This forum uses cookies
This forum makes use of cookies to store your login information if you are registered, and your last visit if you are not. Cookies are small text documents stored on your computer; the cookies set by this forum can only be used on this website and pose no security risk. Cookies on this forum also track the specific topics you have read and when you last read them. Please confirm whether you accept or reject these cookies being set.

A cookie will be stored in your browser regardless of choice to prevent you being asked this question again. You will be able to change your cookie settings at any time using the link in the footer.

A Long Way from Home
Tehya watched Moscow pass in a slow crawl beyond the taxi window, tempted to place her forehead against the cool glass and close her eyes. She’d hardly slept on the plane, just drifted in and out of vagueness once her thoughts and worries had run dry, then zoned out listening to the music piping through her earphones until the captain had called the descent. Now, so far from her homeland, she was tired. Her long legs were cramped from all the inactivity, and her shoulders ached dully; she was desperate to stretch out. It should have pleased her to finally be so close, but her thoughts were numbly focussed on the actually getting there, slipping off her shoes, taking a shower, and getting some sleep.

Outside it was early evening. Dusk deepened what little she could see of the sky, a striation of red and pink and orange that bounced blinding amber fingers of light from windows and windshields; the last throes of sun’s death. Before long shadows would pool the sidewalks and the streetlamps would start their vigil, and she dearly hoped that by then she wouldn’t still be stuck in this damn car. The roads had been swift from the airport, but commuter traffic had thickened once they reached the city; she’d grown used to the low grumble of the idling engine, but its gentle lullaby wasn’t helping her stay awake.

A knock at the window jolted her from reverie. She frowned up at the man beyond the glass. Tall and whipcord thin, with well-groomed dark hair and a manicured beard shadowing the line of his jaw. He looked like any number of businessmen on the street, but she did not have to see his arm to know what he was. Tey wasn’t surprised they had found her, even amidst the traffic; either the taxi was marked, or she was. A briefly sobering thought. She was still looking for the button to unwind the window when the guy opened the door.

“Ms. Alisdelisgi.” He gestured that she exit, offering a crooked smile. His suit was tailored, but he wore it slightly dishevelled, and the tie was pulled loose. “A pleasure to finally meet you. Traffic’s a nightmare this time of day; it’ll be quicker to walk.”

She offered him a sedate nod in return as she climbed out of the car, reaching into her jeans pocket to find some cash for the cab driver – who, realising Tehya was getting out early, had nudged open his door in order to retrieve her bags from the boot. “You’re Marcus?” She might have been living out in the sticks, but the net made a small detail of distance. Someone like Tehya, who specialised in studying the creatures the Atharim hunted, made great use of their secured networks for theory and discussion. She’d known Marcus years through those channels, though they’d never met. He was younger than she’d suspected; but then, probably so was she.

“Well guessed. The bill is covered, by the way.” The hand he offered in greeting was warm and strong; it made her feel limp and tired by contrast. She didn’t return his welcoming grin – too weary to bother with the niceties – and gave the driver a tip in exchange for her bags anyway; crumpled U.S bills she had no further need of, and maybe neither did he since the exchange rates were so ridiculously poor, but the guy tucked them in his pocket with a quick smile all the same.

“Do we have far to go?” She waved off Marcus’ offer of help – she only had a rucksack and a laptop bag, hardly beyond her means – and waited for him to set off down the sidewalk. He didn’t, not right away; he seemed to be taking the moment to study the solemnity of her features, and perhaps differentiate the years of faceless correspondence with the physicality of her. When her expression did not flicker, he laughed.

“Couple of blocks. You’re in a good building, great metro links. But, uh, seriously, Tehya, you’ll make me look like a prick if you carry all the stuff.”

“I’m tired, Marcus. It was a long flight. You really want to have a discussion about the retardedness of gender politics now?” Either the crassness of her language or the sheer monotone dryness in her tone made him blink in surprise. Her lips hitched up at one corner as she slipped off the rucksack and held it out. “For the record, I don’t care if you look like a prick, and neither should you. Can we go?”

He filled her in on the way; where she would be working and where she would be staying, the Wallet that would now form her primary contact, and a little on the people she would be working with. It was Friday; she had a weekend reprieve to acclimatise herself to the city and the new time zone. That was good, at least. So was the fact that Marcus was happy to divulge with little input on her part, since she was too exhausted to provide much in the way of conversation beyond the odd nod of acknowledgement. She paid attention, though her head was groggy. It felt good to stretch her legs at least.


