Sid awoke in the dark, not knowing how long he’d slept, feeling refreshed in spite of that. A unfamiliar sound, heavy breathing met his ears. His eyes could only just make out a form in the dark, and it stopped, at the sound of blankets moving.


   ‘I wake you?’ it was Cavalier, her voice gruff


   ‘No, did that on my own.’ his hand slapping into the table looking for some kind of light switch, which he eventually found. The low glow of light filled the room, wrong switch but close enough. In the dimness he found a dial and brightened it only enough to not hurt his eyes. ‘What exactly are you doing’


   ‘Exercise. Practicing forms.’ a task she went back to. She’d stripped down, only binding her more intimate parts, revealing taught muscles, her skin, patterned in a few different colors, she moved with precision, the movements would start simple, and grow in complexity, then reset as she moved to a new set, clearly some kind of fighting style or something, unidentifiable to Sid himself.


   ‘I don’t think I’ve seen those forms.’ Pointed small talk, was always more of Sid’s thing. She simply grunted in response, and continued to practice, a thin sheen of sweat reflecting from the myriad of lights in the ceilings and walls. He continued to watch for a while in silence, her gaze falling upon him, when her pose would allow, he didn’t catch the look on her face.


   ‘Like what you see?’ she sat down on her half of the bed, leaning forward, resting her hands on her knees, her back to him. ‘Thinking you might not get rid of me?’


   Sid paused. He’d felt he was making it pretty clear, I mean matter of need thus far. ‘I’ he slipped back into thought letting the space between his words grow. ‘I’m not trying to insult you.’ A snort ‘It has hardly been a day.’ a shaking of her head. ‘Besides, you could call me Sid suspicious.’ his voice dipped, with emerging apologetic qualities. With that she turned.


   ‘You’re damn right about that.’ her look was firm but not hard, an edge of concern visible in a tilt in the narrow tilt of her lips. ‘But it has been a long, long day? We could go with the questions? I heard you trying to dig in a bit there.’


  The Questions was an old trust building routine, it had taken many forms and evolved a little over the years. A series of inquiries that could build trust, the idea that trust built intimacy. A few different parties over the ages had attempted to leverage it for various ends. ‘Not just going to lean into your leverage, and the withheld information for leverage? Really out of your depth here’


   ‘Don’t know if I’d spin it that way. Just not my style. I like direct.’ she crawled toward him on the bed, their faces growing close.


   ‘Patience really doesn’t seem your strong suit no.’ he shifted a little, so their gaze was more direct, with the distance closed he could smell her, a faint sweet scent, dark on the edges.


   ‘Looks like you see right through me.’ he watched, she held contact with his own eyes for a bit, drifting down to his mouth, and back, but then the corner of her mouth lifted too far.


   ‘That was on purpose’ his volume dropping to almost a whisper.


   ‘So what if it was? She shifted, her knees bending to support her weight as she pulled back. ‘Sid Suspicious indeed.’ she broke into a laugh, the tension sublimating with it. She wandered over to the shower pulling the door shut as she passed, holding it open only a sliver wide enough to leave room for her eyes. ‘If I did, the tricky part is why.’ Closing the door fully, the sound of water pressure announcing itself.


   Sid threw himself back onto the bed, pulling his hands behind his head. He couldn’t lie to himself, she had an affect, the probably intentional one. The machinery of his mind whirred, building decision charts, running through the variations but none really came up satisfactory. Genuine attraction written off as her being a constant flirt. Nothing, was the conclusion.


   Shaking it off he rose himself, and walked over to the various boxes of food bars, and finding a flavor he could tolerate, some kind of chocolate cake, not that he’d know for sure, pulling out a chair at the table, he broke his fast. Rhythmically chewing he tried to clear his mind, but his mind was uncooperative, the moment held, and he could not push it out. He was practically joyful when he heard the knock.


   ‘Target’s selected. Leaving in forty five.’


   ‘We’ll be ready. We going to get some personal defense gear?’


  ‘Yeah, got you covered’ Sure he wasn’t getting a clearer answer he walked over to the bathroom, and pounded on the door. ‘Hurry up, we’re heading out in less than an hour and I’d like to shower myself, waiting for the predictable response


  ‘We can shower at the same time, I know that thought has occurred to you.’ just as he’d expected. Just her being flirty. Part of him remained staunchly unsatisfied but he had other lines to look down.


  ‘Don’t think showers clean dirty minds’ he shot back, going back to his breakfast. She emerged shortly there after, quietly, dragging him and pushing Sid into the bathroom. He quickly set about his task, trying trying to let the heat and steam clear the troubles of his mind. He heard the door open, and close without an exchange of words. Stepping out of the shower, clean but troubled, he saw she had set his clothes inside the bathroom door. He would have liked to pause to reevaluate but couldn’t spare the moment.


  She was sitting at the table, taking alternating bites of two different meal bars, with two more unopened stuck into her pockets. He could see the wisdom in that, so he grabbed a couple more himself, and walked toward the exit. There weren’t any guards around, he could have wandered but he thought better of it, didn’t want them to send a runner and find them missing.


  ‘Any you liked?’


  ‘The lemon bars are pretty good. These chicken ones, but they don’t go bad together.’


  ‘Some of the combos you can find are pretty weird.’ he agreed.


  ‘So.’ she interrupted his thoughts, ‘If you could have dinner, with any one person who would it be?’



  ‘Oh so you were serious about asking them?’


  ‘I’m always serious Sid.’ she cracked a worn half smile ‘About some things any way.’


  ‘Let me think about it, not like I’ve thought about it in a bit.’ She shrugged and went back to eating, such as it was. ‘They’re supposed to be arming us.’


  ‘You ask what?’


  ‘Nah, figured they’re gonna be rentals any way. Just for the Op.’ With much ceremony she folded up the empty packages, brushing the crumbs from the table into the waste bin, rising to meet him at the door.


  They didn’t have long to wait, before the head of one of Hyugin’s men popped around the corner ‘Come on then, if you’re ready.’ Complying they went with the mercenary, down a flight of stairs and into what appeared to be an armory.


  A couple of pistols with holsters, a ballistic knife each, a flashbang to split between them, and at last some armor. ‘Now, you’re gonna want these under you’re clothes, and they’re not gonna stop much, but should save it from being fatal. The thin plas-crete shirt was liquid, but would harden very rapidly with pressure, but they only worked once. Sid was thankful to have them, but was kind of surprised. He figured they wouldn’t be preparing this much, or did Hyugin know something he didn’t.


  After that, they were led down another flight of stairs to a different section of the garage, where Hyugin was waiting, with a few more of her goons. He counted a diver, three augs, and a drone pilot with a mobile rig. ‘Quit the war party, mind telling me who, since this we’re prepped for a lot of heat.


  ‘Well, you said the coin was molten, so I figure at most we’d have ten minutes, but past that, I’m going to have you doing a buy with Leo.’


  ‘Leo’s not the kind to ordinarily-’ he trailed off. ‘You’re the one who dicked him over?’ Hyugin doing a small curtsy


  ‘He started it, this going to be a problem?’ While phrased as a question, he could read that she wasn’t exactly going to wiggle on this. ‘I trust you wouldn’t give me the keys to your wallet now would you?’ No, that wasn’t going to happen but she would know that. No, this means he’d have to go himself, and he wasn’t exactly on great terms with Leo himself. Well, fingers crossed.


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