Chapter 11 of Connection Concealed: Birds

JUNE 10th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 05.25 local time.

Louise opened her eyes reluctantly. She felt so safe and comfortable. She glanced down at the soft, white sheets pulled up to her chin. Then she sleepily studied the wall. It was painted in a cozy lavender purple and a dark, wooden closet stood against it.

Only then did she remember where she was. Louise pushed herself up in a hurry and got out of the bed as quickly as she could. Once she was on her feet, looking around to see if she was alone, she noticed something felt different.

She touched the back of her neck. “Huh,” she mumbled. She rolled her head from one side to the other. It was a lot easier than usual. “What a difference one night of sleep makes,” Louise thought. She tucked her hair behind her ears.

Then she turned around to check the time on the clock next to the door. It was an analog one. Louise was proud she only needed a moment or two to be able to read the time. It was 5.30 a.m.

The morning light fell into the room through the wide gap between the heavy, white curtains. Outside, the birds were singing lustily. Louise smiled and walked over to the window. She was wearing nothing but a black tank top and blue briefs.

She pushed the curtain aside. She was on the second floor of the mansion and had an impressive view of the large and colorful garden behind it. Louise chuckled when she spotted a small bird hopping from one branch to the next near her window.

A soft knock on the door surprised her. She glanced down at her outfit or lack of it. “Oh for fuck sake,” she muttered, instantly annoyed at Hobbs. They weren’t supposed to meet until 06.30!

She grabbed the thin cover lying at the foot of the bed, wrapped it around herself and opened the door. She did so swiftly, ready to tell Hobbs she needed more time. Her jaw dropped when she saw who was standing in the doorway.

It was Eleanor Lucas. Her skin was pale and her light brown, curly hair seemed less shiny than usual. Dark circles under her eyes made her look haunted. But a tiny smile tugged at her lips, nevertheless. Her gaze had dropped to Louise’s bare legs.

Louise’s face heated up. She wrapped the blanket around herself more firmly. She was about to ask what the hell Lucas was doing here, but Lucas raised a finger to her lips before she had the chance to.

“Can I come in for a moment? I need to talk to you. Just you,” she whispered.

Louise hesitated. What if Hobbs was watching? How the hell would she explain a visit to her bedroom?

“No one saw me,” Lucas added.

Louise relented and took a step back, motioning for Lucas to hurry. She wasn’t sure why she was doing this. She knew she should refuse to talk to Lucas in private. This was another encounter she would have to hide. But she was curious about whatever it was that Lucas had to say.

Lucas closed the door behind her and blew out a breath. Louise thought she looked stunning in her black blouse and creased pants. It wasn’t the sort of thought she wanted to be having about this woman. She quickly pushed it away.

“I wanted to apologize,” Lucas said quietly, fidgeting with her sleeves. “I was way out of line yesterday.” Her eyes met Louise’s. They still looked so incredibly sad. Something stirred in Louise’s chest again: a longing to comfort Lucas.

She hastily took a step back, reaching for her slacks that were draped over a chair. She tried to step into them without dropping the blanket wrapped around her. It kept sliding off of her shoulders, though, and after a moment, she just let it.

“Thanks. You were kind of harsh,” she said while she hurried to pull up her pants.

Lucas cleared her throat and walked over to the small desk in the room. “I know. I was horrible to you.” She ran her fingers over the old table top.

Louise zipped up her slacks. “Let’s just forget about it,” she stammered. She immediately regretted it. She had just given Lucas a pass while she should be trying to get more details out of her. She wasn’t thinking straight.

Lucas nodded gratefully as she looked back at Louise. Her eyes focused on the tank top for a moment. It made Louise feel extra self-conscious. Her hair was a mess, she wasn’t wearing a bra and Lucas clearly had noticed.

“I just woke up,” Louise blurted out, crossing her arms.

“Yeah, I can see that.” Lucas was smiling again.

“I didn’t expect visitors,” Louise said, grabbing her shirt from the chair.

“How’s the cut?” Lucas asked. She pointed at Louise’s eyebrow.

“Oh,” Louise resisted the urge to feel the wound, “It’s fine. It doesn’t hurt anymore.” She pulled the t-shirt over her head carefully anyway.

Lucas nodded again. “Good. Good.” Her voice sounded uncertain. “I can’t join you today. At the first inspection site, I mean,” she then said.

Louise immediately tensed up. “That’s a problem.”

Lucas raised both of her hands apologetically. “I know, but I really need to take care of some things.”

Louise frowned. “Can’t it wait?” she asked, hastily pulling her hair back into a tight bun.

“No, I can’t postpone a funeral,” Lucas said.

Louise dropped her arms and looked down at her bare feet. “Oh, right.” They were both quiet for a few seconds.

