Ishaan raised the barrel of his rifle and took careful aim. He liked the lightness of the small caliber gun, but it meant his kill shot had to be perfect. More than one bullet was a waste, and meant that the animal had to suffer while he loaded another round into the chamber. After watching this fat, gentle rabbit doe raise her young and raid his garden all spring, he had no desire to cause her pain.
The bullet went in one eye and out the back of her skull. She kicked once, twice, and then lay still, the chill evening air ruffling her fur. Ishaan leaned the rifle against the porch rail and headed out across the lawn toward the garden. After gutting and skinning the rabbit out behind the woodshed, he carried it back to the house, wrapped it in a clean towel and placed it in the bottom of the fridge. He would have liked to have eaten it, slow roasted in the oven, with some young potatoes and fresh vegetables, but it was getting near dark and he needed to head into town soon.
He sighed and leaned against the counter. He couldn't blame Trydel, no matter how much he wanted to. The man had a right to get married and start a family. And he'd given plenty of notice. It wasn't Trydel's fault that no one within five hundred miles wanted to share a roof with him. Well, he couldn't say no one.
Ishaan grabbed a beer out of the fridge, dropped the cap on the counter with several others, and shuffled across the living room to his study. Cheery pictures of his 'daughter' stared accusingly at him, her round, pink face beneath a lacy white bonnet, blonde hair like her mother, but with his green-gold eyes. He fell into the old, heavy leather chair and took a long pull from the bottle, watching his flesh and blood grow up before his eyes. Sezae sent pictures every few months, all neatly labeled and dated on the back, but he didn't need to turn them over to know what it was that he wasn't there to see.
Red-faced, angry, like a little, wrinkled old man, wrapped in a pink blanket just minutes after she entered the world, crawling, walking, waving from the back of a fat gray pony, laughing in a pile of leaves, holding a small, spotted puppy, a look of pure joy in her eyes, running beside a spotted dog almost as tall as she is, and finally just smiling and the camera, a lavender bow in her hair. She was almost five now, the living, breathing evidence of his greatest sin.
His father had tried to make the problem go away, the same way he made all problems go away, but Sezae wasn't interested in his money. She wanted the baby, she wanted them to get married and be a family. He tipped back the bottle, drained it, and dropped it on the floor beside the chair. He listened to it roll under the chair and clink against the others. After a moment, it clinked again, and rather melodiously, a continuous chiming sound.
Ishaan groaned and heaved himself out of the chair, wondering, as he headed out into the living room, if all outcasts eventually forget the sound of their own doorbells. It was her; he knew before he even left the study. She was the only person who would ever visit him. He just prayed she hadn't brought the child again.
"What?" he asked as he pulled the front door open. Sezae raised her eyebrows at his rudeness, but really, she was the last person he wanted to see, so why hide it?
"Are you still looking for somebody?"
"For the last time, Sezae, you're not-"
"No, I'm not, alright? That dream died years ago." He met her eyes, just for a moment, but it was still more than he could stand. To think about what he did to her- "Ishaan, this is Roan." She gestured over her shoulder, to a young man he hadn't even noticed, standing out beside the wagon, suitcase in hand. He had a worn look about him, though he couldn't have been any older that Ishaan himself, his blonde hair dull and tangled, his eyes pale blue or maybe gray. He didn't look happy to be there. "He got off the train by accident."
"I thought you ran the inn, not me," Ishaan said, and he started to close the door.
"He's willing to work for you," Sezae said, planting her hand against the carved oak and shoving the door back open, "which is more than I can say about anyone else in town. Or do you like waking everyone up in the middle of the night with your screaming?" Ishaan turned and walked away, clenching his fists as Sezae's footsteps followed him across the room and into the kitchen. "You woke Isha-"
"Bad enough having the kid, but you had to go and brand her as mine, too." Didn't she realize the shit that little girl would suffer because she was his? He pulled another beer out of the fridge and she snatched it out of his hand.
