Vaxen - A Starting Place
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Cheating Time

by

Vaxen
copyright 2002
(pwaxen@yahoo.com)

Chapter 9 - Alone in the City

The framed picture crashed to the floor. Linda stalked to the bedroom and pulled on the clothes she shed there the night before.

"Just let me explain," Angela begged.

"Explain what? How you just happened to be working for the folks who had me on ice and you're the daughter of my…"

Words failed her. Linda was not sure what to call a woman who had been her partner but who she now saw as a betrayer, who should be with her now but deserted her, first by not going into stasis, then by going on to create a family without her and finally by dying.

"I don't work for Timeless, Inc. I was just there for Mom's sake. I wanted to tell you about her."

"But Sally Mead beat you to it. And I suppose you're going to tell me that you didn't know I thought you were a nurse aid?"

"I didn't at first. I was going to straighten it all out when the time was right."

"Well, I think the right time would have been before you started groping me." Linda's sarcasm stung. Angela covered her face as if she'd been slapped.

"I wasn't trying to deceive you. We were both hurting last night. It was comforting," Angela pleaded.

Linda grabbed her shoes, roughly brushed past Angela, and was gone with a slam of the door. She rested her head against the door. Small sticky finger soon entwined with Angela's and she looked down to find two anxious eyes peering up at her.

"Is Linda mad at us?"

"Not you, Honey, just me."

"Will Linda be back, Mommy?"

"I don't know, Punkin. I don't know."

À À À À À

The elevator took Linda to the lobby. She knew she could never get out the way she came in, but the lobby also proved to have its obstacles. The exit was similar to the garage - two doors, one opening only after the other had closed. The problem was that both required the use of an identity card.

One of the residents, a matronly woman being led by a huge mastiff, approached.

"I forgot my card," Linda said, patting her pockets. "Could you let me out."

She checked Linda over. "I guess I could, but how will you get back in?"

"Oh, I'm meeting my husband. He'll get us both back in."

The woman looked dissatisfied with her answer. "You know if you're up to something you'll never get away with it."

Linda followed the woman's eyes to cameras perched at each end of the exit. "I swear I'm just late and if I'm much later my husband is going to pitch a fit." The anxiety in Linda's voice was genuine. She desperately wanted to escape.

"OK." She pressed her card to the sensor. "Traditional or contract?"

"Beg pardon?"

"Your marriage, is it traditional or contract?"

"Contract." Linda never thought of herself as a traditional sort of gal.

"Good choice," the dog lady agreed as the monstrous canine dragged her into the tiny limbo that existed between being inside and outside of the building. "The smartest thing those dips in Sacramento ever did. Probably would have happened sooner if so many of them weren't lawyers. Contract marriage took a big chunk out of the divorce business."

"What?" Linda croaked as she squeezed herself into the small space with her politically astute companion and the hound from hell. The door slid shut behind them.

"Lawyers," she stated, as if the answer was self-evident. "They were the only ones profiting from all of those divorces. Only the true romantics get traditional marriages these days. Us practical people take it six months at a time." She punctuated her observation with a slap of the card. The exterior door opened and all three of them tumbled unto the sidwalk.

Linda stare up one side of the street and then turned to investigate the other only to find her benefactor watching her.

"I thought you were in a hurry." The woman observed.

"My foot," said Linda.

"Huh?"

"I think your dog peed on my shoe." Linda lifted her leg for a closer inspection. "No, I guess it's just drool. Thanks again."

When Linda was halfway up the street, she stopped on the pretext of examining her shoe once more to make sure she wasn't being followed. The woman was still watching, so she continued to walk until she rounded the corner.

Linda searched for landmarks, but couldn't find any. The unfamiliar buildings that surrounded her blocked her view. Even the street names were unfamiliar. A taxi whizzed by. Linda patted her pockets, but besides lacking identification she had no money. The only option seemed to be contacting Sally Mead's assistant to arrange transportation. While he was at it, he could also find her a place to stay. She reached for the PUD in her jacket pocket.

"Fuck!" Linda exclaimed. A couple passing by noticed her and edged a little closer to the building. "Fuck, fuck, fuck," she repeated more softly, realizing that it must have fallen out at Angela's. Just as she was about to launch into another string of expletives, Linda spotted a phone booth. She could look up Manfred Associates and walk there is necessary.