“I didn’t tell Hobbs,” Louise then announced for a reason she couldn’t fathom yet.

Lucas let out a relieved breath. “Thank you.”

“I’m not sure what to tell him when you don’t show up this morning,” Louise said more firmly.

“Let Rick talk to him.”

“And what about this visit?” A tight knot was forming in Louise’s stomach. Reality was catching up with her.

“He doesn’t know I’m here. I was careful. Don’t worry!”

Louise huffed. Lucas didn’t seem to realize how much trouble Louise could already be in. “I probably went against my orders already,” she said through gritted teeth. It was the last thing she should admit to her enemy, she then realized.

Lucas seemed to reach for her but dropped her hand just in time. “I know. I’m sorry…”

“Who was it?” Louise asked, to her own surprise again. She knew it was a bit insensitive to ask who had died in a such a blunt manner. But Lucas was asking so much of her and she wasn’t giving anything back, damn it.

A long silence fell.

“My aunt,” Lucas said softly.

Louise tilted her head in surprise. She would never be this upset about an aunt passing away. Then again, she wasn’t sure she would be this upset about anyone in her family dying.

As if she was reading Louise’s mind, Lucas continued: “I was very close to her.”

Louise looked up, intrigued now.

“She was like a mother to me,” Lucas added. “I was never really close to my parents.”

Louise pursed her lips. Her family never had been tight-knit either. It seemed she had at least that in common with Lucas. “I’m really sorry,” she said quietly.

Lucas smiled sadly. Her bottom lip was trembling. Louise’s eyes widened when she realized Lucas might start to cry again.

“Do you have someone to go with you today?” she asked clumsily. She wondered if Woodward would join Lucas. Probably.

Lucas sat down on the bed. Louise watched her run her hands over the messy sheets. The black of Lucas’s blouse made the paleness of her skin all the more striking. Louise’s own skin was so much darker. They were pretty much opposites.

“Yeah. There will be hundreds of people,” Lucas finally sighed. “If not thousands.”

Louise’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Is that normal here?”

Lucas smoothed out another crease and shook her head. “No, she was an important person.”

Louise poked the inside of her cheek with her tongue, not sure how to ask her next question without making it sound too eager.

Lucas beat her to it. “You’ve probably heard of her. Monique Biden.”

Louise’s jaw dropped for the second time that morning.

Monique Biden was one of the original rebel leaders. She was in every history book, even back home. Quite a few rebel attacks were attributed to her leadership.

Lucas smiled. “So you do know her.”

Louise just nodded, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

“She was my mother’s half-sister,” Lucas said.

“Holy shit,” Louise thought, her mind racing to grasp the implications of what Lucas had just told her. First of all, the family link was yet another important fact missing in the intel. Secondly, the news of Biden’s death was no doubt a blow for the rebels.

Biden had been a symbol of the rebellion for decades and now she was no more. The Global Council would be pleased to hear it. Oh man, she couldn’t keep this from Hobbs.

Louise’s stomach flipped when she realized she had no way of sharing this information without telling Hobbs she had been keeping things back. Unknowingly, she had gotten herself into a whole lot more trouble than she had bargained for.

Louise’s palms were getting sweaty. The muscles in her neck were tight and painful again. She felt nauseous and the room was so damn hot all of a sudden. She walked to the window to get some fresh air.

“I can’t hide this,” she said. She was telling herself, as much as she was telling Lucas.

“I know.” Lucas got up from the bed. “Let me talk to Hobbs when I get back. He’ll never know you knew already.”

She joined Louise at the window, the fabric of her soft blouse brushing against Louise’s bare arm. It didn’t feel nice, though. It felt like Lucas was rubbing her skin off. Louise shuddered and stepped aside.

“I don’t know,” she stammered. “ You should probably go now.”

Lucas straightened up. “Of course,” she said.

“When will you be back?” Louise asked.

“Tomorrow.”

“Make it tonight,” Louise said. “Hobbs is going to go bananas. I can’t keep covering for you.”

She stared at Lucas, determined not to look away first.

“Fine,” Lucas said quietly. “I’ll put in an appearance tonight.” She quickly made her way to the door.

Louise noticed her shoulders were slumped now, the air around her defeated. She felt like a total ass all of a sudden. She had forgotten Lucas was on her way to a funeral.

She should probably say something. Wish her well perhaps. “Miss Lucas?”

Lucas stopped, her hand on the door handle. “Yes?”

Louise scratched her cheek. “Ehm, good luck today… I hope the funeral is… You know…”

“Not winning any poetry awards any time soon, Thomas!” She groaned inwardly.

Lucas turned her head and smiled anyway. “Thank you.”

And after that, Lucas was gone.

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