Hollowed Memories, chapter 3, part 4

July 6, 2014

Having confirmed what they had been told about the interior layout of the factory and learned a little more about what was being made inside, the duo slipped back to the safe house where their operations were now based.  Yarec had acquired a light but fast motorcycle, and he gritted his teeth as the sooty breeze brushed past his ears.  Mrissa had her own cycle, but for this outing she had left it behind, and she was riding on the second seat behind Yarec.  Her tresses were tucked loosely under a hard domed helmet, and just her left hand was resting on his shoulder.  The touch felt so soft–not dainty, but nonchalant–as if she were completely immune to the nerves that had turned Yarec’s shoulders into hunched, corded masses, braced against the wind.

When they got back, with no sign of having been followed, Yared opened up the door of a narrow side shed and tucked the motorcycle inside.  It was a spare little device, with long dark seats, narrow rubberine tires, and twists of black metal.  He wedged it in beside Mrissa’s bulkier cycle and relocked the door.  Ris was already on her way into the house.  She moved warily, as always, alert to the possibilities of betrayal and ambush.  She eased the back door open and peered inside.  The digital display on the inward side of the door frame informed her that nobody had been in or out of the safe house while she had been away.  So Mrissa shot Yarec a leering grin and proceeded inside.

A bit of poking around confirmed the door computer’s story–or at least the claim that no one else was currently present.  Yarec had sent away the trio of helpers that his employers had provided.  They had gotten him the equipment he ordered, and after that they were superfluous.  They could have stayed on as guards, but if any enemies knew enough to stage an attack on the safe house, Yarec knew he was was probably doomed no matter what.  He went to relieve himself, then found Mrissa in the house’s cheap kitchen, setting out hard biscuits and synthetic coffee to soak them in.

He sat down across from her at the small square table, patterned with yellow sunbursts centered at the four corners.  He dunked his bread in a two-handled coffee mug and held it there, waiting for the starch fibers to soften.  Mrissa was already eating, and he watched a couple drops of glittering black coffee running from the corner of her mouth down to her chin.

Outside, the festival was still going on.  The house was well away from the center of activity, but they could hear a strolling balladeer somewhere not far off.  He was singing an old local folk song, and Yarec could make out some of the words.

The wild coast is lonely, the man sang.

Yarec looked down at his biscuit, which was now coming apart completely in the hot liquid.  He scooped up what was still dangling from his fingers and shoved it unceremoniously into his mouth.

“What’s the problem?” Mrissa asked.  Yarec shook his head, trying to swallow without scalding his throat.  “You seem pretty worried about going ahead with the mission,” she pressed.  “If there is a problem, I deserve to know about it.”  Her tone mixed the sounds of concern and self interest.

A large subtropical disturbance was blowing up from the Cortesian Sea.  In another day, it would be whipping the coastline, pushing floodwater up Sankirk’s man-made channels and splattering gouts of gray rain on the city roofs.  Yarec and Mrissa agreed that they should take advantage of the disorder the storm would engender.  So the infiltration and sabotage would be going forward the very next day.  That was sooner that Yarec had initially envisioned, and the accelerated schedule had been extremely demanding.

Once he had choked down enough of the biscuit to answer Mrissa’s question, Yarec said, “There’s no problem.  I just get really tight right before a mission.”  The fingers of his left hand were curled into a tight, claw-like shape, pressed against the tabletop.

Mrissa bit her lower lip, which was her particular way of looking thoughtful.  Outside, they could hear the song:  … lost his daughter to me….

“You look terrified,” Mrissa whispered.  “It’s not what I’d’ve expected.”

“I don’t do well anticipating stressful situations,” Yarec said glumly.  Mrissa’s eyes were wide, although Yarec could not say whether it was with pity or fear.  However, he did not really want either emotion.  “Look,” he said, “when I get into a tough situation, I can do fine.  It’s pretty slick.  The training and experience take over, and I don’t have time to second guess myself.  Before the action starts though, I get really on edge.”

Mrissa got up and walked around the table.  She brushed her pale hand, dotted with a few orange freckles, against his cheek.  Her skin felt cool and calming.

tighten around me

He turned and looked up at her.  She was almost crying, and her expression seemed to be of sad  adoration.  Not for the first time, he was struck by the attractiveness of her figure.  However, she had never before shown any kind of similar emotional interest when she looked across at him.  Now, gazing down, her eyes were glistening with moisture, and Yarec though of how those sad yet playful eyes might heal all his worries.

pretty red mouth

That night, they had time for some activities that were strictly personal, between the two of them, but in the morning they needed to concentrate solely on their work.  Yarec woke up before Mrissa.  He moved quietly to second bedroom across the upstairs hall and began to clean himself up, but it was not very long before his partner joined him.  She was wearing a long brown nightgown that she had probably found in one of the closets, and she had retrieved half a dozen high-protein meal bars from the kitchen.  Mrissa offered one to Yarec.  He took it and split open the flimsy packaging, then bit off a large chunk of the crunchy, sweet material.

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