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Chapter Thirty One; Douglas K. Hooker
So, I'm pulling into New York Pier, now coming down the corridor on my way to catch a shuttle when bang! I had to laugh. I'm a normal, trying to look like a Eugenic, and there's a Eugenic, trying to pretend to be 'normal'.
Obviously a Sagir, he was dressed no different than I, but was unmistakable. I wondered for a second if this was Pete's long lost love...
"Sagir..." I said in a low throaty voice.
So fast, he was around, a hand to a weapon that wasn't there, but he didn't need a weapon to dismantle me. I spoke quickly in Eugenic clipped speech, making him understand he couldn't pass and Earth was a place Dalmars infested like pus in a wound.
I realised there was a human fem with him.
A fem I knew of...
Tall, athletic I'd guess her real colouration, dark hair, grey eyes. Handsome not pretty.
It's how she held herself, back so straight vertebra seemed welded, yet arms so
relaxed they floated.
What in hell was a Sagir doing with Firebird unless he was a prisoner?
But her aura; he was lover not captive.
I spoke to him, but eyes on her, she understood, I shouldn't be surprised. Rumour has it she was part Eugenic; fact had it she always got her quarry.
We slipped into her yacht, I rubbed my hand on my chin.
"Get whiskers and no one will look twice," I say in basic English, turning from him to her.
"I heard about you," she says, leaning against the table.
Nothing illegal on me, hoping she wasn't wise to the thefts, for she'd drop me and lock
me as easy as glance.
I didn't have to ponder what she 'heard'; "You passed."
"I always figured Ahmet an informer," I flip.
She didn't deal that, she dealt me; "I see how. Tall enough, built enough," she judged,
leaving out handsome enough, sexy enough....
Sagir held watching, it seemed he trusted her to manage the situation. Didn't make
sense, but I didn't have facts.
"Why are you concerned", she dug, "is it payback? Kinship? Or just kindness?"
"All three," I gave, needing her to know I was pious, "No one blew me. I still feel
linked. And I am not a Dalmar fan."
She took my words, weighed, measured, accepted. And since a link with her would
keep me a little ahead of the game, "I'm Doug Hooker."
"I know. This is Priam." She gave.
Priam looked at me with his big eyes and said nothing. Although massively built, he
output a vulnerability I hadn't seen since kindergarten. I pondered if he was playing
with a full deck, when Firebird read the cards;
"He misers words, but each is worth a few chapters." She warns me not to take him slight.
"So, Priam," she turns to him, "how would you like a nice little mustache and goatee?"
And with her finger nail, drew her intention on her face.
He looked at me, curious, and in a very soft but deep voice, said; "If it wasn't for your
facial hair...", working it through his own calculations, then nods to her.
I was about to leave when she said, "Linger, Doug, I think we'd like a tour of the Museum
of Natural History."
If I thought she didn't know who and what I was, I'd be stupider than I look.
She went into a room, came out with a big case, flicked it and quite a few disguises
came to mind.
"Won't work." I say, "His hair texture, you don't have that, you'd have to use his own hair."
"This is going to take longer than I thought..." she muses.
"I'll give you three hours..." I shrug.
"Doug," she said, but looked at Priam, I could see she didn't want to talk in front of him.
Proving my good intent; "I didn't have to say anything right?" I open hand.
"Let him go," Priam said softly.
"Touch..." Firebird orders, taking out her handcom. I pressed mine against it, so we could link.
"Three hours," I repeat, "I'll be in front of the Eskimo exhibit on the first floor," and swung out.
Imagine. I've just met The Firebird. Wonder what she is doing here. What she is doing with Priam. What Priam doing with her? Stay tuned, I told myself.
I came down the corridor, into the lift, then a bus, and onto the Big Blue Marble.
At the Museum
New York City was my default. I reached Grand Central in minutes. It always reminded me of Smudge.
I walked to my flat. Home. I think. A little less polluted than Smudge.
I reached my my flat, unpacked; well, emptied my case on the spare bed, rooted for what I wanted, took a shower, walked to the Museum, stopping for some local crap, which I happened to enjoy.
I entered the Gothic expanse greeted everyone who greeted me then went to my usual spot in the sub sub basement, watched the clock. I was in the Eskimo exhibit when they arrived.
She'd done a pious job. Priam's beard came along the edges of his face, chin, mustache down to meet, with a few hairs here and there to ruin perfection. Dressed casual, a cap on his head. He looked a very handsome guy, the kind you'd see in movies.
She came towards me, he went to look at the exhibit. Gennie hearing acute, three meters away as sharp as lips by his ear.
Firebird brushed my shoulder, maybe she was pure human. I was going to match a few words when I saw three Dalmar enter, doubletake Priam, then on.
Firebird said, "I owe you," with a smile.
I didn't take the bow, just fixed them with tour buttons, sent them on, for they'd never been here before. I firmed to have Firebird take me to dinner at a place I'd chose. She had more coin than I could count, and to link with her, tight, would give me a heads up.
