I reached, instinctively, for my gun, but found in its place only air and thick cotton. My fingers fumbled for a moment, replaying the ghost of movement as I 'drew my weapon' up.
I'd left it at home, I realised. Come to think of it, the last time I had even seen my standard issue weapon was a few days ago, when I was fucking around with the safety and twirling the barrel over and under and across my hands, hooking it, and letting it fall and swing like a hand held acrobat.
I considered, for a moment, leaving. Walking back down those stairs and out into the street again, until whoever was inside was gone. I didn't have a weapon, after all, and I wasn't dumb enough to keep any of my valuables in a shit hole of an apartment when I have a 24/7 guarded lock box in an Alliance station just 5 minutes away.
But then my mind drifted again, to the small blue box at the bottom of my closet, and I knew I couldn't risk walking away.
I took a deep breath, and wrapped my palm quietly around the round steel knob. Pressing my ear again against the wood, I listened inside for as long as I thought I could afford too. I couldn’t hear the voices anymore, and part of me thought that I might have just imagined it before. But no, I glanced at the open blinds again, I’m not imagining that.
I twisted the knob, pushing my wrist out and forward slowly. The door made a small whining noise, and I winced.
I stepped into the warm, thick darkness. The kind of heavy air brought on by the brewing and mixing of odours; liquor upon smoke upon sweat, built up over my stay here and amplified by the sealed windows and lack of air conditioning.
The poor lighting from outside didn’t stretch very far, cutting out completely about halfway through the living room. After that point, I really couldn’t see much at all. I was glad for my own minimalism, then. I had made no point of getting settled into the apartment, so it was mostly bare. Save for the absolutely minimal furniture and a slowly growing collection of empty bottled, the room was empty. Easier to move around quietly when there’s nothing for you to bump into.
I paused again, listening for the sounds once more. Sure enough, they came. From the steady tone I guessed they didn’t detect me yet. They were coming from the study, I could hear that now. Still to obscured for me to make out their exact words, though.
I took a deep breath. I could see, from around the corner, a soft yellow light flowing out from the open study door. I inched closer to the wall, slowly, pushing my back against the smooth off white paint. The door was coming up to my right, the muttering getting louder as I stepped closer and closer.
It sounded like they were somewhere towards the centre of the room. A good distance apart from each other, too. In my mind, I ran through my plan of action. Hopefully I could duck my head into the door frame quick enough to get a good look, but if they noticed me first…
My palms were starting to sweat, I realized. They grasped at the air, so unfamiliar with the emptiness. I wasn’t used to facing danger without the press of steel in my hand. Even worse, I had the vague memory at the corners of my mind, gnawing at me, that I’d left my gun in the study. At best, that meant I really would be going in on nothing but my own merit. At worst, it meant that these would be petty criminals might just have gotten their hands on high level alliance tech.
The doorway was within arms reach, now. I turned around, pressed my chest to the wall instead, and shuffled closer so slowly it hardly seemed I was making any progress. I turned my head to the side, pressed it against the wall while I moved along, still listening. I could make out a word here or there; it wasn’t much, but that, combined with the tone and the context gave me enough to know that whoever they were; they were not just petty criminals. And this was mostly likely not a random break in.
For one, they most definitely knew who I was. I could make out my own last name a few times. “Waymire should be here any moment.” said one voice, sounding distinctly female. Great, I thought, another random woman in my apartment. Just what I needed.
I stuck my head forward, and peeked into the room. The last person who spoke, the woman who knew my name, must’ve been towards the far side of the room, behind the desk. Out of my field of vision. I didn’t feel like sticking my neck out any further to get a look at her, either. Vaguely, towards the opposite end of the room, a figure sat in shadows. It hadn’t spoken in a while, so I couldn’t be 100% sure, but the silhouette seemed vaguely male.
Now or never, I thought. I had somewhere in the back of my mind that I could still turn tail and leave, but what these two people had been whispering was too intriguing for me to leave now. And besides, if I left, where would I go? I sure as hell wouldn’t ever be able to come back here.
I turned around, gripping at the wall as I practically swung around the corner and into the room. Instrinely, I got lower, bend at the knees and making every part of my body move with me.
My head snapped to the desk, to where the female voice had been. Her back was turned from me, but from the slight jolt I saw travelling through her arms I knew she had noticed me. I glanced at her hips and, seeing a gun holstered but now drawn, figured I had about three more seconds until she shot.
Shifting shadows at the corner of my eye. The other figure had stood up, but I didn’t have time to break focus. I stretched out my spine and lunged closer to the woman. She was starting to turn towards me, but I still couldn’t tell who she was. I noticed her clothing, though. Or, rather, not her clothing as much as the fabric. Grey, tight, and thick. Definitely not robbery (or assassination) attire.
I stopped short, torso before legs and, as a result, stumbled forward into the wall. Luckily, I turned myself just before the collision, so I hit it with my back instead of slamming into it face first. At least I saved some dignity, I thought sarcastically, but slowly realised that, at this point, trying to save dignity was actually somewhat important. The woman had turned, and I’d seen her face, and the shock (and relief?) had made me freeze mid movement.
Patricia Lonoff: Senior Operations Director for the Artificial Intelligence Relations Alliance, my Supervising Officer, Head Bitch in Charge of the entire Omega subdivision, and professional pain-in-my-ass, was standing with her arms crossed.
Behind my shitty desk, in my shitty apartment, which no-one but me was even supposed to know exist. And when I hit the wall, I saw the corners of her mouth twist into the smug fucking smile, and the fear I had been experienced flipped over into anger.