On chocolate hearts alone I dine
Candles weeping waxing tears
Ten for roses each one a year—disappear
(Type O-Negative/The Dream Is Dead)
Saturday, Feb. 13th, 2123; 11:00 a.m.
"Mitch, what the hell are we listening to? Ever since you left Jama, you've been into some really depressing shit, you know that?" David Cho shook his head sadly as they performed a delicate 'open-turbine' surgery on Mitch's bike, in Brogan's living room, of all places. He'd been kicked out of the building's garage, already, for a zoning violation—he wasn't supposed to be doing major repairs on the premises.
Mitch looked at him blankly, then got up without a word and walked all of three paces across the tiny apartment to the so-called entertainment center, where he switched the music over to something called the 'tribal fusion' channel. "That better, Dave?"
Now Dave really had no idea what on Earth he was listening to. It sounded like something Mitch's estranged wife might have picked out. Whatever. "Uh... yeah, that's fine." Time to get his mind off the ex, what with Valentines' Day coming up tomorrow... "So, how're the new recruits coming along?"
Mitch smiled at that. "Heh. Just great. They're a bunch of unruly, insubordinate know-it-alls."
"Really? Hey, do we know anyone else who started out that way? I mean, aside from you, me, and our entire graduating class?" Dave didn't sound the least bit surprised.
"Yeah, it's like that. I think they're gonna work out. They had some reservations at first, but now it looks like they're all in, 100 percent... even if they don't follow orders worth a damn. Loose cannons, all of 'em. Probably it's just as well—they don't need me micro-managing everything." Mitch obviously still felt uncomfortable with the authority and responsibility that came with his new job.
"I still can't believe you've got the Winter Fox, I mean, Chrysine on your squad, Mitch. She's just... awesome!" Now that he'd met her in person, Dave's admiration for the ex-Lace & Steel Clade was apparently way beyond 'fan-boy' territory.
Mitch looked up at the ceiling in frustration for a moment. "You know, in some ways, she's the worst."
Dave looked at him in disbelief. "I thought you said she's a decorated officer... now you're having problems with her? I don't get it."
"No... she's no trouble. Follows orders without question. That's what worries me." Mitch closed his eyes; he was elsewhere for a moment. "I think she'd fight to the death, if I ordered it... she's fought in death matches before....” 'Ave Brogan. Morituri te salutant' she said.
I'm beginning to understand, just a little, what Jama goes through. Officers under my command could die, or be willing to die. Even though we face this war apart, in a way, it's bringing us closer together.
He turned back to Dave and smiled. "You like Chrysine, don't you?"
"Uh... why?" Dave tried to look innocent... and failed spectacularly.
"You heard what I said about her'death matches'; for that matter you probably bet on a few." Mitch put his bearing pullers on the table—he needed Dave to do this part—and cast his old friend a serious look. "Hey man, you wanna ask her out, go ahead. Stranger things've happened. Just be careful, buddy, she's dangerous."
"I kinda figured that out already, Mitch." Dave assured him.
Then Mitch added in a lower, darker tone, "And don't you dare hurt her."
"What? Hello, combat Clade, remember?" Dave made mock kung-fu gestures with both hands.
"Yeah... well, I'm not exactly sure... but something tells me she's not nearly as experienced with dating as she is with fighting. You, on the other hand....”
Again, Dave tried and failed to look innocent. Did he even realize that was never going to work? "Mitch... I can't believe what I'm hearing. I mean, really... I'm shocked!"
"Look, don't take this the wrong way. I'm not pointing any fingers here... just remember, if either one of you gets hurt, I warned you, pal."
Dave was hopelessly confused now. "About what, exactly?"
"If you get hurt, I warned you she's strong enough to rip your head off. If she gets hurt, I warned you the whole Crash Team's gonna be pissed at you. They're all very fond of Chrysine, just so you know."
"Oh. Thanks... I think."
"Hey, what are friends for? Anyway, good luck. She's really something... looks good in a skinsuit, too."
"Yeah, I'll bet she... hey waitaminnit, when did you... you sonofabitch!" Dave nearly turned green.
Mitch shook his head. "Not telling. Anyway, I'm still married, technically, so I could only look, not touch. Appearances aside... she's interesting, isn't she?"
"Interesting? She's amazing!" Dave couldn't believe Mitch's understatement. "She's the Fox that Rocks!"
Mitch smiled. "Not any more... now she's The Cop That Won't Stop!"
Dave came back with "The Clade With the Blade!"
Mitch: "The XSWAT that's Too Hot!"
Mercifully, the entry buzzer sounded before their testosterone-addled exchange could get any sillier.
"Door's open!" They shouted in unison.
"Who could that be?" Mitch had no idea.
"I had lunch brought over." Dave explained.
"Good thinking. Where from?" At which point he heard a familiar voice in the hallway.
