Princess Holy Aura – Chapter 08

Chapter 8.

“You’re leaving?”

A sharp stab of guilt made Steve wince. “Yeah. I’m sorry, guys. I’ll really miss our games, getting together to hang out, all of that.”

Dex looked particularly shellshocked by the sudden announcement, which only made it worse. His parents aren’t bad, but they just aren’t on his wavelength, and I’m one of the few people that really gets along with him.

Anne, on the other hand, looked excited. “You’ve gotten another job?”

Have I ever. “Yeah, from a friend of mine from my Air Force days. He’s started his own company and he wanted someone willing to run his security.”

It really rubbed him raw to lie to his friends this way. But there was no reason to drag them into it; none of them were the right age, nor had any daughters or sisters the right age, to be the Apocalypse Maidens. So he and Silvertail had figured out this story as a decent cover. After all, it only has to last a year at most . . . and after that, either I’ll be dead, or things will go back to the way they were, but start getting better. Who knows; maybe this story will turn out to be the truth afterward!

“How much is he paying you?” asked Eli, the ever-cynical.

“A lot more than I’ve made anywhere else. I guess he’s got a bunch of investors, and he’s paying for the fact he trusts me as much as anything.”

Chad grinned ruefully. “Well, I’m happy for you, Steve — I’m sure we all are — but damn I’ll really miss not knowing what happens in the end of the campaign!”

“Who knows; maybe I’ll be able to come back and run it once in a while, once things get settled down out there. Maybe a few games a year?”

“That would be awesome,” Mike said. “But, hey, you do what you have to. Working at Barron’s Bagels, that really wasn’t much of a career, right?”

Ain’t that the truth. Except I never really had the drive to go elsewhere. I . . . always felt I was waiting for something.

Now I wonder if I really was.

The others filtered out of the apartment. Dex, as usual, hung back. “So . . . you’re really leaving soon?”

“Moving out tomorrow, actually,” he answered, and saw his friend’s expression drop even more.

“Um . . . you need help?”

“No,” he said. Don’t think I could stand to keep lying the whole time. “I’ve got everything pretty much set; not taking the bed, I’ve packed up most of the other stuff.”

“Yeah, I should’ve noticed. Thought things looked more empty. But you didn’t pack — ”

“I’ll finish that tonight,” he said, following the high schooler’s gaze to the wall of weapons. “Won’t take all that long. Thought the room would really have felt bare without it and the posters.”

Dex’s expression was so forlorn that it hurt to look at him. I used to be like that. What would I have felt like if old Lee had left on me when I was that age?

Steve stepped forward, opened the case and pulled out a futuristic handgun. “Here, Dex; you take it.”

Dex’s eyes widened. “The blaster from Lucky Starr? No, Steve, I can’t! That’s an original. The most valuable thing you — ”

“What makes it valuable is people who want to own it. I know that’s been the one thing in my collection you’ve wanted, and . . . well, I want you to take care of it for me. If I come back, you can give it back to me. Because you’re more valuable than any old model.”

Dex suddenly threw his arms around Steve, a startling display of emotion from the usually controlled, unconsciously sarcastic boy. “I’ll take care of it,” he said, then let go as suddenly as he’d started the hug. Dex’s eyes were wet. “Steve . . . look, I’m glad for you. I really am. I hated seeing you living like this, day-to-day worries. I couldn’t do anything about it, but I hated it. If you’re going somewhere where you can live better, I’m happy. Really.” He scrubbed at his eyes furiously, wiping away the tears.

“Dex . . .” For an instant he really wanted to tell Dex the truth. Almost did. But Steve had no intention of putting a friend that good in danger. “Thanks.”

“Welcome,” the boy said, voice a little thick. He took the blaster model, looked at it reverently, then tucked it carefully into his backpack. “Well . . . email me, anyway, please?”

Steve grinned. “You bet.”

The smile faded as he heard the footsteps diminish away and the lower door shut. “Dammit.”

“I know, Stephen,” Silvertail said. “There are few mundane tasks more difficult than saying goodbyes to friends.”