"Don't even try and make this about Isha or me. You're not wallowing in self-pity, you're drowning in it, and I cannot watch you kill yourself like this."
"You know where the door is," he said and held out his hand. "Give me my beer and leave me alone." She threw the bottle into the sink, shattering the glass and spraying him with alcohol. "That's great. Thanks, Sezae. Now get out."
She stepped up into his face. "You are a worthless piece of shit, you know that, Ishaan?" She made it as far as the kitchen doorway before coming back. "I almost forgot, you daughter asked me to give you this." She jerked a folded piece of paper out of her back pocket and shoved it into his chest. He opened it as she stalked away, glanced down at the crude drawing, the misshapen letters, and then flung it to the ground.
"You're a sadistic bitch, Sezae!" he shouted after her. She said something, but he was already on his way out the back door and across the lawn. How dare she! He'd never even spoken to the kid, seen her once outside of pictures, and then only for the second it had taken to slam the door shut again. He'd already made sure that she'd never want for anything, she could go to the finest college on any world, she'd never have to work a day in her life, so why did Sezae think it necessary to torture him with drawings of smiling suns and three-legged dogs and people with giant heads, I miss you, daddy scrawled across the top of the page. How could she miss him? She didn't even know him.
Ishaan reached the riverbank and stopped, staring down at the rushing black water as twilight fell among the great old trees. Why did she keep doing this to him? The girl he knew, the girl he loved, would never have been this cruel, sending him pictures, offering him the one thing he could never have. Didn't it occur to her, that if could attempt to rape his mother-rape his best friend-what was going to stop him from raping his own daughter? He would rather die than do that.
And maybe that was the answer, the solution to everyone's problems. The river was deep and swift here, and he'd never been a strong swimmer. Isha's money was in a trust, safe even from his father, guaranteed to her when she reached eighteen. Maybe this was the right thing to do. Maybe he should have been taken out and drowned the first night he wandered into his parent's bedroom.
"You're not thinking about jumping in there, are you?" Ishaan jerked his head around. The young man with the suitcase was standing behind him, only without the suitcase. "'Cause I can't really swim, but I'd feel obligated to jump in after you, and then we'd both-"
"What are you doing here?" Ishaan asked, turning away from the river. "I thought I told her to get out."
"Oh, you did," the young man said. "I tried to go with her, since you didn't seem in a real hiring mood, but she told me to stay. I guess maybe it was a good thing she did." His pale eyes darted to the river and then back to Ishaan.
"I wasn't going to jump," Ishaan snapped. He stood a moment, waiting for the young man to leave, and when that didn't happen, he stalked past him, back toward the house, the lights glimmering between the trees.
"So ... I understand that this is a bad time, but-" Ishaan stopped, the young man nearly running up on the back of his heels.
"I don't know what your game is, but no one 'accidentally' gets off the train in Devaen. Now go get your shit out of my house and meet me in the barn. I'll take you back to town, since I'm headed there anyway, but that's all you're getting out of me, got it?"
"I-I-Yeah, I got it." Ishaan turned to head across the lawn to the barn. "You're sleeping in the jail, right?" Ishaan paused long enough to nod but did not stop, did not look back. "You don't suppose they have room for two, do you? 'Cause I spent all my money on a railroad pass and can't really afford to stay at the inn. Does the jail serve dinner, too, 'cause I'm star-"
"I'm sure that since Sezae brought you out and then stranded you here, they can afford to let you stay a few nights for free. I'm not going to pay you what it said on that notice. I didn't post it; she did."
"Oh. Well, that's okay. I'd like the job anyway, for whatever you are willing to pay."
"Fine. A coin a week. Deal?" He started toward the barn again.