When the Dal Gennies out of range, I slipped into the monitor room, eyed the screens, poked the security guard;
"Watch those three Superboys, I don't like the look of them. I won't have them messing up the exhibits."
"Keep your pants on, Prof, I've had them in focus from the moment they stepped. If they do so much as push in front of anyone, they are out of here."
On Earth, being a Eugenic or a paraplegic was no different in law. Dalmars couldn't get their heads around that.
Though Firebird had good jobbed getting fur on Priam's face, I wasn't keen. He wasn't like me, or Firebird, aware of how you play your life. But maybe he was, and being a Super kept it in check. But with Dalmars in the picture, the likelihood he'd be made was too live.
I couldn't concentrate on work, back at the monitors, looking for Firebird, she was on the fifth floor, in the dinosaur exhibit. The Superboys were on the third. I was feeling relief until the Dals went into the elevator. Not up, please, not up...they went up.
"Joseph," I say to the security guard, "have the Superboys picked up..."
"For what?" he barked.
"I don't want them around the dinosaurs."
Realising that pushing a point with Joseph was waste, I off stepped, clicked Firebird.
"Dalmars on lift, go stairs behind and fourth floor," cut chat with her, rang Eusebio; he was built like a basketball player, darker than Priam, with long dreads.
I told him; "Someone tossed something at Terry, check..."
Terry was the name of our Tyrannosaurus. Eusebio would take the steps three at a time, Dinosaurs were his babies.
From the back he could be a Superboy, not the face, though.
I neared Joseph, my eyes on the monitor, Priam and Firebird were going down, the Supers meandering, Eusi coming in. With his eyes on Terry, the Dalmars only saw Eusebio's back.
My phone clicked;
"Down," said Firebird.
"Meet me in the Statue garden. Take the steps, exit is right there," I reply, checking the monitor. Sure enough, the Supers saw Eusebio, assumed he was Sagir. As they pushed through the crowd to get to him, they were zapped by our security bots, and quietly removed to a room where the police would collect them.
"Told ya, Prof," Joseph snorted, "I know my Superboys."
"I suppose I'm just a nervous guy," I simpered, "see you," and I walked to the exit, into the Statuary, where my new friends waited.
Emerging from the Museum, see my new friends say; "I'll get a taxi and we'll go to dinner,"
"Where?" Priam asks.
"There's this great Chinese..."
"Chinese?" Priam cuts.
Tiredly Firebird outputs; "He only eats organic things, he's a gourmet cook."
"I know a Eugenic place..." I glum, cause I'd had my heart set on Lobster Cantonese.
A robocab arrived, we got in, Priam virtually supine in the back seat, Firebird beside me in front as I gave directions.
As we moved off I hit the silence switch, cause I didn't want the cab to dump tour talk, and output;
"The Dalmars went to attack one of our employees. From the back he matches the grid of Sagir but from the front, well, beauty is not one of his virtues."
"You are making yourself useful," Firebird drawled.
She had one of those accents hard to catch for she's been trained to mask it. The timbre of her voice was husky and warm.
The Taxi came to a stop, I looked at her to pay, she put in her card, and we got out, Superboy unfolding.
We're standing on the road side, Priam stares into the restaurant. it was glass-sided, Superboys and wannabes inside watching in their usual paranoia. I think paranoia is built into their genes. They must get terrible eye strain spending their lives in a constant searching of dark corners.
Priam stared in, they stared back, he turned to the left and began walking away. Firebird and I exchanged glances.
There Priam goes just striding down the street, and we standing there, forgotten.
After about thirty seconds, Firebird went after him. I'm sure Priam hadn't a clue where he was going.
Instead of walking, I got back into the taxi, followed.
Priam came to a stop about a block away. He stood looking at Firebird, looking at him. My taxi pulled up,they got in. I gave directions to a place in Brooklyn.
"All the fish is fresh caught, cooked as you want, in your face..." I told him.
Priam looked at me, blinked his eyes. His mute game starting to chafe, I turned to Firebird and we palavered as if nothing strange played.
Priam was a puzzle. He had a secret, maybe a baker's dozen of them. Firebird as I, was not privy.
Food seemed the only thing he was concerned about. If he wasn't so beautiful, he'd be a virgin unless he bought it, for I've had pocket calculators with more personality.
Dave's Pick Fish was not what you'd call a restaurant. It was a barge that probably used to port garbage. The cooking happened in the center under an awning. Fish swam in tanks around the chefs. Vegetables were heaped. If it wasn't for the vegetable colours, the place would be grey.
Priam showed more life in the next fifteen minutes of choosing vegetables, discussing preparation and questing for the perfect fish, then he had all day combined.
"That's all that he focuses on," Firebird said softly to me, as we stood fifteen feet away, "nothing gets his attention but food. Between grooming himself, exercising and eating, there isn't much more in his portfolio."
