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Freehold: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Sunday, September 28, 2003 02:17 EDT



    "And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you…" -Leviticus 19:33-34

    Her height was the first thing Robert McKay noticed; followed by the fact that she was an offworlder. Her skin was too pale, sweating profusely, and she lugged frustratedly at a travelbag that couldn't mass as much as her effort suggested. He quickened his pace, passed her and asked, "Can I give you a hand with that?"

    The suspicious look in her eyes suggested a home planet with high crime. She scanned him, obviously looking for signs of danger. She saw something that dropped her caution just a tiny bit and replied, "Sure, thanks," gratefully. Her accent was North American, he thought.

    He scooped up the bag, which was as light as he suspected, slung it over his shoulder and asked, "Where are you heading?"

    "Seven Rushton Avenue, number sixteen. But I have no idea where that is, other than this way," she replied, indicating the direction with a forward nod.

    A stunning woman, tall and with a sexy drawl, moving in right next door! Definitely a situation to deal cautiously with. "Across this park is faster," he advised her, "I'm in number fifteen. Robert McKay." He offered a hand.

    She held hers out and looked confused when he took it in both of his. "Uh... Kendra Pacelli."

    "Sorry," he said, "Just a normal polite greeting here. I know it's not common on Earth."

    "Is it that obvious?" she asked, smiling wryly.

    He heard a slight strain to her breathing and slowed his pace a little. It was glaring to his trained eye, but he didn't want to alarm her. Instead, he told her honestly, "I've been there. Military duty." He took a quick, unobtrusive look up and down, trying to memorize every line of her. As far as physical beauty, this was a jackpot of a neighbor-incredibly tall, slim, creamy skin and eyes like the East Sea. He guided her through the small corner lot, lush with flowers and grasses and across Crow Lane to Rushton. "And here we are," he indicated the stairs, then led the way up.

    He paused at his door and opened it, reached under his tunic and tossed a holstered gun and a pouch in the direction of the bed, closed the door and turned to hers.

    "What do you do?" she asked.

    "Operations Analyst, currently on contract to the city. And vertol pilot for the reserves."

    "Can I ask why everyone is armed to the teeth?" She was obviously bothered by the profusion of hardware she'd seen so far. Well, that fit with Earth's cultural attitude, he thought-ban anything that wasn't mandatory.

    "Vicious native animals," he told her. "If you are anywhere out of the downtown area, it's very advisable to carry. We also carry to assert our rights, but don't worry about the philosophy now. It'll take some getting used to. Let me show you around," he suggested, placing her travelbag on the bed and guiding her through the one-room flat.

    The kitchen was small, neat and efficient. The bathroom was nicely equipped and more spacious than she expected. A comm was provided, with excellent link capabilities, and he cautioned her that she would be charged for almost all access. The whole was about the size of a nice hotel suite on Earth. Considering her rent as a percentage of her income, it was more than adequate lodging in what seemed to be a fairly nice neighborhood. She was glad not to have taken the cheapest available.

    "So, who will you be working for?" he asked.

    "City parks," she replied. "At least until my indent is paid."

    "You don't have much other luggage then," he stated.

    "None," she agreed.

    "Ah," he nodded and moved to her bag. "May I?" he inquired.

    She nodded a curious assent and he opened it, neatly laying things out on the bed. He nodded when it was empty and said, "As I thought. We need to take you shopping before you wind up hospitalized."

    "Isn't my clothing appropriate?" She asked.

    "Not at all. If you don't get shoes quick you'll be crippled by Rowanday. Let me take a quick shower and I'll take you out...unless you have other plans?"

    "Uh, I really appreciate it, but could we do it tomorrow? I just want to drop from exhaustion."

    "You can do that," he agreed with a concerned nod, "But once the food, gravity and air hit you, you'll spend two or three days wishing you were dead. I recommend buying now before you collapse."

    "Well, I guess. You are native guide. And thanks."

    "No prob. See you in fifteen segs-I think that's a little less than twenty-five minutes?" He waited for her assent, then politely left.

    Kendra had trouble using the shower and scalded herself repeatedly while adjusting it. The controls seemed fine, but the temperature scale was different from the kind she was used to. The tub and shower were one unit to save space, but large enough. They had the latest frictionless sides and seamless bends to prevent bacterial growth. Everything was padded and heated for safety and comfort. It hardly fit her perception of a frontier world, but this was the capital and it had been settled for almost 300 years, she recalled.

    Finishing, she yanked her hair into a quick mane and hoped the style wasn't too far out for Grainne. She slipped into casual jeans and tunic, pulled on her loafers and stepped out.

    She knocked on McKay's door and heard a "Come in!" She opened the-unlocked-door, stepped in and froze. McKay was standing naked, halfway into briefs.

    He looked up and looked embarrassed. "I am sorry," he apologized, quickly grabbing for pants. "We are pretty casual here and I forgot." Kendra realized his distress was on her behalf, not his own. Before she could respond, he was dressed and came over, dragging a different gun-this one polished and decorated-and belted it low on his right hip. He scooped up his pouch and another small bundle on his way.

    The gun bothered her, but she realized it was not her place to criticize. Anyway, he was a military officer. Responding, finally, to her earlier surprise, she said, "I think I'm going to be shocked a lot in the next few days."

    "Probably. I'll try to ease you into the difficult parts, but it won't be easy to remember most of what I take for granted. If something comes up, just ask."

    "I will," she agreed, letting him take her arm and guide her out into Jefferson's late afternoon madness. People were far more comfortable with physical contact here than on Earth. That of itself would take getting used to.

    The stairs, she noticed now, were broad and shallow, likely because of the gravity. The ironwork was real iron, but her eye could tell it had been done en masse, not as individual pieces as she'd originally thought. It still lent a nice, airy touch to the square of buildings and the inner courtyard. She noted with a frown that the complex didn't have a gate to restrict access. Anyone could walk up to the doors. This obviously wasn't one of the better neighborhoods. The central courtyard was pretty, though, with more ironworked grilles and railings. Kids toys were scattered around unlocked and she puzzled over that. Did the security cameras work that well? Was there a guard she didn't see? Or were the possessions coded for tracing?

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