Wednesday, March 25, 2015

21: Certain Uncertainty

Entry 021: Where Kla and O'Dowell disagree on the finer points of hostage keeping.

                "You realize he scanned you while you were distracted, yes?"
                Kla's head snapped up, amber eyes fairly glowing in the dim light of O'Dowell's office. The man with graying blonde hair watched her with seeming idle curiosity as her nostrils flared and her eyes lost their lustful glaze as she narrowed them in his direction. "I was not so distracted I would not have felt a surface scan," she protested, indignant. As he watched, the Moraloran woman rolled her shoulders as if trying to dislodge some discomfort. "Blasted things feel like a line of ants ticking up and down my skin."
                O'Dowell smiled, stubby fingers steepled in front of his broad chest. He was very aware of Kla's non-relationship with machines and often found it highly useful concerning the work she did – she was remarkably hard to bug, his Kla – but the fact that she hadn't felt this particular scan or affected the machine running it was...curious.
                "Regardless of your 'allergy', the boy definitely scanned you. Here." He keyed a stroke on his keyboard. "Watch."
                The security recording he'd already queued up began to play on one of the monitors that filled the wall to his right. Kla watched, face set against the idea of her missing something as obvious as a scan, arms crossed defiantly over her chest.
                While she watched the tape, O'Dowell watched her. Out of all of his 'charity cases', Kla was by far the most successful; determined to prove her worth without the groveling gratitude most of the others had in his presence. She was one of the handful that knew who she was apart from him, and that kind of assuredness in one's self was useful, made her independent, though he was careful to remind her at times just how much she owed him and how the debt was to be paid.
                However it appeared when it came to this boy Felix, she was developing a dangerous blind spot.
                "He is not a total naive fool," O'Dowell felt the need to remind her as he stopped the tape. "There. Did you see it?"
                Kla watched the feed carefully, but reluctantly shook her head. O'Dowell smiled. He hadn't expected her to see it right away of course – it was very subtle – and even now he enjoyed the feeling of seeing things others missed.
                He rewound the footage and played it back at a slower rate. "It was very cleverly done." He spoke as Kla watched more intently than before. "But then it would have to be to fool you," he conceded.
                Kla stepped closer to the monitor, the gray-blue monochrome of the security feed tinting her violet skin indigo. "Stop it there," she told him, face and voice intent on the screen.
                O'Dowell did so and waited.
                Carefully, as if not quite sure she saw what she thought she saw, Kla reached out a finger and touched it to the screen. "There." She sounded more certain than she appeared. "There are sparks there...and here."
                O'Dowell nodded when she looked over at him. "Good." He assured her with a nod. "It's a very passive scan – more of a brief energy flicker really – and very weak, which might explain why you didn't feel it right off." He gave her a sharp edged grin over the tips of his fingers. "Especially in the midst of so much electricity."
                Kla lifted her chin, telling him to either call her out on her behavior or drop it entirely. She was not what anyone would call a very private person when it came to her romantic entanglements, but she had still made it very clear that her various relationships – if you could call them that – were distinctively outside the realm of his business.
                "It was a good effort, very clever of him at any rate," O'Dowell spoke as he pushed a button that summoned up the wall panel to cover the security monitor, "but doomed from the start. No one can read energy fields like myself, as you well know."
                Kla inclined her head, shoulders still tight as she fixated on the fact that she'd missed something so obvious to her boss. "Honestly I'm surprised the old Hybridian hasn't figured you out yet. He was standing not two yards away," she murmured as she stared at the floor, amber eyes thoughtful slits in her otherwise shadowed face.
                O'Dowell chuckled to himself. "Yes, that was remarkable wasn't it? And him a bona fide war vet and everything. That was a nice surprise."
                Kla slanted him a look, but didn't rain on his parade. "You are a terrible know-it-all." She observed instead.
                He didn't bother to dispute her claim. "Knowledge is power, as the old saying goes. And fools only triumph in stories. You know that."
                Kla tilted her head to the side in a peculiar nod before returning to business. "Do you want me to retrieve his little device? I imagine the shock at finding it gone tomorrow morning will give him quite the scare." Her smile at the idea showed teeth.