"Uh, Dave? Mitch? My hands are kinda full. Could I get some help here?"
Mitch shot Dave a dirty look. "You called my sister over here? The place is a wreck, you knob!"
Dave gave him a sue-me grin and jumped up to get the door, leaving Mitch sitting on the floor, splattered in CCHD fluid, surrounded by scattered turbine parts, and thoroughly disgusted.
Patricia Weinrank, Visiting Professor of Criminal Psychology at Angelus University, walked in with an armload of groceries, breezed past David Cho with a quick "Hi, guys." and straight into the kitchenette. After deposting her cargo, she returned to the living room for a quick look around.
"What a disaster! Mitch, what is all this? Dave said you were working on your bike, not dismantling it."
Dave was at the kitchen door, holding out two grimy hands to embrace her. "Trish! Haven't seen you in ages. How've you been?"
"Just fine, Dave. You're staying out of trouble, I hope?" She carefully grasped his wrists to keep his filthy hands off her dry-cleaned clothes, found a clean spot on one cheek and gave him a chaste peck there before walking around him into the living room to talk to her brother.
"Whatcha doin' Mitch?" She crossed her arms and shook her head in disbelief. Who did motorcycle repairs in the living room?
"Oh, nothing major, just a new main bearing on the turbine shaft. Should be done before supper. Thanks for lunch, by the way." He held up said turbine shaft dripping with fluids, like some bike surgeon gone mad, as if to demonstrate that everything was indeed under control.
"My pleasure. Clean yourself up and let's eat." She smiled in spite of his antics.
"Sounds good to me." Mitch stood up and began scrubbing his hands with parts cleaner. "I was wondering, Trish... have you been to see Dad?"
An uncomfortable silence filled the room. "Um... well, classes are in full swing... I haven't really had time this week." Trish looked as if she'd rather be discussing anything else.
Mitch had pretty much expected this. His little sister had never really adjusted to their father's 'situation' or his appearance since he had his accident, back in 2112. Trish handled occasions on which she couldn't avoid Malachi well enough, but otherwise, she never actually sought him out.
"It's okay, sis. But you know, we nearly lost him this time, and he's still in recovery. Seeing you really would do him a world of good. Just... try to make some time for the Old Man, okay?" Mitch never pushed her any harder than that on the subject. To his relief, she simply nodded. "Okay, now what's on the menu?"
* * * * *
After lunch, Mitch and Dave got back to work, while Trish sat in the dining nook and talked with them. "I didn't get to hang around much at Mom's party yesterday—had to get back to campus. So I figured I'd help you out today. Dave told me you'd be home." Was it just him, or did she sound worried about something? Might as well find out.
"Well, that was nice of him. Thanks, Dave. Yeah, yesterday was a workday for me, so I was kinda in and out at the retirement party too. Was there something you wanted to talk about?"
"Um... yeah. Yesterday, at the party... Mitch, were you there with Erin?" Trish looked a little confused.
PRANG! Dave's wrench slipped and he banged a knuckle. "Ow! Is that what this is all about? I thought it was something serious."
Mitch laughed. "No I wasn't there 'with' Erin. Trish, we've been assigned to the same sector HQ, so we're trying to be civil about it. And you know Mom was always disappointed things didn't work out for us—so we went to the party and acted friendly for her benefit. She was suitably thrilled. End of story." He shrugged.
"That was just for Mom's sake?"
"Of course. It's not like we're getting back together."
"And does Erin know that, Mitch?"
The entry buzzer went off again, and the intercom came on. "Hey Mitch, you awake yet? It's Erin!"
Cho gave him a sad look. "Should I open a window?" He made futile arm-flapping motions.
Trish smiled accusingly. "Should Dave and I leave, Mitch?"
With his bike 93 floors off the ground and in a hundred pieces, Mitch realized there was simply no escape. "No, I think you should both stay." What was that old saying? People who live in glass houses might as well answer the door. "Hi, Erin. Got company today. Sorry about the mess."
The tiny efficiency apartment looked even smaller when someone as tall as Erin suddenly walked in. She looked askance at the disemboweled motorcycle and its innards scattered about the living room. "Company? Is she cute?" Then she spied Trish sitting off to one side. "Oh, I see she is. Hi there, Professor."
Dave greeted Erin warmly, grimy hands and all. "Hey... Erin, got a hug for me?"
"Really, Dave! I wouldn't know which hand to break first. Is this job gonna take long?"
"Uh... yeah. Needs a new moebius belt. Could take all day."
"Oh... like I haven't heard that one before. Try again?"
"Well actually, we're replacing the flux capacitor. Six more hours at least."
She crossed her arms and glared at him. "I don't think so."
"Oscillation over-thruster? Maybe an hour?"
"Hmmm... sounds kinky, Dave, but I don't buy it. Mitch, what's the story?"
