JUNE 9th, 2061. San Francisco Bay, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 14.15 local time.
Lucas’s furious eyes stared back at Louise. Her gaze was so intense, Louise had to take a step backward.
Before she could say anything, Lucas growled: “What are you doing here?”
She was getting up, getting closer to Louise, her eyes never breaking contact.
Louise raised her dirty hand. “I just wanted to…”
“Make sure I wasn’t doing anything suspicious?” Lucas sneered as she hastily wiped tears off of her cheeks.
Louise dropped the hand, taking another step back. “The door wasn’t locked and…” she tried to say.
Lucas interrupted her again. “I thought you would, under these circumstances, you would at least show some respect.”
Louise clenched her jaw.
“But you just had to come in here and see for yourself,” Lucas continued. She slowly shook her head, her expression one of disgust. And anger.
She took a step closer. “I lost the most important person in my life and you…” Lucas closed her mouth abruptly, squeezing her eyes shut.
The hair on the back of Louise’s neck rose. Oh no. This was bad. “I’m really sorry,” she stammered, as calmly as she could.
Lucas’s eyes snapped open. Her gaze searched Louise’s face for a moment. “You’re a horrible liar, you know that?”
Louise frowned, instantly insulted. This wasn’t the time to lash out at Lucas, though. She kept her mouth shut.
“I thought you were different,” Lucas said, shaking her head. “I thought you weren’t one of those blind haters. Like that yappy dog you brought, Hobbs!” She snorted. “But you’re just another global coalition puppet. You believe everything they tell you.”
Louise’s nostrils flared. She felt heat rising to her face, her heart drumming in her ears. She was beyond insulted now. She was getting angry.
Lucas’s eyes were still red and puffy, but her glare had become more lethal than ever. To Louise’s horror, a nasty smile tugged at Lucas’s lips. “Oh,” she smirked. “That pissed you off? Why?”
Louise straightened up and squared her shoulders. She was fed up with being on the wrong end of the stick all the time.
Lucas’s face twisted into a snarl. “It doesn’t scare me when you tower over me like that, you know?” She lifted her finger and poked Louise in the chest provocatively. “You don’t scare me, Louise.”
A chill ran up from Louise’s lower back to the very tip of her ears. She balled her hands into fists. It was so tempting to strike back. But she wouldn’t. Not now. It just didn’t feel right.
“Look,” she said after taking a deep breath to calm herself down. “I didn’t know you were in here and I certainly didn’t know you lost someone. I will leave now.”
Lucas huffed, the disbelief evident in her eyes. “Oh yeah? Bet you’ll go running to your whiny friend and tell him all about this, right?”
“What? No, I …” Louise stopped abruptly. Lucas was right. That’s precisely what she should and would do: tell Hobbs about what she had just seen and heard. It might turn out to be valuable information after all.
“Yes, I have to. I’m sorry,” she said quietly, somewhat embarrassed.
Pain and disappointment flashed across Lucas’s face. She stumbled backward, tears welling up in her eyes again. “That’s what I thought,” she stammered.
Her hand grabbed the leather bracelet on her wrist, almost as if she was clinging onto it for support. “No respect at all,” Lucas sobbed.
She took another unsteady step back, her shoulder bumping roughly against the wall.
Without thinking, Louise reached out to her. “Careful!”
Lucas tried to push her away, arms flailing, tears running down her face. Louise grabbed her shoulders anyway and didn’t let go until she had helped Lucas back onto the closed toilet lid.
As soon as she was seated, Lucas hid her face in her hands and started wailing, her shoulders shaking wildly. Louise just stood there, paralyzed. She knew she should look away, turn around and leave. But she couldn’t bring herself to move.
Just as she was trying to come up with something to say, Lucas looked up from under light eyelashes. There was none of the fury left in her eyes. Only desperation. “Please leave,” she croaked between ragged breaths.
Louise swallowed the big lump in her throat, nodding slowly. She stepped back, her heart throbbing in her ears, and moved towards the door. She stopped just before she opened it, though. Glancing back at Lucas, she asked:
“Are you going to be okay?”
Lucas’s head snapped up, the anger back in her eyes.
“I mean,” Louise hurried to clarify, “I don’t want you to fall or something.”
Lucas inhaled deeply, hiding her face in her hands again. “Yeah.”
Louise pursed her lips, nodded a few times and left.