                But O'Dowell shook his head. He was familiar with that glint in her eyes, whether she liked to admit it or not. "No. We know of its existence. That's enough for now."
                Kla frowned at having her fun cut short. "But he may be using it to try and find the Hybridian," she pointed out.
                O'Dowell sighed as he stretched his aching back. Getting old was hardly his idea of a picnic. "He most likely is," he told her, not one hundred percent sure himself what the boy was up to. "Without seeing the device itself I can only guess at his motivations, but I feel safe in assuming that, having gotten him this far, Cauldwell won't leave without his friend."
                "Then we should let him keep it because...?" she pressed, fishing for where his train of thought was headed.
                O'Dowell spoke harder than he had intended. "Because I want to see what he's planning. It is one thing to come to the logical conclusion based on what you see, and another to know."
                Kla leaned back against the wood paneling, one shoulder higher than the other as she crossed her arms over her chest with a frown. "You're just curious," she said, mouth twisting down at the corners. "Don't humans have a saying about being curious? Something about cats or bats or rats? Either way," she shook her head, "this is a bad idea."
                "I'll take that under advisement," he told her dryly. "Although you're hardly impartial in this matter."
                She slid narrow eyes to him once more. "Meaning?" The word was laced with threat.
                "Meaning," O'Dowell continued without fear, "that I think it might be best to keep some distance between you and our new employee for the moment."
                Kla stiffened. "If you are suggesting I would let him under my skin enough to keep me from doing my job-” she started.
                He held up his hands. "I would suggest no such thing." Although it was a concern he kept in mind. "Merely that while I'm sure he would make a nice treat for you, when you spit up the bones a few days later I would be the one to deal with the fallout." He raised an eyebrow at her before adding dryly, "Remember what happened with Redford?"
                Kla looked up at the ceiling, lips twisting in an angry pout. "Of course. Neither of you will let me forget."
                She was irritated by his lack of confidence, that was plain enough for the old man to see even as she tried to hide it. He doubted his next words would set her at ease, but then it was not his place to do so. He was the one that had taught her; it was time she remembered that fact.
                "The board is meeting on Nexus Five in three days," he told her. "I want you to go and...smooth some feathers before the old codgers can get themselves worked up over nothing that concerns them."
                Kla came away from the wall like she'd been scalded. "Excuse me?" Her voice rose to an unseemly pitch.
                O'Dowell leveled a frown at her and she instinctively withdrew, but did not back down. "Now is not the time to give him any headroom-” she started only to stop as the human stood, hands planted firmly on his desk that stood between them.
                "You forget your place." His tone was even, but authoritative. He would brook no arguing in this matter. "You may have found this new prodigy, but everything you know you learned from me. And I assure you that I am quite capable of keeping an eye on our new Einstein while you attend to your own responsibilities."
                His voice never rose, but slowly hardened the longer he spoke until it was filled with an iron finality. He watched her, dark eyes never wavering, as Kla struggled with herself. He could plainly see she wanted to argue, just as he could plainly see long years of social training telling her arguing would only anger him further. She could gain nothing with her defiance, but that did not make obedience any easier.
                "Fine," Kla finally gave him a surly agreement, "but I still do not think this is a good idea."
                "Noted." O'Dowell nodded tersely, tired of her reluctance. "But your concern for Cauldwell does little to convince me of your neutrality."
                She actually looked offended now. "It is not concern," she repeated rather loudly as she shifted where she stood, angling herself to face him head on now that she faced an argument she had ammunition to fight. "It is fact. I flew with him on that jing-infested ship. I chased him down when he slipped your net at Zephyr Station. I was the one that brought him in. It is simple fact that I know him best." She tapped a finely cared for nail against her chest with each word, eyes flashing a dangerous shade of gold at his challenge.
                O'Dowell did not look away as he turned her words over in his mind. He had to admit she had a point, but she'd also given herself away in her tirade.
                "Everything you said is true," he agreed. Kla did not look relieved, but then she knew his tactics better than anyone after long years of exposure. How he preferred to praise his opponent before revealing his winning hand. "But what you forget is that you weren't chasing him, you were chasing them."