“Especially when I’m lying to them.”

“We did — ”

“Yeah, yeah, we agreed, you’re right.” Steve looked out the dark window, made out the slender figure walking away; he saw Dexter turn, look back; his shoulders sagged, then he turned away, shrugged, and walked out of sight. “Still felt like I was a total dick, though.”

“Perhaps. Anyone might. But if I understand correctly, the item you just gave Dex in the name of your friendship was worth enough that you could have paid a year’s rent with it.”

“More than that. Even given that I’d never actually get what it’s worth. Yeah, it was, but if I ever sold it, I’d never get one again. A friend of mine gave it to me years ago; I guess it’s just right that I give it to one of mine.”

“Odd that a boy so young seems your closest friend.”

“Closest one here, maybe; almost all of my old buddies are scattered around the country, a couple of them are dead. Why Dex? Because he’s so damned smart he sometimes seems older. And sometimes I guess he just appealed to my older brother side. Dunno, we just always seemed to mesh well, especially for gaming.

“Anyway, we are set for the real move, right?”

“Everything has been arranged. You did very well in your trips to the library and various government agencies. I was able to understand all of the various requirements to make us ‘real people’ in the eyes of the law.”

“You really got us into the system? For real?”

“I did.” The white rat produced — from the same nowhere that it hid the golden crown in whenever there were visitors — a large manila envelope, which almost tipped the creature over. “Mphhh . . . Take a look.”

Stephen carefully opened the envelope. There were two slightly smaller envelopes inside. One was labeled “Holly Owen,” the other “Trayne Owen.”

“Holly Owen. Holly Owen? Seriously, Silvertail? You couldn’t think of a better alias for Holy Aura than that?”

He swore there was a smug smile on the rat’s face. “It fits with your world’s memes, and if I cannot have some amusement in this job, what in the world is the point?”

“Great. I join the ranks of second-rank heroes and villains everywhere.” Still, he had to admit it was a perfectly reasonable name, and would be pretty easy to remember. Opening the envelope, he found a social security card — of the right design — a birth certificate showing Holly had been born in Los Angeles (conveniently all the way on the other side of the country), medical records showing all her immunizations were up to date, educational records showing she had done well in school up through junior high, and more. “Holy . . . I know you said you could do this, but seeing it is something else. Even a valid passport?”

“While unlikely, it is possible we may have to travel some considerable distance, so having a passport seemed prudent.”

Mr. Trayne Owen’s envelope was fatter because it contained records of his work career and showed that Mr. Owen was a well-paid independent consultant for multiple high-profile technology firms. “This will explain both the fact that I have considerable wealth, and that I do not have to go to an office regularly,” Silvertail said. “It will be important for me to be available for you in our search for the other Maidens, and to advise you in the event of new conflicts.”

“I see you’ve got a driver’s license. Can you actually drive?”

Another ridiculously smug look. “Indeed I can, Stephen.”

“How the hell did you manage that?”

“I have observed drivers at length, and learned all of the requirements. The arcana of proper clutch use and shifting might remain beyond me, but I will be using an automatic.”

“Just watching does not teach you how to drive, Silvertail.”

“When you augment it with magic so that the reflexes and motions are transferred to yourself with repetition, along with perceptual reaction . . . yes, it does.”

“Well . . . damn. That’s sort of cheating.”

“It is cheating in that sense, yes. And we may be doing a lot more ‘cheating’ in addition to my inventing us identities that are no more real than a mirage.”

“I guess. Okay, you do need to be able to drive around here, so that’s good.”

He began packing the remaining weapons into a box. It only took a couple of hours to finish packing all the other stuff he wanted to take. “I’m ready.”

“Make sure, Stephen. Once you’ve left, we will not return.”

“I’m sure. Not like I had all that much stuff to bring with me.”

He looked once more around the little apartment, looking forlorn and dingy now that it was emptied, posters removed, weapons gone, just some battered furniture and appliances. Still . . . it had been home for years. “Goodbye,” he said.

Carrying the last box, he walked down the stairs; the door swung shut behind him.