There was no phone book in the booth. There wasn't even an empty book cover. For that matter, there wasn't even an arm where the book cover would attach. However, there was a six inch display with advertisements flowing across it. Seeming to sense her approach, it awoke itself from its commercial revelries and produced a menu. One of the options was "Search for number, street or individual." Linda touched the screen and a message appeared.

"Fuck!" Linda screamed at the top of her lungs, not caring who she disturbed. She looked again at the message, as if it might have magically been transformed by her outrage.

"Please choose a form of payment," it taunted her. She pounded the display with the palm of her hand. The ads commenced cycling again. She picked up the received and beat it against the display several times.

"Is there a problem here?"

The voice was male and judging from the angle, it came from a source at least ten inches taller than Linda. When she turned to confront her intruder, she almost laughed. The man was covered in body armor and a shielded helmet with the initials SFPD. A weapon of some sort hummed in his hand and was pointed in her direction.

"There's no problem. I'm just a little frustrated." She gave him her most winning smile.

"Can I see some ID?" he asked.

The smile slipped, slightly. "I'm afraid I don't have any."

"I think you should accompany me to the station. I can cuff you and you can come willingly, or I can immobilize you." The pinch of the weapons hum seemed to ratchet up a notch.

"Am I under arrest?"

"This area prohibits unidentified loiterers. I don't think you did any damage to public property, but the abuse alone is grounds to hold you. I'll ask you once more, are you going to go willingly?"

Linda held out her wrists. The officer seemed somewhat disappointed as he secured the cuffs. Before he was finished, an SFPD squad car pulled up to the curb. As Linda was packed away in the back seat, the woman with the dog strolled by with a satisfied expression.

À À À À À

"Name?"

"Linda Cahalo."

"Residence?"

"I don't have one."

The sergeant looked up from his desk, scanned Linda and cocked an eyebrow at her robocop companion. "You didn't say anything about vagrancy."

"I didn't know, Sarge."

"Rookie," the sergeant muttered under his breath. "Age?"

Linda was stumped. "That depends."

"How's that?" Sarge crossed his arms over his bulging waist.

"I've been in stasis. I'm 31 or 61, depending how you look at it."

The desk officer's arms bounced up and down as he laughed. Even the young officer beside her seemed to understand the joke that eluded Linda.

"Do you know how many clowns with no ID come through here every day saying they just came out of stasis. Like we can't run a DNA match in less than half an hour. Everyone's on file, except those who really have been in stasis. Care to change your story?"

"If you can find my DNA on file, I'll treat the whole squad room to dinner."

"Which brings us to the matter of how you would pay for it. If you were in stasis, why didn't they issue you ID and credit before they cut you loose."

"I wasn't exactly 'cut loose.'" She could just imagine Nurse Nancy chortling into her bedpan.

"All right, we'll run the DNA, but even if we don't get a hit, we still can't turn you loose with no ID and no money. Is there someone we can call?"

"Call Sally Mead. She's with Manfred Associates. They handle my business affairs."

"Right." The officer touched the screen in front of him a couple of times then started talking.

"Did Sally Mead give you a code?" The sergeant asked.

"What code?"

Sarge's chair protested as he leaned forward. "She won't answer without a code."

"I swear if I ever get out of this I'm getting a new business manager. How about her assistant?"

"What's the assistant's name?"

Linda groaned. "I don't know."

"Is there anyone in this whole blessed city who can take you off my hands."

Linda sorted through the list of people who might or might not remember her, might or might not still be alive, might or might not have their phones coded. There was only one person she could think of who was ready, able and hopefully willing to rescue her from the ponderously long arm of the law.

"Call Angela Banford," she sighed.

À À À À À

For the first few hours, Linda chewed on her nails and wondered what to do and say when Angela showed up to bail her out. By the time dinner was served, ignored, and taken away, the possibility occurred to her that Angela might not even care. She imagined being left to rot for all eternity in a tiny cell on a mattress decorated with several stains of questionable origin. By the time her name was called, she was so desperate for freedom she would have been willing to do anything, up to and including having sex with Sarge.

What she got was something far worse. She was ushered into a windowless room illuminated by a single bare bulb and occupied by a graying woman.

"Hello, Linda. Still running around screwing up people's lives, I see."

"And my guess is you've been sent by God to punish me," Linda observed.