                He watched the gold fade from her eyes as she realized her mistake and withdrew in on herself. O'Dowell gave her a moment to think as he turned and settled into his favorite chair, groaning as the sway in the custom-built furniture perfectly matched the curve of his spine. It felt mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed.
                "And between the two of them," he finally continued, "it's the Hybridian that's the more dangerous of the two. Smart as Cauldwell is, Cortis is the reason he avoided us for so long to begin with. Without him, Cauldwell is no more of a flight risk than an ostrich."
                Kla did not look so sure, but wisely kept her unfounded opinions to herself this time.
                O'Dowell used her silence to think, leaning back in his chair so he was looking at the dark gray ceiling meant to offset the shadowed purple hangings Mamoiya had picked out to conceal his window. He hardly noticed either, often letting them fade into the peripheral. "Move Cortis to a more secure holding cell in the Wessler Building and double his guard. Make sure they're ours as well, not those volunteer civil servants. They could make a career out of getting in the way if they were so inclined," he grumbled.
                "You think that will stop him from trying?" Kla asked, eye ridges raised. He'd already made three escape attempts from Terrace's official jail – the laughably named 'Security Building' that served the whole city and not just their institution – and while he'd been caught all three times, the last had come dangerously close to succeeding.
                The man barked a laugh. "No, but I don't want him thinking I'm going to make this easy for him either. If anything, he'll give it a few days to try and pin down a routine before making another go at it."
                Kla nodded, making mental notes to warn Cortis's security team against any kind of obvious routine that the old Hybridian could exploit. "And Cauldwell?" she pressed.
                O'Dowell gave an explosive sigh. And she insisted there was no infatuation. "Put Geller and T'Kai on him if you must, but I hardly think it necessary."
                "I disagree," Kla spoke under her breath.
                He wasn't sure if she'd meant for him to hear her, but O'Dowell's eyes shot to her anyway and he had the pleasure of seeing he could still make her cringe in apprehension. "Why?" It was a chance for her to defend what he already thought was an emotion-fueled decision.
                Kla opened her mouth, paused, and then wisely shut it again, giving her answer some thought. "Good," the human thought, "maybe she's not as far gone as I feared. Course, she always was drawn to what she couldn't understand." He allowed himself a wry smile, just barely seen at the corner of his mouth.
                When she did answer, her words were slow, careful. Not as if she was afraid of what he would think of her answer, but as if she wanted to be sure she did not waste her one chance at deflecting his negative opinion.
                "'Do not confuse a quiet man with a complacent one,'" she quoted, making her employer's eyebrows raise. "A very smart man drummed that into me when I was younger. You may want to remember that yourself." The gold was back in her eyes, but was a far cry from the intensity of before.
                Other men would have been insulted at the woman's subtle reprimand, but O'Dowell threw back his head and barked another laugh. No, he certainly was not like other men. Hadn't been for some time.
                "Wise words," he agreed. "Fine, do what you think necessary to ensure Cauldwell will still be here when you return from Liaxus," he leveled a dark-eyed gaze at her that would have sent lesser beings running, "but not so much that you give his friend an opening. Understand?"
                Kla gave him a nod that was equal parts deference and regality. "Of course, Mr. O'Dowell."
                "Excellent," O'Dowell proclaimed loudly. "You leave in an hour. I've already made the arrangements."
                "And what, pray tell, will I be doing in Liaxus?" She asked with a somewhat amused expression on her face, like he was an absent-minded uncle that had forgotten the end of the joke he'd been telling. "You never did say."
                The barest hint of a frown creased the man's brow. "Suppose I didn't," he realized. "Dang. It's getting harder and harder to remember things in this meatbag body of mine."
                He refused to let Kla see his self-admonishment and instead flashed her the smile that had won him the name Lion of Liaxus.
                "What you do best of course," he told her, dark eyes flashing. "Put the fear of me into them."

< Entry 20                                                                                                                                             Entry 22 >

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