and he tugged on his irritatingly.
Herman had been as much an alter-ego as he could muster, to hide successfully. He masqueraded as a bot programmer for the automated mining operations, and supervisor for the payloads that would leave the planet on unmanned barges. He had enjoyed the change in pace, the felt elbow patches on his sweater, and the down time to read and catch up on his movies. He avoided news media at all costs, for some reason, preferring not to tempt himself with teh goings-on in the “real” world.
If not for the fitness equipment, he would have had a paunch to go with his new couch potato habits. Poitre would always tease him he was just wasting time, sweating on the “gerbil chaser”, as he called it. He offered many times to take Jeremiah out to the rig to haul cable and move piping for something new, but Jeremiah never took him up on it. Poitre would shrug his huge, bulky shoulders and slap him on the back so hard he would cough. “Your loss, Boss.” he would bark happily, and clomp out of the exercise room. In comparison, Machela was a small, mousy man with thick, round-rimmed glasses, who worked best up in the rigging, re-welding broken links in the casing, doing maintenance on running lights, that sort of thing. He was the only one who fit, and clambered around in it like a monkey in the jungle trees back on Earth. Machela never offered to take him up there. Jeremiah often thought he preferred to be alone anyways. He wondered who his replacement was going to be. Not that it mattered much. He wouldn’t miss it.
Back on his bunk, eyes just closing, his thoughts randomly scattering to memories of his now newly old life, a knock on his door jarred him awake.
“Damnit.” He muttered and rose to see who it was.
Blonde hair could be seen through the port, so he pressed the button and let her in. She looked around, surveying the bunk, the tiny table and chair, the curtained off area that functioned as a toilet, and she sighed. That was when he noticed there were two bunks, one above him, folded into the wall. Why hadn’t he seen that before? Then it dawned on him. No way, sweetie.
” Uh-uh. You don’t have your own berth?” He asked.
She looked at him peevishly with those ice-blue eyes and shrugged her sword off over her head, setting it carefully on the bed. She peeled off her overcoat, and as Jeremiah expected, she had a full carbon-fibre bodysuit on with a waist slung holster for a standard firearm. All of it hugged every curve on her body, and he swallowed involuntarily. Wow.
“No.” She replied flatly.
“Why the hell not?”
“I travel lean, to maximize profits. One room, less cost.”
He let out a breath. Great. Ten days in a transport bunk with the Ice Queen Merc, sharing a space with someone less talkative than a tree, but absolutely one hundred percent sexual.
Lovely. if he’d had a bitch fetish, he’d be having trouble staying calm right then. Lucky for her, he preferred his women warm and talkative.
She sat down in the chair across from him, and pulled out a tablet from her coat, setting it one the table. He watched as she studiously ignored him, and began ticking through what looked like paperwork, her long legs crossed and one boot tapping idly on the table leg.
No doubt, he thought, she was hard at work to make sure she could claim her fee the moment they touched Earth, and move on.
It irked him somehow that she thought him only a paycheque, instead of a human being, and he was tempted to prod her for more information, like her name. but then his eyes moved to her sword, and he kept his mouth shut. Maybe she would relax later, once they had spent some more time together. He did, however, want to lie back down, and to Hell if he was going to touch her weapon.
“Umm… could you perhaps move your sword so I could lie back down?”
She looked at him quickly, sighed in irritation, and reached back with one hand to grasp the sword. Jerking it up off the bed, she placed it heavily across the desk in front of her, and resumed her paperwork. Jeremiah raised his eyebrows.
Ok, Bitchy Ice Queen it was then. Right. At that point he wished he had been better dressed, or at least better groomed. He wondered idly if there was a concourse on the ship to get a haircut and perhaps some new clothes. Then he would have felt more comfortable confronting her on her brittle attitude.
He sat back down on the bed, tossed a searing look at the back of her head for good measure, and then rolled over to sleep. He was exhausted, and was till trying to shake off Herman and become Jeremiah again. It was a lot to process.
As he fell into sleep, murmuring involuntarily to himself about monthly reports and barge schedules he never noticed as she dimmed the lights, then returned to the soft glow from her tablet, clicking away in the silence.
Priya stretched her arms above her head and looked up from the desk. She hadn’t realized how much time she spent hunched over the tablet in front of her, and now she was stiff from the pose. Cricking her neck about, she took in the berth.
No shower, only a curtained-off toilet and sink. Two bunks, a table and chair, and a small disposal chute by the door. there was little luxury here, but she had gotten the passage for the both of them for only fifty credits, which was a steal on such a large transport.
She turned and took in the sleeping lump of man behind her. She had been intrigued when the UCBI asked her to go and get this Herman guy, explaining to her his real name, and under no circumstances was she to reveal it to anyone. She wasn’t even given a picture, which was different. But since the pay was triple what she normally collected, she agreed to go with what little information she had been given.
Priya had wondered why in the Hell she had to trapse to the mining quadrant to get a bot programmer for them. She assumed he had snitched on somebody big, and was in protection. He’d muttered something about his brother being murdered, but since she couldn’t access the UCBI tablet she’d given to him, she could only wait and see if he told her.
