Her AloneMature

Three hours had passed since Garith left the hotel and he wondered if Mylad's men were suspicious yet. It was now close to rush hour and traffic had slowed the taxi considerably, long enough that he began to second guess his plan to make it back into the hotel without being seen; he worked better under pressure, more efficient when time had become a luxury and decisions must be made on the fly.

The cab dropped him two blocks north of the hotel and he paid in exact change. The driver gave him a sour look and drove off. Garith made his way, concealed among other pedestrians, to the building he had climbed down from. He was glad to see the explosions hadn't caught the attention of the police, but suspicious that he could not make out his followers from here. He slipped into an alley and climbed a fire escape.

Stopping at the threshold of the roof, he gave the hotel's and surrounding rooftops and scan. No one up here, either. He crawled to the edge of the building and peered down where the two sentinels he had distracted with explosions had been. On the street it had been busy, but from this vantage point he was sure they were no longer there. Nor anywhere else he could see. He stood, took a few steps back, and jumped onto the roof of the hotel.

He felt absurdly exposed up here, open air around him for several blocks, and the crunch of pebbles beneath his boots seemed amplified. He removed the boots and carried them toward the maintenance stairway. The door was slightly ajar. Removing the gun from his holster, he poked it into the crack between the door and frame, then opened the door slowly. The drab light shone into the stairwell and mixed strangely with the light of the incandescent bulbs inside. No one there.

He stepped inside, feathered the door shut behind him, and began walking slowly down. The stairwell was concrete, and when his boots lightly bumped the railing it was amplified ten fold. He again began to feel exposed. There were mere inches between the railings of each flight; he could not see more than one flight down, and there were five flights between him and the second floor where his suite was. He stepped cautiously from stair to stair, careful not to make any more noise.

He heard a faint hum and hollow buzzing sound, otherwise the silence was deep. Almost something physical. A light flickered briefly and he almost fired his gun. Taking a deep breath and letting up on the pressure his finger was applying to the trigger, he continued.

A small tick came floating up from one of the floors below. Something like a pebble falling. He stopped and listened. Fabric rubbing against something. Another tick. He sidestepped around the landing, aiming his gun at the farthest point of his line of sight. His coat caressed the wall behind him. The noise below stopped. He held his breath for a few moments, listening, then breathed as slow as he could through his mouth. Whoever it was seemed to doing the same thing as him.

"We know of each others presence, let's be done with hide and seek and get to business, shall we?" he queried. No response.

"If it is my life you have come for, I feel obliged to warn you that you are unlikely to succeed." Nothing acknowledged him, but the faint sounds came again.

He took a moment to put his boots back on, figuring the quiet jig was up. He walked slowly down the stairs, his finger on the trigger again and aiming at torso level of anyone below.

"If you startle me, I might kill you by accident. Best to let yourself known," he called to his unknown company, and rounded another landing. Two more flights to go before he reached his floor, but he would not make it there. The light bulb on the landing below him exploded and suddenly he could vaguely see something black slinking up the next flight of stairs through the crack between the railings.

It reached the landing below him and Garithed fired, adjusted his aim, fired again, and then again, again, until his gun was empty. The black shape dropped flat; he had stunned it. But it wouldn't stay that way. He had seen one before, some genderless Contrivance that was obviously human in origin yet somehow changed. The last time he saw one it nearly killed him. He ran up the stairwell taking three steps at a time, shouldered the door at the top open, jumped to the next building and nearly fell down the fire escape in his haste.

People watched him as he ran across the street, broke a car window, got inside, did something to the wires below the steering column, then drove off. He didn't like being watched. He sped past the hotel, looking out of the drivers window as he passed. The drapes in his suite had been plain off-white; they now appeared to have a pattern of large red roses. Someone had told Errand of his location. Mylad's henchmen were dead; agents most likely on the way. He hoped this wouldn't ruin any chance of gaining the man's trust. He supposed, if anything, this would help to prove his sincerity.

At least the prototype had been delivered. Things had now been set in motion, but he was not certain if they were good or bad. They were necessary, that is all he knew. Then again, that was exactly why he had fired himself in the first place. Necessary things which turned out to be hideous things hardly seemed necessary, looking at the big picture. Looking in from the outside. It was why his hands were permanently disfigured--the removal of the device. Hadn't he thought that removing it--mostly as a sign to himself that he had indeed been fired--was worth his hands? The device gave him power, yes, but it also controlled him in a way. He remembered the kid in the parking lot--the last time he used it--and how difficult it had been even to manually shut it off to spare the young man's life. It would have ended differently, most certainly, if the device had still been implanted. One more in a long list of lives taken. In any case, he was walking a slippery slope now, and below him was his old self and old job. Above him,  at the crest of this slope, was her and her alone.

His eyes unglazed and he swerved to the left, narrowly missing a street lamp he had set a course for in his daze. He needed to go somewhere. Some time to think. His next move must be planned meticulously.

The End

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