The apartment turned out to be small but comfortable, its furnishings finer than those she had been accustom to back home - which wasn’t necessarily saying much. Some sparse adornments marked an attempt to make it feel homely – some ornaments, a few framed pictures – but it still felt spiritless as a hotel room. And it was very empty now that Marcus had gone; echoey. Lonely. Tehya enjoyed her privacy, but had never lived alone. She felt the singular beat of her heart acutely in the silence, and the sound of her breathing was conspicuously loud. It was strange, and not in a pleasant way.

There wasn’t much to unpack. Afterwards she showered, pulled on shorts and a vest that approximated pyjamas, and then curled on the couch with her beat-up laptop, the palm-sized Wallet plugged into the side. That sparky little bit of tech was going to take some getting used to, and it wasn’t a battle she felt like starting tonight, when the newness of her surroundings had her aching for the comfort of the familiar. She fought a yawn, sliding damp hair over one shoulder as she checked her mail. Most Atharim correspondence came that way, albeit safeguarded and encrypted. Heck, almost all communication came that way. She already had a schedule waiting for Monday, sent from a secure Atharim anon account - the sort favoured by the higher echelons of their society, whose identities were even protected from others within the organisation. Marcus had also mailed her the Wallet’s user manual. He must have seen the look she gave him when he handed it over.

Both messages she left unread for now. Instead she sent a brief note to her father - Here now, safe. Will call when I figure the time zone differences. T - then closed the laptop’s lid; it had already grown hot in her lap, hot enough to burn uncomfortably, though she supposed it didn’t matter now if the thing was on its way out. Its laborious whirr died slowly, then settled into silence as Tey got up and flicked out the light. A few minutes later, she was in bed, asleep.
Her body must have needed the rest; she didn’t wake as early as she’d have liked, and most of the morning was wasted as a result. Someone had thought to stock the fridge, which was helpful. Of the rest of the apartment there was little to explore; it was clean, and it was serviceable. The main window looked out onto a road, but she could hardly hear the buzz of traffic through the glass. It was a quiet place; she heard nothing of her neighbours either.

Retreating to the small breakfast counter of the kitchenette, Tehya booted up her laptop, checked her schedule and the user manual Marcus had sent, then turned her attention to the Wallet. After a few moments fiddling, she had to admit that maybe he was right; it was useful. Information glittered at her fingertip; she discovered comprehensive maps of the city, as well as the location of various safe-houses. Her mail was integrated. Her finances. Everything, pretty much, in dizzy layers of flashy screens. Too much. Eventually she placed it back down on the counter, and rubbed her temples.

She wasn’t expected to report until Monday, and perhaps she should have been more grateful for the generous free time. But Tehya didn’t take to idleness easily. They expected her to explore the city perhaps, learn her bearings; and most people would. Indeed she would, but not without a focus. The serpentine tattoo on her wrist was not simply decoration; it was curled about her soul.

The files she accessed had already been processed by juniors; it was good practise for them to scour the news for suspicious activities and parse the supernatural crimes from the human. Many of the creatures the Atharim hunted were slaves to instinct; they followed the same distinct patterns that every Atharim was taught to recognise - patterns that people like Tehya identified in the first place. There were dozens of reports relating in Moscow alone, which was to be expected; she skipped the ones pertaining to the Sickness, for now at least, until she came to one she thought she could work with.

She’d spent a couple of hours trying to fathom out the Wallet – it wasn’t so difficult to grasp, though its scope and unfamiliarity had given her the beginnings of a headache. It was still her phone she reached for to call Marcus, though. He picked up on the third ring.

“I’m looking at this hospital stuff. Window jumpee. Nurse bitten.”

“Uh huh?”

“You have the contacts of the assigned agents?”

“If you look at your Wallet, Tehya, you’ll—”

“I will, Marcus, I promise. But later. Can you forward me the names?”

He sighed. Audibly. Then mumbled an affirmative. “One sec.”

Tey let the silence drift for a moment. “Rougarou, you think?”

“Yeah, probably. CDPS are involved, but we think they’re centred on the doc - who’s been cleared by psych, by the way. Stress.” He chuckled. “Most of the evidence has been pulled. Just gotta find our guy before he finds his next meal, and before the CDPS roll in the heavies. It’s high priority.”