Emma's lips twisted into a humorless smile. "It would be divine justice, but in this case I've been self-appointed rather than sent and I'm here to set you free not torment you."

"What's the catch? Where's Angela?"

"The catch is that you're going to sit down and we're going to have a little conversation before the San Francisco criminal justice system puts you back out on the street. Angela will be at least one of the topics under discussion."

"Do I have a choice?"

"You can stay here."

Linda pulled a chair away from the table and threw herself into it. "So Emma, how've you been? Working hard? Seeing anyone new?"

"Married. Retired. Lost my best friend."

Linda's body slowly gathering itself up from a slouch and would have curled into a defensive ball is she hadn't stopped it. She wanted Emma to answer the question without her asking it. She could see Emma was going to make her ask. "What happened?"

"I used to tell Dee that if I ever had the chance I would tell you it was lung cancer and you caused it but Dee knew I could never be that cruel."

"You're a saint, Em."

"It was a blood disease - a variant of anemia with no cure. She just kept getting weaker and weaker. Tell me, Linda, do you think a person can die from a broken heart?"

"Are we about finished with this conversation?" Linda seethed.

"We've only just started. Aren't you a little curious about Angela."

Over the years, Emma had become much more perceptive. It scared Linda a little.

"There were some very interesting scientific discoveries after you left," Emma continued. "For instance, the nucleic material from one egg can be removed and combined with that of another and with a little biochemical magic, cellular fission can occur. Presto, the fatherless child - literally. That's how Angela was conceived."

Emma gave Linda a moment to chew on that until Linda's eye grew large with horror. "Is Angela my daughter?"

"The boundless limits of your huberous never cease to amaze me. Dee couldn't have gotten an egg from you even if she had wanted one. You were in stasis. Remember? Dee found someone who really loved her after you were gone. I bet you thought she would change her mind or maybe sit at you side waiting for you to return."

Linda shifted in her chair and Emma smiled that knowing smile, as if she had just read Linda's mind.

"I was a little surprised myself at how fast she got over you. Angela's mother was a lovely woman called Anne. She was everything that Dee deserved, but had never gotten with you. Tragedy haunted Dee and Anne died after only five years, but by then they had Angela. I think the only thing that kept Dee alive was raising Angela. Once she was out on her own, Dee faded and the disease finished her." There was a long silence.

"You think I'm responsible," said Linda.

"Believe it or not, Ms. Cahalo, it isn't always about you."

"I suppose bailing me out is your idea of charity work."

"I'm not bailing you out," Emma snorted. "For one thing, I haven't got the money. For another, I'd be just as happy to see you end up as some bulldyke's plaything."

"You're not bailing me out?!" Linda schreeked.

"Oh, cool your jets. Your getting out. Angela is posting your bail. She isn't as rich as you are, but she does alright and Dee left her a few bucks. By the way, I expect you to pay her back."

Linda could tell by the tone that Emma wasn't just talking about money. "Where is she?"

"She's waiting outside. She was afraid to see you. She told me what happened."

Linda cringed and prepared herself for the next phase of Emma's verbal torture. Instead, she got up and pushed a card and the now familiar PUD across the table to Linda.

"This should satisfy all of your physical needs. As for Angela, you could show a little compassion, try to talk things over, forgive and forget or you can just walk right by her as if you'd never met. Personally, I think she'd be better off in the long run if you did the latter."

Linda ran her fingers through hair, stopping midway to hold her head, as if she were trying to keep it from exploding. "I never should have come out of stasis," she moaned.

"You'll get no argument from me."

"Bitch."

"Same to you, Cahalo. So, what are you going to do?"

She picked up her little stash - everything she would need to get along in this strange, new world. She walked to the door and tried it. It opened at her touch. She knew which way led back to her cell so she went the other. The hallway eventually opened onto a lobby populated by clones of her arresting officer and miscellaneous miscreants in various degrees of despair. In the middle of them sat Angela. She was staring at her feet and Linda might have made a clean getaway if Leo hadn't seen her.

"What the hell happened to civil liberties while I was away?" Linda remarked.

Angela didn't know what to say. Leo had no trouble getting right to the point. "Are you coming home with us?"

"Is that an invitation?" Linda inquired.

"Yes," Leo cried, "but I'll have to ask if it's alright with Mommy."

"So, Mommy," said Linda. "What do you say?"

"I'd like it very much if you would stay with us."

"OK, but just for tonight."

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