As promised, the contents of the envelope ensured that Lia was directed through a number of security checkpoints and allowed to park on the service road alongside a military designated helipad. Driving the big off-roader had been fun, it was much like the trucks back home, and she’d enjoyed the feeling of security and power in the large vehicle. Taking the sports car to the cargo port had been a different kind of experience again. She was glad of the opportunity, however brief, to gather her thoughts before the inbound flight arrived. It was only after she’d parked that she realised she was trembling all over, the exhilaration of the drive and the responsiveness of the machine, whatever it was, had been intoxicating. She saw why a full license had been one of the criteria for the job; it would have been a sin to shackle such a machine to the city’s nanny-ish driving servers.
After a short wait she heard the familiar whup-whup of a helicopter and was out of the car in time to see the approach of a squat looking twin rotor chopper from the east of the city. Though the sound was similar to flights taken from her home as it came closer she saw this was obviously a military machine. It was ugly. Missiles hung from stubby stabilising wings, the underside was spiked with machine guns and the nose canon was clearly designed to take out large targets. Everything about its appearance spoke of aggression and, Plaisir’s assurances notwithstanding, she had to wonder about someone able to call in favours to arrive in something so menacing. Unexpectedly, the beast of helicopter did not land but hovered some twenty metres above the helipad. Hair blown astray by the downdraught of the massive rotor blades she didn’t see the payload door open. It was some seconds before Lia realised a line had been thrown out and a misshapen figure was rappelling down to the landing pad. A sudden ear-splitting whine of power through complaining engines and the chopper was gone as his feet touched the floor.
As a first impression Lia did not think much of the deformed body making a bee-line for her. Did this explain why he shunned publicity, why his broadcast lectures had been presented through actors? Maybe this was one of Gihon’s unspoken requirements, something he thought she could deal with better than born city dwellers and their delicate sensibilities. Deformity, like age, was one of the uncomfortable subjects that people shied away from in ‘polite’ society. Then, as the figure drew nearer, an arm swept across its outline to remove the obscuring radiation cloak and hood and dump them into a disposal unit at the side of the pad. Without the cloak she saw that the ‘hunch’ was just a large backpack and the scarecrow figure she now saw was at least symmetrical. There didn’t seem to be much of him inside his out-dated black military issue fatigues. Toughened boots only accentuated the slightness of his figure. While the knee high boots would protect against many threats it seemed the main reason for the heavy armour was to anchor his weedy frame to the ground.
She wasn’t certain what to make of his unkempt appearance. With an untidy shock of dirty hair and a full beard he appeared the promised picture of neglect. Only when he reached her and offered a long fingered hand in greeting did he smile. In that flash of white she finally saw a hint of what could be an attractive man lurking beneath the detritus of the Siberian high desert and what she imagined to be days of rough travelling. Gihon had casually referred to him as ‘the old man’ and, indeed, everything she’d ever read about him had led her to expect to see a much older man. The man in front of her did not look old. Up close he looked – she thought about it for a heartbeat – interesting. Large brown eyes looked down at her, carrying the echo of the smile. Nice eyes. They looked like they smiled a lot. It was remarkably easy to smile back as she shook his hand and introduced herself as his new assistant.
“Pleased to meet you Lia. Just call me Dave, everything else is too much.” His gaze flicked to the car behind her and raised brows semaphored brief surprise. “I’m impressed; Gihon must really like you to turn you loose with the beast.”
No one stopped them to check the new arrival’s paperwork as she drove, rather carefully she would admit, back out of the cargo port. At one of the checkpoints she was hailed by the same guard who’d let her through earlier. But all he’d asked was if she’d been able to collect her package. There was no mention or reference to the man now sat next to her. She might not have been thrilled by his mode of transport, but whatever had been in the magic envelope spoke volumes about his ability to ignore red tape. Maybe he really was as rich as people said.
There had been no question about who would drive back. He’d dropped his pack into the trunk of the car and then himself into the passenger seat. If Gihon was happy with her driving then so was he. Anyway, he said, it had been forever since he was last in the city so he would only get lost if he drove. And then he’d cheerily admitted that he couldn’t remember the last time he slept and was having enough difficulty with one foot in front of the other, he didn’t want to risk the wrath of Plaisir by trashing his own car. Excusing himself he said he needed to rest his eyes for a spell and settled back into his seat, apparently completely relaxed and quite possibly asleep. His claimed need for rest, at least, allowed her to drive without the added distraction of speaking to him. She wasn’t sure she could deal with that and drive and think about him.
His accent was another strange one, not American but a kind of perfect English that gave her no geographic indicators. He was tall. Taller than Gihon? She wasn’t sure; it could have just been the thick soles of the boots, or his disproportionate thinness that made him seem taller. The legs stretched out casually in front of him were long and, up close, the boots were reason enough for him to want to avoid official scrutiny. Back home Lia had seen the same boots on some of her father’s men – as well as being defensive she knew that many cities had banned them and their armour plate as weapons. The long, delicate looking hands she’d already noted. A word surfaced from her sometimes random memory – could he have Marfan’s? No, that was just too random, she knew she shouldn’t make a habit of skimming other people’s reading at the house; medical history was Steve’s area, not hers. And anyway, wasn’t Marfan’s one of the many genetic disorders eradicated around the time of the Collapse?
She decided to concentrate on making the drive as smooth as possible so he wouldn’t be disturbed.