Good. She cradled the phone between cheek and shoulder, then brought up the Guardian complex on her laptop screen. A couple of clicks found a decent enough map, though the machine shuddered in its effort to load the high-res images. An orphanage. God. Delinquent home, psych unit. It would be a Rougarou’s idea of a candy store. “That area of Moscow see much trouble? It doesn’t exactly look…pleasant.” In the corner of her screen, a new message pinged into her inbox. “Thanks, Marcus.”

She was about to click off when he spoke again. “Tehya, you’re not thinking of doing anything—”

“Stupid? No. I’m just going to do my job.”
The last official, documented research conducted on a live test subject rougarou – at least as far as Tehya’s resources elucidated – had been in the 1970s, when cognitive behavioural therapy had marched to the forefront of fashion. The monsters who maintained human appearance – who had been human, once – had always garnered interest from certain sections of the Atharim. Did remnants of humanity remain? Could such a creature be redeemed? It was a subversive study, of course - anything created by the gods was an abomination whether it was dangerous or not, whether it had ever been human or not; an affront to nature itself - but even back then it had not been a curiosity born of benevolence. Control was a weapon as potent as anything else. In this case, they had tried to teach the rougarou restraint – to, figuratively speaking, put a leash on it, through a series of aversion and reward therapies.

It hadn’t ended well.

Some years later, when technological advances had improved enough to provide greater insight, it had been decided that the mutation which caused the cannibalistic urges in rougarou pushed them beyond the brinks of humanity. No amount of cognitive work or manipulation was going to alter the essence of their very nature; they were changed. Perhaps irreversibly. And since their exhibited behaviours were both primitive and predictable, further study of that nature was pretty much abandoned by all but the most esoteric.

It wasn’t the only reason this became common practise. Of all the identified humanoid creatures in the Atharim compendiums, the rougarou amounted among the more dangerous – at least in terms of their willing capacity for violence and ability to exist on the fringes of society. They lacked the function of self-control, and burned briefly but savagely on vicious instinct before the Atharim took them down. Bloody work, usually – which meant that hauling one in alive was not only difficult, but that the danger outweighed any benefit.

Tehya would not take risks; not the sort of risks that would result in fatalities. But she wanted that rougarou alive.

As an endeavour it would be frowned upon by her peers – perhaps at best – but she had never been the sort to back away from the unconventional, if she thought the sacrifice worth it. Fortunately there were few hoops for her to jump through; climb high enough on the Atharim chain of command, and it was a simple thing to commandeer control of an operation and coordinate its efforts. Many field hunters worked autonomously, but collective work was not unusual either; particularly when something had broken into current news and necessitated quick work.

Her laptop was humming dangerously, and it radiated heat where her hand rested on the keypad. She willed it to last just a couple of minutes more; just while she laboured through the list of names Marcus had given her and fired off her instructions. Then she swore she'd get to grips with that damn Wallet. Hold position was the order; it would buy her some time, at least. All answered to the Regus, of course, but the Atharim as a collective body were too widespread for it to be a completely autocratic authority; the Atharim’s direction was protection, and layers of bureaucracy would only form a hindrance to that end. She was not due to check in at HQ until Monday; if she worked quickly, this could be done before anyone could go over her head.

While her laptop was still cooperating, she double-checked the safe-houses she'd perused earlier - until she found the one that had caught her eye. It was somewhat unusual for Atharim to work with one outside their own - why no tattoo? - but it was useful information to know, and suited her purposes. Fortune shined bright, or maybe the spirit of her Dustu stirred favour - the last to receive communication were two furia fresh to Moscow. Their skills would speed the hunt, or so Tehya hoped, though it wasn't the only reason she was satisfied to have discovered them.

That done, she finally let the laptop sleep, grabbed her coat and keys - then, almost as an after-thought, the Wallet, and left the apartment. Time to see the city she was to call home.

Edited by Tehya, Jul 31 2013, 02:46 PM.
Tehya spent most of the day - what was left of it - wandering and getting to grips with this new city. She was not interested in the tourist traps, but she was keen to get a feel for the place. And to prepare. She'd fallen asleep on the sofa by the time her Wallet beeped. Leisure. The word actually made her smile, though grimly. It was far sooner than she’d anticipated; but, then, that’s why she’d sent furia. She flicked a lamp on, ran her hands over her face a few times, checked the time, then made her way to the kitchen to make some coffee. A short time later, despite the hour, she was out the door, a rucksack slung over one shoulder.
[[Continued at "Hidey Hole"]]

Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)