"Okay." Ishaan glanced back, but he seemed completely serious. A little nervous, his trembling hands plucking at a loose thread on his shirt, but serious, so Ishaan turned and waited for an explanation. "I-I can see that you're wealthy, so I understand your skepticism, but honestly, I'm not trying to scam you or rob you. It wasn't even the money that made me consider taking the job."
"Oh, yeah? Then what was?" The young man wet his lips and looked down at his hands, still pulling at that thread, and then shoved his hands in his pockets before glancing back up.
"Sezae told me about your ... condition and-"
"Forget it," Ishaan said, his lip curling in disgust. "I don't need a whore." The young man's face flushed scarlet, obvious even in the failing light.
"That's not why I'm here," he said between his teeth. "I just thought that your life sounds shitty enough without having to ride into town and be locked in the jail every night. A human being deserves more dignity than that."
Ishaan opened his mouth, then closed it again. "What was your name again?" he asked finally.
"Roan." He smiled hesitantly. "Roan Echarn."
"Ishaan Darvis. You don't mind if I run a background check, do you?" The smile vanished from Roan's face.
"Ah ... no. No, go ahead. I mean, you won't find anything, but-"
"We'll just see about that." If there was one thing Ishaan knew, it was computers. "C'mon, I'll show you to your room."
"Really?" He sounded shocked. Ishaan couldn't help but wonder if there was a reason for that. "Thank you, Mr. Darvis, you won't regret it."
"We'll see about that, too, and don't call me Mr. Darvis. Ishaan will do."
"Oh. Okay." They climbed the steps up to the back porch. "You're not-I mean, the train attendant said something about a Mr. Darvis. That's not-"
"He was talking about my father," Ishaan said shortly as they stepped into the kitchen. He snatched Isha's drawing up off the floor and folded it carefully before slipping it into his shirt pocket. "So tell me, Roan, how does a man 'accidentally' get off of a train?" He glanced back, watching for signs of deceit, but the young man just colored and looked down at his hands, embarrassed.
"He-Well, he gets off thinking he'll find something that ends up not being there."
"Something like ...?" Roan stepped past him and muttered something as he crossed the living room to fetch his suitcase from the foyer. "Sorry, I missed that."
"A whorehouse, okay?" Roan said, standing on the other side of the room and staring out the front window. "I was looking for a whorehouse."
"There isn't a whorehouse in Devaen."
"Thanks, but I already figured that out." He turned around. "Which one's my room?" Ishaan didn't move. If there was one thing he couldn't abide, it was a liar.
"I thought you said you didn't have any money. How were you going to pay-"
"I wasn't going to pay," Roan said and Ishaan raised his eyebrows. "I-I sometimes work freelance-"
"A freelance whore?" Ishaan said with a bark of laughter. "Now I've heard everything. Get out of my house." He watched Roan's face lose color.
"Mr.-Ishaan, please. You-you can't throw me out for that." Funny, he thought he just had. He started forward, fully prepared to physically remove the young man from his property. "You don't think I like having to whore myself, do you?" Roan asked, and the desperation in his tone made Ishaan hesitate. "You think I like letting drunk men and lonely women paw all over me? I don't. I hate it. I want a respectable job, any job, so that I never have to do that again. Please, please, Ishaan, give me a chance."
"Why should I?" Ishaan demanded. When had anyone ever given him a chance? After Sezae, after the truth came out, he couldn't walk down the street without people crossing to the other side to avoid him. He wasn't allowed in school, Dr. Kennal refused to see him anymore, even the shopkeepers closed their doors to him, the richest kid on the planet, as if selling him gum would somehow make them a target. He stared across the living room at Roan, tangled blonde hair falling across his brow as he looked down at the suitcase in his hands and turned to leave. "Wait." Ishaan sighed. He was being stubborn and mean. It wasn't Roan's fault he'd had a shitty day. "You get one chance, okay? One night. Screw this up and I'll have you arrested for endangering and negligence. Do you understand?"
"Yes, yes," Roan said, nodding furiously. "I under-I won't let you down."
