The Welcome Goodbye
Ginber 05, 000165
"Jim, I've already been working on this in my spare time," Hardi said as she paced around the room.
"I know—" Jim Bellinger began.
"And you said I had valuable insights. Were you just yanking my chain?" she fired back.
"No, I wasn't —" Jim tried.
"I can do better work if I'm on-site," she continued hotly. "Who knows what those government goons are doing to the systems?"
Hardi stopped pacing.
"Why are you so hot under the collar for this project?" Jim asked quietly.
Hardi opened and closed her mouth. "I just... I want to do something about this."
Jim sighed and swiped a hand over his desk, sliding digitized notes into a mess to his right. "You're pretty junior for this," he said. As Hardi opened her mouth, he overrode her. "I'm not saying you can't go. I'm just saying that we'll need to send you in with a partner. Make it seem like a small team, from their perspective."
The government wouldn't want to pay for a single junior consultant to come out. "You aren't going to send me with David, are you? He hates me."
Jim rolled his eyes. "He doesn't hate you. And I'm not sending him." He thought a moment, finger tapping his nose. Then he touched a spot on his desk and said, "Michael?"
Jim's assistant's disembodied voice said, "Yeah, Jim?"
"Who's the kid who came by asking about Ming Ung?"
"Uh..." There were quiet beeps on the line as Michael looked up something on his desk. "Yuk," he finally said.
"Yuck?" Hardi asked.
"Robert Yuk," Michael said. "A doctor."
"Right," Jim said. "Tell him he just got a free ride to the witches' ball. Get tickets for Harding here for the same liner. They'll go coach."
He looking at Hardi, who was gearing up for another argument. "No," he said firmly as he closed the connection to Michael. "If you want to go, this is how you go."
Hardi wisely kept her peace.
Markos watched her from his lean against the bedroom door frame. "What're you doing tonight, love?" Ice clinked in the glass of bourbon he held loosely.
Hardi glanced up at him as she methodically folded and placed clothes in her suitcase. "I'll probably do some research after I pack, then go to bed. My shuttle leaves at 5:15 tomorrow morning."
"Am I going to get a noteworthy sendoff?" Markos asked with a smirk.
Hardi hesitated a bit. "I really need sleep," she said slowly.
Markos ambled over to the dresser, and topped off his glass from the decanter there. There hadn't been alcohol in every room before Markos moved in.
"Sweetie, come on," he cajoled as he came up behind her. "You want a drink? I'm sharing the good stuff," he said, indicating the 1000-shellack-per-bottle Old Earth Bourbon. "Let's curl up tonight and watch a movie, talk a little, just relax before you head away for the trip. How long are you going to be gone, anyway?"
"I don't know yet," she said quietly.
Markos stopped walking, and Hardi hurried a little to continue. "It's a seminar — I may leave early if there's nothing for me to attend that's worth company money, but I also may stay longer than required if there's good material."
"Well, how long are we talking, Hardi?" Markos asked incredulously. "Three days? A week? A month?"
Hardi turned, still holding a slip of a bra. "It's just — I don't —"
His voice low, Markos said only, "Who is he?"
Hardi shook her head quickly. "There is no man, Markos. No one else. I'm going on a company-paid seminar, and I may be gone a little longer than a week," she said carefully, sliding a step to her left, towards the bedroom door.
Markos followed her for that step and a little more. Just inside arm's reach now — Hardi wasn't sure she could get away before he got a hold on her.
"Come here!" — no, Hardi couldn't move fast enough to avoid the hand that gripped her jaw — "You're hiding something from me." He whirled her and shoved her head back into a wall. Pain exploded behind her eyes. "Where are you really going?"
"Nowhere. A seminar. It's just work," Hardi gasped, gripping his arm. His drink was still safely held in his other hand, not a drop spilled.
"Are you going alone?" Markos hissed.
Before Hardi could answer, the apartment's visitor announcer buzzed. "You have a visitor: Dr. Jonathan Ettler," the computer stated. Ettler was Hardi's psychologist.
"I'll get rid of him," Markos said as he let her go, moving towards the door.
"No!" Hardi straightened herself and touched the back of her head lightly. "I need to talk to him about some things before my trip. If I don't see him, he'll get suspicious."
He fixed her with a look. She nodded and moved towards the door. Her private life would stay as private as it was.
She opened the front door, stepping aside to usher Jon in as she greeted him.
"Hardi, I wanted to—"
"Let's step into my office, Jon. I don't want to bother Markos's relaxation with my inane ramblings," she said with a forced chuckle. She ushered him ahead of her as they moved toward her office, barely affording Markos — standing in the kitchen now with his beloved bourbon — a glance.
She closed the door and locked it quietly behind them once they reached her office. She turned to look at him, both of them still standing.
"I told him I needed to talk to you before I left, so I had to cover a little." Hardi took a deep breath, finding herself near tears.
"Your face — Hardi, you've got finger-marks on your face. Why do you let him do this to you?" Jon's voice was soft, and Hardi crumbled beneath it, letting out a sob.
"I'm leaving tomorrow, Jon." She took a deep breath and straightened. "I'm not sure when I'll be back."
He was only slightly surprised, to her annoyance. "I figured this wasn't just about Ming Ung. It's past time that you got fed up with this."
Hardi wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I just don't know how long this assignment will last. 'Seminar.'"
"I know," Jon said soothingly. He pulled a small disk out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Don't look at this data chip until you get off planet and out of the system. It would be better if you waited until you got two or three transfers out, in fact."
He continued, "I'll give you this disk and tell you, under complete and mutual confidentiality — telepathy and clairvoyance are two of the most hushed aspects of human psychology and physiology. Scientists who research them get ridiculed by the public and disappear into obscurity. But that's not all that happens to them."