And she was curious.
She had expected a small, weakling little man, who was happiest behind a computer screen (or four), one who spent more time in the game world than in the real one. She had expected him to be short, or if not that, then exceedingly fat. She had expected sweaty pits and thick glasses. She had anticipated being put in the company of some pipsqueak who would try and hit on her, thinking of her as some video game goddess wet dream he had conjured out of thin air.
She was just a Merc, nothing more.
But when she saw him, it had taken her by surprise. He was none of what she had built up into her head. In fact, she had to admit, she was taken aback when she stepped into his office and almost lost her composure. That had never happened before.
For starters, he was tall, perhaps 5’9″, and he was fit, which surprised her for a person who sat for irritatingly long stretches. He had warm, brown eyes, overgrown beard, and dark hair that was neatly combed into a club. He walked like he owned the place, not like he was just the site supervisor and bot controller relegated to some backwater, and socially deprived. And above all else, she noticed that despite his humble patched sweater and slacks, his fingernails were immaculate, and a flash of an expensive data link on his finger told her otherwise.
This man was not who he seemed to be. If not for her experience looking into such attributes, she would assume he was mild mannered and meek.
He had a completely different life before he had become Herman, and despite her trained indifference to her contracts, this one made her use her imagination, thinking up who he was before. She also wondered if maybe he wasn’t an agent for the bureau, undercover, or perhaps a spy.
That sounded exciting, especially in her line of work, since rarely did she encounter anything more than your average space thug or common criminal on some wanted list.
She’d refrained from accessing the main ‘Net to find out who Jeremiah Plackett had been, or, well, is, since if she did, it may have been flagged, her ties too close, and their cover blown. Her ruse at being a simple transfer of personnel for the mining company, needing a bodyguard through the Jupiter quadrant was good enough for now. She didn’t want to chance it.
Jeremiah stirred behind her, and she went back to her tablet. She was supposed to be his escort, nothing more, and if he’d caught her staring at him, well, then she would have to explain herself. She had to remain professional.
She felt him sit up behind her, and heard him scratch at his head.
“Is there a concourse on this ship?” He asked groggily. Priya turned around.
She watched as he thinned his lips when he looked at her, then fiercly combed his hair back from his face. She surmised that indeed, he had given himself a totally new ‘look’ to become this Herman character. A look he was no longer comfortable with.
“There is also a barber and duty-free shop.” She offered, standing. “I will accompany you.”
He held a hand up as he stood up from the bunk. “No, that’s ok, I can find my way. Been on these transports a few times.”
He fumbled for his billfold in his back pocket, and produced a strange looking credit swipe. “Do you think they will take this type of card?”
Priya squinted. “Who is the account under? You must be careful for traced transactions.”
“Its ok, they can’t trace it. Haven’t for three years now.” He replied tersely, and stepped to the door.
Priya stepped in front of him quickly.
“If I am to deliver you safely, sir, I must insist.”
He glowered at her, ran a hand over his face. “Look lady, I’m a big boy, I can take care of myself. I’m going to go get food, get a haircut, some proper clothes, and then see if I can’t upgrade this bunk for something better.”
They stared eye-to-eye for a moment, and finally, she relented. She would tail him, of course, and she figured he knew that. But, since he had been rather adamant, she decided not to press.
“As you wish.” She said, standing out of the way and gesturing to the door.
Jeremiah angrily slapped the button, and stepped out into the hall, the door wooshing closed behind him.
She counted to ten very slowly, grabbed her jacket and sword, and followed.
When she finally caught up to him, he was sitting in the chair at the barber shop, gesturing around the top of his head to the young girl standing behind him. She lowered herself to the bench just around the corner and waited.
There were not many people who got on the transport out this way, and it was quiet. Footsteps would clang on the treadplate of the deck floor alerting her to a presence and she cataloged ever person who walked by. A young couple exited the sundry store looking sheppishly at one another, holding hands, and an older man sat in the mess looking through the touchscreen menu. Two businessmen with heads buried in tablets sipped caffeine pods and ignored each other.
No one looked out of ordinary, and she cracked her fingers and relaxed. Perhaps she could go back and get some sleep before he came back to the bunk. She stood, took a last cursory look at Jeremiah still talking up a storm to the girl, and retraced her steps.
The door opening made Priya sit up from the lower bunk and reach for her pistol, blinking as the lights were turned on.
“Shit!” She exclaimed, and scrambled to her feet, levering the pistol at the man’s chest. He raised his hands, a take away box in one hand, some bags in the other, and a rather annoyed and surprised expression mingling on his face.
His newly-shaved face.
Priya realized it was Jeremiah and lowered her weapon, sheathing it back to her hip.
“Do you always greet room mates like that?” He asked, putting his parcels down and turning to her.
“Well, then I feel special.” He joked back, then hefted the take away box in the air at her. “Eat? I brought us dinner.”