"You better not," Ishaan said, "because if I get out, the first person I'm coming after is you." Roan went white as a sheet again and shuddered, his whole body shaking. "Good, I'm glad you understand the severity of the situation. This way."
Across from the foyer was the guest bedroom, unoccupied since Trydel moved out. Ishaan pulled clean linens out of the cupboard and tossed the sheets and pillowcases on the end of the bed. Roan set his suitcase down and glanced around at the furnishings. It wasn't anything fancy; Ishaan preferred quality and functionality over aesthetic beauty. The dresser was pine, the desk and chair mahogany and the bed frame oak. A well-worn high-backed chair sat in the corner beside a table and lamp, still upholstered in the original navy blue suede.
"It's not much," Ishaan said, but Roan shook his head.
"I grew up in an apartment in the city and had to share a room with my brother. This is wonderful. Thank you." He stepped over to the desk and ran his fingers along the smooth, worn wood, then walked over to the suede chair and sank into it. "Really, this is-Hey, you have electricity!" He reached over and switched the lamp on, off, then on again. "I thought-"
"Planetary restrictions don't seem to apply where my father is concerned." Ishaan turned and left the room before Roan could ask the next logical question. "Come on," he called back, "I'll show you the rest of the house." Roan appeared a moment later.
"So that was a real refrigerator in the kitchen? Do you have a television, too?" Ishaan gestured across the room, to the transplasma screen hanging between the foyer doorway and his study, currently disguised as a scenic painting. "Oh, wow-but ... how do you get reception if TV is outlawed?"
"The same way I get electricity," Ishaan said, already tiring of the conversation.
"Your father ... Who-"
"Over here is the bathroom," Ishaan said loudly, opening the door between the guest room and the kitchen. He turned on the light, drawing back as Roan stepped past him. "Can I assume you know how everything works? Sink, tub, toilet?" He pointed to each.
Roan nodded. "This is a big bathtub," he said. "You could fit two people in-" He fell silent, staring down into the tub. Ishaan rolled his eyes.
"I wouldn't know," he said and reached up for the light. "The kitchen's-" He stopped, hand held over the light switch, as Roan pulled his arms in tight to his body and bent nearly double, his shoulders heaving as he took short, hissing breaths. "Shit-" He started across the room. "Roan, are you-"
"Don't touch me!" Roan shouted, his voice startlingly deep and resonant. Ishaan stopped short, then took a step back. Perhaps he should have run that background check first, and then shown him around the house. His mind raced out into the living room, across to his study, and jerked the rifle down off the wall. Shells were in the top drawer- "Please," Roan gasped, his voice back to normal, "I just need-catch my breath-"
"What are you?" Ishaan asked. As if in pain, Roan straightened up and slowly turned around. He was pale, his face shiny with sweat, and his eyes-dark, haunted, fearful. "Are you a werewolf?" Roan gave him a strained smile and shook his head.
"I-I-" He swallowed hard. "I get seizures, sometimes, when I'm tired. I'm okay."
"That didn't look like a seizure," Ishaan said. He should have fallen down, his eyes rolled back, convulsing, trying to bite his tongue off. Roan straightened his shirt with a sharp tug.
"Well, it was," he said, taking a hesitant step forward. "What do you want, a doctor's note?"
Ishaan ignored his sarcasm. "Do you get those often?" he asked. Roan shrugged.
"Sometimes. They're stress related, and today hasn't been the easiest day for me. I'm fine, really."
"Great, but I'm more concerned that you're going to have an episode and die during the night, leaving me locked in my room for who knows how long."
"It hasn't killed me yet."
"Not comforting. This way." After pointing out the kitchen and pantry, Ishaan led Roan to the other side of the house-his side. "This is my room and my study," he said, gesturing to the two doors. That was as far as he intended the tour to go, but Roan stepped past him and opened his bedroom door, flicking on the light before Ishaan could even open his mouth.