"Main turbine shaft needs a new bearing. Then we'll have to re-align the shaft, replace the HD fluid, run a complete systems test battery, do some trial runs... it's gonna take all day." In reply to her exasperated look, he replied, "Hey, the bike's 12 years old, these things happen!"
"What I don't get, Brogan, is why you have to do this in your living room?"
Dave piped up. "Cause nobody wants trani fluid all over their bedroom?"
"Nobody but you, Dave." She sneered.
"Hey, have you tried it yet?" He leered at her suggestively.
"Do you want to eat that torque wrench, Cho?" Erin sounded half-angry, half-amused.
He looked at it. "No, it belongs to Mitch."
"So what's that gotta do with anything?"
"So if anyone's gonna devour his tool, it's you!"
Erin advanced on him menacingly, looking for something heavy. Mitch stepped in front of her. "That's enough, both of you." His face was red.
Dave smirked. "He hates it when we talk like that in front of his sister."
Erin looked at Mitch, as he turned even redder. "You know Dave, I think you're right."
From the dining nook, he heard Trish laughing. "Don't stop on my account—I'm amused."
Mitch looked at her in disbelief. "Oh, now you're encouraging these two?"
Erin had him out-flanked. "Of course, Mitch. She knows we're incorrigible." She looked at Dave again. "Mitch, I'll need to borrow your shower, your handcuffs, and oohh, this." She picked up a 'mega-ohmeter' and set it for 1000 volts, grinning like a maniac.
Dave looked at her eagerly. "Ready when you are... who's going first?"
Mitch took the 'meter out of her hands and wagged a finger at her. "Erin, you break my mechanic, you get to put the bike back together yourself. And clean up the mess. Deal?"
She pouted at him. Mitch rather like the way she pouted... "Damn, you're no fun, Mitch Brogan. Go on, fix your toy." She went and had a seat next to Trish.
Relieved, Mitch returned to the floor and went back to work with Dave. Erin decided to quit bothering them, so they began making some progress. She turned to Trish instead. "So, Professor, if you don't mind me asking, who was that cute little egghead I saw you with yesterday?"
Trish was slightly taken aback at having her new boyfriend described as a 'cute little egghead' but she supposed it wasn't entirely inaccurate. Her face lit up. "Oh! That was Howard. I mean, Roger Howard Entwistle, Associate Professor of Crypto-Sociology. He's absolutely brilliant!"
In unison, Erin and Dave exclaimed "Crypto-wha... ???" She'd completely lost them.
Mitch came to the rescue. "Don't ask guys. Every time she tries to explain it, I get a headache. It's a complete mystery, whatever this guy's studying."
Dave needed no explanation. "It's obvious, isn't it, Mitch? He's studying your sister."
It was Erin's turn to laugh. "Uh, Trish... these guys are gonna be all afternoon, and as usual, there's nothing in Mitch's fridge but Thirsty Bitch," she made a face. "So why don't we go get a beer and you can tell me all about him?"
Trish wasn't sure what to make of this... she'd never been all that friendly with Erin. Then again, maybe she could find out what was going on between her and Mitch. "Sure... sounds good." She turned towards the half-reassembled bike Mitch and Dave were working on. "We'll be back later, guys."
After the women left, Mitch and Dave exchanged perplexed looks and shrugged. "How does Erin do that?"
"Beats me. She's had Mom convinced she's a perfect angel ever since they met."
"And, Mitch, what was she doing here?"
Mitch did a double take. "I figured you invited her."
"She just dropped by, out of the blue?" Dave looked suspicious. "Something's officially Going On, Mitch."
Denying a rumor just makes it worse—but what else can I do? This is such a mess.
"Dave... last weekend. She gave me some pointers at the practice range. We had lunch, did some shopping. That's it. No hug, no kiss, nothing. We're just friends now, okay?"
"Okay, fine. I believe you, Mitch. You're not fooling around with Erin." Dave sounded completely sincere, which should have been a huge danger sign. Without warning a lascivious grin spread across his face. "Not yet. But the subject came up, right?"
Mitch groaned. "Yes, of course! I told her I'm waiting until the divorce is final. That's like... six months, minimum. Probably longer."
Dave winced in pain for his friend. "You poor bastard. You're never gonna make it. Maybe another month with her working on you. Six weeks, tops."
Mitch shot him a dirty look, but didn't say a word.
"Oh yeah, I forgot what a masochist you are. Okay, three months til you break down, max."
"Thanks a lot, Dave."
"Just be careful, buddy... she's dangerous."
"Now where have I heard that before?"
"Uh... Mitch? Chrysine isn't crazy or anything, is she?"
"Yeah... crazy like a fox."
"Ack! That's horrible. Why do I fix your bike again?"
"Cause I can fix you up with Chrysine?"
"Oh, it's like that?"
"Yeah, it's like that. Something else you oughta know, though....”
"I think Liz kinda likes you."
"Mitch, you're scaring me....”