The stark emptiness of my quarters surrounds me. On top of my bed there are two duffel bags packed with all of my worldly belongings. Normally, the small apartments are set aside for rookies getting started or losers, like me, who never started a life outside of the Agency. I look around my tiny nicely appointed quarters one last time. It's not so much that I'll miss this place, because I spent most of my time on my ship going from one assignment to the next, it's the dread of the unknown that's slowing me in my tracks. But orders are orders and it's time to execute them. I sling one of the duffels over my shoulder and take the other in my hand then leave my room behind.
As I walk down the hallway, fellow Agents greet me. Some wish me luck, some tell me what a raw deal I got, and others avert my gaze. Just as I'm almost at the turnoff to get to the ship port, I'm stopped by a tall swarthy skinned woman.
"I'm sorry, Wil. I didn't think you'd get reassigned. I knew you were probably up to your eyeballs in shit and being your partner and all, I needed to dig you out of it."
I give her a half smile. Lopez had the unfortunate task of being assigned my partner after my previous partner was killed by Rafe. She is as talented agent as they come. Truth be known, I probably held her back.
I rub the back of my neck and give her a half smirk. "I knew what I was gettin' myself into. It's not your fault. I shouldn't have involved you though. There was no call for taking you down with me."
"Actually, I didn't get into any trouble. Chief actually gave me an informal commendation." She stops and plays with her thick black locks as she tries to decide what to say next. "Wil, you're my partner, or were anyway, and I feel bad for ratting you out, but I knew you were going to do something stupid. In the end partners have each other's back even if the other might not like it."
"Truly, Amy, there's no hard feelings. You deserved a better partner than me."
"You're not wrong there," she says as she smiles and gives my shoulder nudge.
I start to walk toward my ship and motion for her to follow. The halls change from brightly lit and white to dim and metallic as we get closer to the ship lot.
"So what's your next assignment, Lopez?"
"They put me on a special task force to track down the Spike trade here in the Inner Cluster. As you know, it's really coming in hard and fast taking out a lot of kids. I'm going to be deep undercover for quite a while," She pauses and starts again, "Probably shouldn't have told you that. It's confidential, but I know I can trust you."
I'm silent recalling my first undercover assignment. I have to say I'm more than a little jealous. "Good for you. This will be a great assignment. Undercover details are the toughest most unforgiving jobs you'll have, but it comes with the most opportunity to do things your own way. One piece of advice, don't forget your ultimate mission. You're going to see a lot of shit out there and it will be easy to forget your mission. Keep reminding yourself why you're doing what you're doing. But I'm probably telling you stuff you already know."
"I appreciate the advice from someone who's actually been there."
We turn a corner and we're surrounded by rows of starships. Off in the distance, I spot my dark blue Hermes class transporter. I walk down a few rows and stop at my ship. She’s at least five years older than the other ships in dock definitely not as sleek and shiny as her younger counterparts. In comparison, she’s stout and compact. Her haul is pockmarked from years of flying through debris, narrowly escaping bad guys, and possibly some risky flying on my part. To others she may look like a utilitarian single person transport past her prime, but to me she’s the one constant I’ve had since joining the Agency.
Lopez looks at my ship and shakes her head. "You know, they'd let you trade in that old heap if you ask."
I feign a hurt look. "Old heap? Me and the 'ol girl have a history. She's never let me down. I sorta have an emotional attachment to her."
She runs her fingers across a set of painted letters along the haul and cocks her eyebrows. “I’ve always wanted to ask you, why did you name the ‘ol girl Piper? An old girlfriend or something?”
“Hmmph, you could say that. Piper was my best friend and the reason I’m here in the first place, the Agency that is. I thought it only right to name my ship after her. I haven’t thought about her in a long time.”
Her face brightens. “Hey, maybe you’ll get to see her where you’re stationed. I mean that’s where you grew up. Right? Maybe she’s still there.” There’s no way Piper has left that hell-hole and sure as anything I’ll be face to face with her. My mind whirs with the possibilities. Lopez whacks me on the arm and I’m jarred back to reality. “Damn, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I give her a smile. "Well, goin’ back to Bounty there’s probably going to be a lot of that.” Tired of thinking about my fate in Bounty I change the subject. “Good luck on your next assignment. I'd say keep in touch, but that's gonna be kinda hard where you'll be."
"We weren't partners terribly long, but you taught me a lot. Thanks." She looks me up and down and gives me a sly smile. "You know, this is the first time I've ever seen you with a fresh haircut and shave. I kinda like it."
She tugs at her form fitting flight suit and a dark coil of hair flops in her face and she tucks it away. There's always been an undeniable attraction between the two of us, but we never pursued anything. It was all just contained to harmless flirting.
I rub my face. "It feels kinds weird. I can't wait for the stubble to grow back."
She sidles up close to me and rubs my cheek. "I like how it feels on my hand. I kind of wonder how it'd feel other places."
I fail to stifle a groan and she smiles. "Amy, you know it's frowned on for partners to-"
She stops me with a just a look. "Wil, we're not partners now. I'm going to be gone for a really long time with no one I can trust. I'm not saying it's true love or anything between you and me, but I trust you. And like I've said before, you're easy on the eyes."
She leans in and puts her lips to mine and all of my will melts away. She pulls away and whispers, "So does that heap have a bunk big enough for two."
I smile then grab her around the waist and kiss her. I pull away and say, "I have a bunk big enough for what you have in mind."
She licks her lips and says, "Lead the way then."