Louise found her way back to the deck in a daze. Her chest was tight, her throat dry. She was breathing rapidly. Part of her had wanted to stay with Lucas, the other part was relieved beyond words to have escaped such an awkward situation.
She clenched one hand around the rail, steadying herself and staring at the water. When it didn’t have the calming effect she had hoped it would have, she closed her eyes and paid attention to the sounds around her instead.
“What the fuck just happened?” she thought, squeezing her eyes shut harder.
She needed to line up all the things she had heard and try to make sense of it all. She needed to sort through everything and decide what was important. She needed to get her own emotions under control so she could share the facts with Hobbs.
Instead of doing all that, though, Louise just replayed what she had seen, an emotional whirlwind quickly taking over her body and mind. Lucas’s anger had been so raw. Her anguish had been written all over her face, her gestures those of a wounded animal.
Louise rubbed the spot where a finger had poked her chest angrily. Lucas had been convinced Louise was purposefully trying to make things even more painful for her. As if Louise had somehow known of Lucas’s grief and had decided to use it to her advantage.
Louise opened her eyes and blinked a few times, surprised at how much Lucas’s assumption was hurting her feelings. She was distraught that anyone, even Lucas, would think she was bent on inflicting as much pain as possible.
Then again, isn’t that what she pretty much had done the last 24 hours? Be as unkind and uncooperative as she possibly could have been? She wanted to deny it, even to herself, but the truth of the thought made her heart stop for a moment.
As if programmed in her mind, several thoughts flashed by. Lucas was a terrorist. Lucas had chosen this way of life. She had decided to be the enemy. She was the enemy. Louise grasped the greasy metal rail of the deck with both of her hands.
All of this was true, but the image of those devastating grey eyes kept filling Louise’s mind. Remembering them made her whole body tense up. She swallowed a couple of times, fighting tears.
Louise looked down at the calm, blue water again. The ferry hardly moved up or down while it was making its way to its destination. How long had it been since they had left, Louise wondered. She squinted at the horizon, looking for any signs of land.
She didn’t see any, but she would have to get back to the car, and Hobbs, sooner rather than later. That meant she had a decision to make. She could tell Hobbs all about what she had seen. He would no doubt be very interested. Or, she could wait.
“I still have no clue what is going on,” Louise thought. She didn’t know who Lucas had lost. Maybe she should try to find out first. Perhaps this was strictly a personal matter. If it had nothing to do with the mission, she might not have to tell anyone, right?
Was this a decision Louise was allowed to make? “You’re just a puppet,” Lucas had said. It bothered Louise. Clearly, Lucas didn’t understand what it meant to be committed to a cause, to have a sense of duty.
A strand of hair tickled Louise’s cheek, interrupting her thinking. She shook her head in annoyance, not wanting to use her greasy hands to push it back behind her ear. “What a mess,” she sighed while looking down at her hands.
She preferred everything to be clear-cut. Black and white. Good or bad. Friend or enemy. Until yesterday, that’s how she had labeled pretty much everything. She wanted to get back to that certainty, bring an end to this frustrating indecision.
The sound of seabirds squawking made her look up. Her heart started to beat faster when she saw a skyline far ahead. She had seen it before, but only in decades-old images. “San Francisco,” Louise mumbled to herself, not quite believing her own eyes.
Something tugged at her heart all of a sudden. Maybe it was the view of the city, her first glimpse of an unknown world. Or perhaps it was the large bird she saw floating in the air, wings outstretched, surfing the wind. A feeling of longing washed over her.
She felt lonely. She felt lost. She felt like no-one would cry in a bathroom if something happened to her. It was a harsh realization. But now that she had had it, it couldn’t be undone. Louise couldn’t help but admit something, or someone, was missing in her life.
The sadness she felt was so overwhelming she could no longer bring herself to disrespect the love and loss of another. Even if that other was Eleanor Lucas. She was no blind, hating puppet. She was human too.
In fact, it was easy to prove to Lucas she was wrong about Louise. Louise wouldn’t share anything with Hobbs for now. She would give Lucas the benefit of the doubt. Until she had enough evidence to prove Lucas was behind the attack, of course.
Louise straightened up and blew out a long breath. She wiped her hands clean on her dark slacks, no longer caring if they got dirty. Then, she turned and headed for the car. It was time to get to work.