She watched as he cleared off the table, opened the box, and set up chicken fried rice, what looked like spring rolls, steamed vegetables, and a tin foil wrapped package that was wafting meaty aromas into the tiny bunk. Plastic knives and cutlery followed two plastic packs of water.
Primitive, but it was food, and she had not bought it. She could barely have afforded it anyways. Mercenaries were trained to go for days without food, and she had prepared to wait it out until their first port in the Jupiter quadrant so she could get cheaper fare.
But she was glad for it, and her stomach gurgled appreciatively. Jeremiah noted the noise, and she fought her control as hard as she could not to blush. Mercenaries did not blush.
Jeremiah looked completely different. Gone was the messy hair, in favour of a contemporary cut that was not short, but rumpled stylishly, and just touching the collar of his newly-purchased dress shirt. Gone was the saggy threadbare sweater and work pants, replaced by perfectly creased slacks, leather belt, and leather shoes. His sleeves were rolled, and she took in the fact that indeed, that sweater had hid serious muscle. He was more than fit, he had been working at it.
What caught her off guard the most was his face. The fuzz was gone, replaced by a chiseled, angular jaw and masculine features. Priya swallowed involuntarily. Wow.
She sat on the bed, and he handed her a box of rice with one of the rolls sticking out the top. He swivelled the chair to the other side of the table, and sat, facing her. As she held her box of food, he opened up the tin foil, and took in the aroma like a starving man.
“Do you know how long it has been since I had real, honest to goodness beef?” He said, as he found his cutlery and began sawing chunks off the steak.
Priya quirked an eyebrow. So this was the real Jeremiah. His persona had changed the moment he ditched the disguise. Her idea that he was an agent or a spy solidified. She crunched the spring roll as he shovelled steak into his mouth, enjoying every bite like it was pure Heaven.
“Did they not feed you on that rock?” She finally asked, when he had finished the steak, burped quietly, and taken a sip of water.
“She speaks.” He intoned, then chuckled. “They do, but it’s ration packs. They aren’t really gourmet cuisine.”
She grabbed a fork, and they looked at one another for a moment. They both tried to speak at once, and then Jeremiah waved his hands and gestured at her.
“You first. You can start with your name. If we are going to be bunking for ten days, I at least get to know that.”
Priya wasn’t sure what was coming over her. She was losing her hard-edge cool when this guy had shown back up to their berth looking like he stepped out of a billboard ad. She took a mouthful of rice, swallowed and cleared her throat.
“Priya, neat name. Pleased to meet you Priya.” He said then, offering his hand. She looked at it, then at him. She wasn’t into physical contact unless she had to subdue a contract, and only then would she touch other humans. She’d long ago stopped, preferring the hard edge she got from maintaining her distance.
She took another spring roll and bit into it. He closed his hand, raised an eyebrow at her and then retracted it. They both ate in silence for another moment, and Priya was silently berating herself and willing her Merc sensibilities to come back into play.
“So, Priya, what do you know about Jeremiah Plackett?” He suddenly asked, setting his finished rice container on the table.
“I know he is you, and that you have something to do with the UCBI, and that they must want you very badly since they sent me all the way out here to get you.” She replied. “I also know that your brother died, so you said back in your office.”
He smiled, and she was amazed to see white, perfect teeth. So he was rich too. You didn’t get teeth like that anywhere now without money. She found herself relaxing just a bit again, and she sat up straight.
“What about you? What does Priya do when she isn’t an ice-cold mercenary?” He countered, leaning the chair back now, pleased with himself and his question.
Priya hesitated. She had almost started to tell him about where she was from, and stopped herself. Stupid! Remember why you are here!
“That, Sir, is none of your concern.” She shot back. She stood, and went for her jacket. Before she could turn, he was in front of her, his palms outstretched.
“Sorry! Sorry.. I should know better than to ask a Merc their life story.” He said, then sighed, running a hand through his newly cropped hair. “Look, we got off on the wrong foot, really. It was kind of sudden, and I’m just getting my feet back under me, ok?”
Priya looked at Jeremiah for a moment, and put her jacket down. She had wanted out of there, preferring to put distance between her and this man. But, it was one thing to be professional, but another to be a bitch.
“Ok, Sir. My apologies. ”
“Sir… God it makes me sound old. Please, for this trip, call me Herman, and once we are back on solid ground at the UCBI, you can call me Jer.”
“I would prefer Mr. Windham.”
“Anything is better than Sir.” he replied, his back to her now, doling out some vegetables onto the plate where his enormous steak had been. “Anything.”
Priya picked up another spring roll and chewed silently, watching Jeremiah savour broccoli and carrots with a strange mix of happiness and elegance that came from being born high class. She found herself watching his jaw muscles jump as he chewed, her mind wandering to thoughts totally unbecoming to a Mercenary. Like running her lips along that jaw, or feeling it flex on the inside of her thigh.
She blinked and dusted her hands of spring roll crumbs, reaching again for her rice.
It was going to be a long ten days.