"Nice," Roan said, glancing around. "I like the blue-Do I have the bigger room?" Ishaan motioned for him to come out.
"Yes. The guest room-your room-was my parent's room. This one has always been mine." He stepped past Roan to turn off the light and close the door, and when he glanced back, Roan was already walking into his study. "Hey, no-Get out of there," he said, chasing after. "You have no reason to-"
"Oh, hell no," Roan said, crossing over to Ishaan's desk and running his fingertips across the chassis of his laptop. "Is this the new Cyberion III? Dual or quad cores?"
"Eight, actually." Roan's eyes grew wide and Ishaan couldn't help but smile at his excitement.
"What operating system does it run?"
"Windows Nebula. You know computers?"
"Just a bit," Roan said. "I had one back home-an old dual core Khessna my father bought when he started college, but I was looking to upgrade to a Cyberion I before-before I left. Now I wish I'd brought the Khessna with me, only they said no electronics. Customs even took my digital watch. Gave me a lousy coin and a half for it." He glanced around the room. "So ... how did you get all this stuff here against regulations?"
"Space pirates," Ishaan said. "Do you think you could leave my things alone?"
Roan pulled his hands back. "Oh, sorry." Ishaan led him back out into the dining room end of the communal living space and showed him a silver ring with a single silver key on it, hanging just inside the door of the china cabinet.
"This will lock and unlock my bedroom door. There's a spare key in the woodshed, just to the left of the door, in case this one gets lost or something. Make sure it doesn't. I'll let you know when I'm ready for bed each evening. Typically, I'm up until between eleven and one. If you're asleep, I'll wake you. I wake up typically between eight and ten, when I've had enough sleep, as I've yet to find an alarm clock that can wake me." He checked to see if Roan was still paying attention. "I'll ask that you be up by nine every morning to let me out. Is that a problem?"
"Oh, no. I'm actually a pretty early riser."
"Fine. But whatever you do, never open the door without checking first that I'm awake. There's a slide in the door-" He stepped over and demonstrated, opening the little window. "Look in, call my name-if I'm not up you won't wake me. If I come over to the door, you need to look into my eyes. That's the only way to know if I'm really awake." He turned, stepping close to Roan and staring down into his eyes. Definitely gray, not blue. "Awake, my eyes are expressive, alert. Asleep, they are dull, empty, like the eyes of a corpse. Understand?" Roan nodded slowly and took a deliberate step backward. It seemed he didn't like having his personal space invaded. Or maybe he just didn't like being that close to a rapist.
"Good. I'll let you go unpack and get settled then." He waited until Roan started to turn away. "Oh, one more thing." Roan glanced back. "Just in case it starts to seem like a good idea to wait until I'm locked up and then make off with my TV and computer, you should know that I can find anyone, anywhere, and I would not stop until I found you." Roan opened his mouth, but Ishaan stepped close to him again and followed as he backed up against the wall. "And when I did find you, I would not be happy." Roan's eyes grew very wide, his breath coming in short gasps. "Do you know what would happen to you if I tied you down and then fell asleep?" Roan slid sideways, along the wall, to get away from him.
"I'm not going to steal your shit," Roan said breathlessly. "I'm not interested in your damn money." He was thoroughly shaken, as pale and sweaty as after the seizure, his hands trembling. He shoved them in his pockets. "Can I go unpack now?" Ishaan dismissed him with a wave of his hand, watching as he disappeared into the guest room. After a moment, he heard the double click of suitcase latches being opened.
A freelance whore who suffered from seizures desperate for a job but not interested in money and absolutely terrified to be within five feet of him? Who the hell was this guy and what was he hiding? Ishaan headed into his study to find out.
Author's Note: I'm happy to announce that Breach is available as an e-book through Shadowfire Press. You can find more information on my profile page, or on my website - katicalocke(dot)wordpress(dot)com.