Hardi blinked. "So you think it's actually possible I was picking up some other woman's thoughts?"
Jon shook his head. "I can't say anything that definite. In all the years of publicly-available scientific psychological and neural research on humans — even among our genetically-modified branch—there has yet to be a documented, certifiable case of telepathy or clairvoyance."
Hardi thought there might be more than one reason for that; she wasn't particularly keen on being a subject of "scientific psychological and neural research on humans", herself. But centuries of research couldn't be scoffed at, either.
"So certain places in the brain would be bigger in someone with telepathy?" she asked. "Like a better developed muscle?"
"Not necessarily bigger. There would be more connections to the responsible area from other parts of the brain, though — the more connections, the more developed. But there's no telling what part of the brain it would be linked to. A brain scan might show nothing outside of established norms."
Jon watched her roll this information through her mind for a moment. "I think I'll leave you with that, Hardi. Do you want to find another place to stay tonight?"
Distractedly, she shook her head. "I'll lock myself in here tonight after I pack."
"And in your bedroom while you pack?" Jon asked.
She fixed him with a look, but said obsequiously, "Yes, Dr. Ettler."
Jon couldn't smile at her mocking obedience. "Then I hope I'll hear from you sooner rather than later. In one piece."
"I'll be in touch when I can," she said, tucking the disk in her pocket. As an afterthought, she pocketed her comm. She could do research from it in her room, too.
They left the office and headed towards the front door. Markos was nowhere to be seen as they walked.
When the door was closed behind Ettler, Hardi's stomach tightened as she listened for Markos. Still quiet. She walked softly in socks towards the bedroom, ears and eyes straining. Not in the bedroom, either, as far as she could tell. She silently shut the bedroom door and locked it, then double-checked the lock on the door to the balcony.
As she turned back to her suitcase, she noticed the bottle of bourbon was gone, and gave a sigh of relief. He was off somewhere sulking.
She finished packing quickly, letting the news run on the vid in the bedroom as she did so. They weren't reporting anything new on Ming Ung, but there were still people who were just now hearing about it, so the stations were still sensationalizing it.
Suitcases at — and blocking — the bedroom door, Hardi curled up in bed with her comm. She did a search for Dr. Robert Yuk, coming up with a basic historical bio. Originally from Irka Secundus, where he also got his medical degree. Moved here to Uthla Main a year ago, no job listed. She didn't have a job publicly listed, either, which went along with working for Ishan Security Corp.
Hardi tossed and turned for another hour after she turned out the lights. She finally slipped into a dreamless sleep, jarred awake too few hours later by her alarm. She staggered out of bed and made her way towards the bathroom.
"Son of a bitch," she muttered as she tripped over her suitcases. That woke her up a little more. She remembered hiding from Markos last night, and continued on more stealthily. She showered and dressed.
Markos was lying on the couch snoring peacefully. Mornings after were never so bad. Hardi stood over him for a moment, watching him breathe. She leaned down and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Goodbye," she whispered.
The passenger liner was one of the shabbiest Hardi had ever been on. It was night on-board, about eight hours offset from Hardi's city on Uthla Main, which meant it was dinner time.
Hardi stood in line — in line, no per-room dispensers here — waiting for dinner. Or breakfast.
"Listen, you stupid cow. I didn't fuck him, and I wouldn't've fucked him if he paid me to do it!"
Hardi saw a tray clang into a wall. A murmur of "Ooh," was rising from the folks in the cafeteria, and the people in line backed away.
A small spiky-haired woman was standing, still talking, "The motherfucking pencil-dicked loser couldn't find a willing hole if his shit was about to fall off." She weaved towards the door, obviously drunk and bumping Hardi with her should as she passed. Hardi turned with the blow a little, letting her pass without trouble.
The line reformed as people remembered to be hungry. A distinguished-looking man that finagled his way up behind her in line looked around with amusement.
"People do love their dramas, don't they?" he asked Hardi conspiratorially.
Hardi gave him a quick glance. Skinny, with a long face and bright green eyes. Well-dressed in professional clothes.
"They do," Hardi said before turning back around to actively wait in line. She was pretty sure a boat this size could have the power and processing abilities to handle per-room dispensers, and they could definitely raise their going rates if they did.
"I'd hate to be her roommate," the man continued good-naturedly. "If she's that rude drunk, imagine how she'll be when she's hung over." His accent wasn't Uthlan. No surprise there. Very few people had boarded with Hardi.
"Some people are just fine when they're hung over," Hardi muttered, thinking of Markos.
The man leaned closer to her shoulder. "I'm sorry?"
Hardi twisted a little away from him. "Oh, I was just saying that... I hope she doesn't get alcohol poisoning."
He looked a little less amused. "Yes, maybe I or the ship's doctor should check on her." Hardi had a feeling who this man was, which was confirmed when he stuck a hand around and said, "Robert Yuk, by the way."
Hardi nodded and touched wrists with him. "Harding Rhodes."
"Oh. Well, hello partner," Robert said cheerfully.
"Hello, um, partner," Hardi replied, smiling in spite of herself. "Listen, I'm just going to pass on this meal business for now. I guess I'll see you around."
"Yes, we should probably compare notes or stories or something to prep for our arrival." He gave her a theatrical wink.
Hardi rolled her eyes and stepped out of line, making her way out of the cafeteria. She had no intention of spending much time with Robert.
The door to her quarters was unlocked. "Fuck," she muttered as she stepped in. The place was a mess, and the spiky-haired woman from the cafeteria was on all fours in the middle of the room, vomiting in a small trash can.
Well, now Hardi knew who the woman was. Tria Bran, her roommate.