"Are you bored?" I ask.
"Not yet," she replies.
"I once was mad about a woman. She was standardly beautiful and I loved looking at her. She liked spending my money. One day I found myself at a party, watching her. I was watching her, but talking to another woman, who wasn't particularly attractive. But I desired her more than Beauty."
"Unlike Beauty," Firebird says, "there's something beneath the surface. A few times he's cut reality."
"They're born to be paranoid." I flip.
"You saw the reaction at the Gennie restaurant," she offers, our eyes glued to Priam as he glided around the tanks. But every eye in that crowded barge watched him. He was poetry. But poetry, like cheese cake, can get awfully cloying.
Her voice was plaintive; "...I don't understand him. I want to, I need to...I can't even ask him why he walked away. I have to assume..."
She was in love with him. Maybe it was a fixation, like 'Pete' had for her Superboy.
If she was an average woman I'd probably have a lot to say, but being Firebird, she could take care of herself.
I recall Camille with a prick of lust. A beautiful, brainless sex partner. A woman I liked to dress slightly less than undress. Who ego built me when we went out.
It wasn't just her inability to talk sensibly, it was the emptiness inside of her. I suppose she didn't know she needed a character, a personality, a set of rules, a soul, a dream, things to make her exist.
I watched Priam, there was no where else to look. He was deep in discussion with the Chef. The Chef seemed avid. I could only see Priam's back, but he was sharing more words concerning his supper than he had in the hours I've known him.
So what did he do?
Run a restaurant on Sagir?
Write a food column in his hometown paper?
I glanced at Firebird, her eyes held love and lust and a sadness.
Priam went around the counter to watch the Chef cook. Either he wasn't sure the Chef could manage the work, or more likely, making sure he wasn't going to be poisoned.
I couldn't mock Firebird, I had spent months with Camille who could only talk about what she wanted, how she looked, where we were to go. She never thought beyond food/clothing/fun.
Yet Priam was a genetically enhanced human being, bred to be smarter, stronger, more endurance, immunity to disease; Firebird had put it; 'there's something beneath the surface'.
"Do you trust him?" I asked her.
"He's made it imperative."
That was a weird answer, I'd speak, but Priam has his eyes on us. We approach. The plates are well arranged, he looks into my eyes as if for approval, I exclaim over the presentation, take my plate to a table, Firebird pays.
Priam places his plate on the table, moves to view the room, a seat Firebird had wanted. I move around, let her sit between us.
He eats with impeccable manners, savouring each bite. I try to emulate, I don't know if Firebird usually is so epicurean, or like me, on best behaviour.
He eats every morsel. There is nothing on his plate except a sheen of oil. We aren't as hungry.
As we sit back he looks for a bot to remove the plates, notices, it's self serve, takes up our plates, resting one on his inner arm as if he's done this before.
"Wine, I think?" I say, "I know he doesn't drink, I don't usually, but..."
"I'll take a glass," she says gratefully.
"My treat," I reply moving to the bar. I get two glasses of a sparkling white I happen to like, bring them to the table.
Priam looks at me, "Would you like something?" I ask him.
"Water," he replies.
I return, get him a bottle of Evian, bring it, he opens it and drinks.
"That was a nice meal," I say to make noise. He doesn't answer. Trying to work up a conversation I share;
"When I was on Tellur, if I hadn't been 'schooled' I think I wouldn't have understood, responded, or followed much of the conversation. Do you find being among us that
you have the same need to translate?"
Okay, let's try something else.
"Where are you staying?" but I look at Firebird.
"Haven't decided, you can recommend a hotel?" she says, and before I can answer;
"I do not want to stay in the city," Priam commands.
She takes a breath, I know how she feels. When I was with Camille there were times when she embarrassed me and I would take that exasperated breath, and speak as Firebird does now.
"Where do you want to stay?" she asks him.
"Move the yacht to a different berth, we debark on a different environment," he says this as if evident.
She looked at him, he turned his face towards her's, she nodded slightly.
"Thanks for dinner," I say to him and to her.
We stand, move out, catch two separate cabs.
I go home.
I'm tired, sleep isn't a problem.
It's the next day, when I'm exercising, considering whether or not to shave, thinking of Priam, little factoids start crawling around my brain.
The Dalmar, they hadn't fazed Priam. He'd seen them. Three big guys with the history of hunting and killing his people and he doesn't bristle. That means he wasn't afraid.
He saw Dalmar in the restaurant, decided what? He didn't want to fight them?
His focus on food, his limitation of how much access one gets to him was not obvious on bounce, it was on catch.
Then his last remark;
"Move the yacht to a different berth, and
we debark on a different environment..."
He was hunted, he knew it, but it wasn't going to disturb his dinner.
The movement of the yacht would give the appearance of leaving Earth. The scramble to find him would lead to that belief and I'll bet he'll have Firebird sell that yacht and get another...I bet that's done already.
So who was he, why was he wanted?