Summary: Sometimes a one-way street is the only way out.
Characters: Two OCs
Rating: R for language and themes (gen fic).
Warnings: This is a very alternate universe. Adult themes and adult language.
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Never will.
NOTES: This is a bonus chapter for The Cierros Transgression.
After the broadcast cuts out, after the spectacle in Clocktower Square has blown up in everyone's faces and the live feed on the vidscreen constricted into a tiny black dot, Jehosa Mason continues to watch. And when the picture comes back, and it's nothing but fast-talking newscasters on every channel, and the bizarre disappearance repeating over and over, Mason feels oddly ... good. He'd been at the Last Light for a while earlier, where drunken patrons were casting bets on how many minutes, down to the second, it would take the poor fuck tied to the execution stake to bleed out. Jehosa had left; nobody had stopped him, no one had even seen him go.
Back at his own place, his little vidscreen had turned itself on the moment it had sensed him open the door, and he'd glanced at it as he'd gone about his business of making himself a sandwich.
When the tall man with the cane had appeared on the execution deck, Jehosa had been sitting at his kitchen table. The sudden clamor from the vid, the excited voices rising from the other room, had made him turn around, and he'd watched the final act in wondering disbelief, his sandwich forgotten and growing stale.
He'd slept that night, long and hard, really slept for the first time in weeks.
The next call comes in just after sunrise: he's got the morning off. There's so much chaos, so many fucking newsvids and press announcements and police bulletins, so many impromptu citizens' search parties, that there won't be much business today at Stocker Supply.
He ought to stay home, and tend his neglected little garden plot in the dry courtyard of the building where he lives these days. Instead, he puts on his better clothes, grabs his ferry pass and walks out in the morning chill, over to the Square and the orbit station ferries.
The little bonus he got for being Allen Westerberg's go-to medic? He's about to use part of it to buy breakfast for himself and that Trader.
Mason double-checks to make sure he's in the right place. Yes, he is. There's the lumen-tattoo parlor just across the market corridor, the Laughing Squid tavern on the corner. Everything's just where it should be, except ...
The Trader's shop is barren, dark, a "For Lease" sign on the door. There's no trace of his friend, if indeed that's what the Trader was, after the few hours they spent together. Jehosa feels as empty as the shop, and goes back toward the ferry platforms. He'll cook breakfast for himself at home.
Three days have passed since the failed execution.
About the time the homemade search squadrons are trickling away, their booted feet dragging them back to their regular jobs, Jehosa Mason drags himself home from the morning shift and discovers a small packet in his postbox. It is marked only with his name and address, and no hint as to the sender.
Mason slips it into his pocket and checks over his shoulder, then continues down the hallway to his own, brown-painted door. He locks that door behind him, picks a knife off the kitchen counter, and finds a safe spot on the package where he can slice it open along one edge.
Two tickets fall out onto the counter -- one to Port Retief, and one from Port Retief to Nal Obereh.
"Holy fuck." Jehosa's breath is catching in his throat. A familiar voice echoes in his mind -- the planetside trade court, the voice says. The fabrics. The food.
The tickets shake when he picks them up.
ONE WAY -- NO RETURN
He fumbles with the packet, upends it and shakes it. A passport and a blank journeybook fall out, followed by a credkey, which lights up as active when he presses his thumb into the depression on its side.
"Fuck." It's not really Jehosa's favorite word, but it's all he can think of. He swallows hard and opens up the booklets. They have his photo inside, and the Exit Visa stamps are already on them, and they are both issued to one Alex Humboldt. Alex Humboldt, who by any other name would be Jehosa Mason.
Jehosa stares at the documents for a long time. He understands that Allen Westerberg would find out easily if he tried to leave (to go anywhere) from his home here in Landing or from the orbit station. Port Retief makes sense. It's on the coast; it doesn't have as large a Warden presence and if you've got official documents, nobody's going to question them. Especially not now, when the only people they're looking for are a half-dead feeder and a tall fugitive with blue eyes and a cane.
"You'd like it at Nal Obereh, if you're not too afraid. It's warmer than Cierros."
Jehosa Mason pours himself a drink.
He doesn't know how or why the Trader did this. If anyone in the State other than Allen gave a damn about him, he might even think it was some kind of trap or trick, but he's not big enough game and he knows it. There'd be no reason for anyone to bother.
Jehosa sets down his ale, looks around, and goes to pull his two old travelcases out of the closet. If he were really going to do this, he'd take just a few things -- his medical bag, some clothes, what will fit into one duffel bag he can sling over his shoulder. He tries it out, choosing what he'd want. His grandfather's hunting knife. The woodguild ring that belonged to his dad. Enough socks and underwear to last a few days. His best shirts. He's been living with very little for a long time now, and would it really make much difference to leave most of that behind?
His spirits lift as he works, and one might say that by the time he shuts the door behind him ... he's a new man.
Somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away ...
A breath of steam rises from the cup of tea, and the man who used to be Frankie Magellan blows gently, sending the little steam-cloud wisping away. His ship is quiet, the loudest sound that of the Ars antiqua rondeaux he's left playing in his quarters. He takes a tiny sip of tea, testing the heat. Perfect. He drinks slowly, savors the sweet spiciness, leans back in his chair and stretches his legs. His eyes close.
"Well done, Sid," a soft voice murmurs.
Sid doesn't look around. "Hello, John," he says, and senses the ghost's answering smile.
"It looks as if you're back in the rescue business."
"Eh." Sid shrugs. He picks up a spoon to give his tea a stir, although the sweet honey's already melted. "One or two transactions is hardly a business." He gazes into the cup. If he turned around, he knows what he'd see -- a tall man, his hair cut short, perpetually sad eyes set in a deep-shadowed face. Or maybe he'd see nothing. It's hard to tell with ghosts.
"And what of your wandering physicians?"
"What of them?"
"Do you think you'll meet them again?"
Sid puts one elbow on the table, rests his head on his hand as he stirs at the tea again.
"Hard to say," he says. "The universe is a big place. Dangerous place." The music in the other room stops, then starts on its loop again.
"I think you will," the ghost says. "Because I know you."
Sid smiles. "That you do, John."
There's no answer, and after a while Sid finishes his tea and goes to bed.
He sleeps well, but then he usually does these days.