She gasped and fell over as she tried to turn around from her crouched position. The large man had only whispered the words with no hint of the threat she’d heard in the recording, yet he seemed to loom dangerously over her from behind the examining table. Cael remained seated but stretched an arm protectively in front of Ilya.
“Should really get that window looked at.”
“Those sessions were private. You had no right….”
“Nonsense,” he replied lightly, “Dr. Vitor-Bieito herself took considerable risk to get this to us.”
“She did so because you told her I was your patient.”
“And so you are.”
Alberich paused. “You trust me, then? That I’m telling the truth. You’ll do it?”
“I… believe you need help; and I trust Dr. Vitor-Bieito.”
That answer seemed to satisfy him. “When do we leave?”
The question smacked Ilya in the face. “LEAVE?”
Cael squeezed her knee. “Well, we definitely need to vacate the current premises.”
“Why?” Ilya felt that ache in her stomach spring into her throat.
He eased the chair out from under him and sat on the floor next to her. “This Lukas character is going to be here tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry! It’s all my fault!”
“Ilya, shush, it’s okay.” He moved a hand to her shoulder. “This is a good thing.”
“If I had said a week, she would have said a week; but HE still would have been here tomorrow.”
“Or sooner.” Alberich added.
“Now we know, and we know to move now.”
“Move? Cael, move to where?”
He glanced at Alberich and back to Ilya. “Do you think your mother would mind if we stayed the night?”
“Mind?” The question took a moment to sink in, “There will be a guest room for Mr. Alberich, and a husband of mine will always be welcome.”
Alberich stood quietly out of the way as Ilya moved between the rooms in a rehearsed drill of destruction. Cael did his part and deleted all of the files on the kampyuskrina before taking it off the wall and gutting it. Small gadgets he had given to her were to be placed in each drawer, fridge and cabinet. Once set, they would burn intensely just long enough to destroy everything before issuing a suffocating chemical mist. This, as he explained to her, was to protect the patients from whoever would inevitably come for Cael without burning whole the building down. Ilya had never imagined the drill would be needed. Her hands shook as she twisted the timers to life and dropped them in.
15 minutes until the gadgets were set to flame, Ilya was at a loss in Cael’s room. Somehow it had become her job to pack his clothes. She blindly reached under the bed for his hard-shell suitcase. When she felt a solid edge, she slid her hands along until she could grip at the smooth metal corners. She had to drag out a tidal wave of sour, glass bottles, dirty dishes, clothes and newspapers along with the case. Its handle had broken off long ago and she had to awkwardly heave the luggage up before dropping it on the bed. The hard, black leather that protected the suitcase bore innumerable scratches and gouges from past travels. Ilya ran a hand over them for a moment before working at the two belts that synched the case shut. The inside was lined with a worn and somewhat frayed green fabric. Its dense, intricate pattern of interwoven angels would have hurt Ilya’s eyes had it not been so faded.
She took a deep breath, held it and started throwing in all the clothing she could dig out from around her feet. She was snagging any piece of cloth and whatever trash that came with it. When her knuckle struck an inner corner of the case, the whole back panel clicked and sprung open a bit, and she had to stifle a yip as she jumped back. The old, green pattern no longer lined up along that edge as the panel tried to push up. A secret compartment… a secret. The clothing weighed down the spring and she found herself moving to lift them off.
“Ilya, how is it going in here?”
Her hand slapped down the panel as Cael’s head popped in the doorway. His arms were in the final tangle of pulling on his narrow, gray coat.
“There, um, is so much everywhere. I don’t know what I’m supposed to grab.”
Cael looked around her at the suitcase and reached for it, “That’s good. Grab the little kampdator and let’s go.”
“Cael?” She whispered.
“Yes? What?” He had already started out the door but ducked back.
“You said you trust Doctor Vitor-Bieito.”
“But she said he was dangerous.”
Cael dropped to a whisper as well. “He may be. I don’t understand everything that’s going on, yet; but she asked us to protect him. She truly cares for him. I know you felt that, too.”
Ilya remembered those ice blue, red rimmed eyes boring into her. “Yes.”
“Then let’s go.”
The three exited to the second floor walkway of the courtyard. A moon was full that night and the delicately peaked arches that spanned between each pillar cast a lacework of shadows across all of their faces and down Alberich’s shoulders. When they got to the bottom of the steps, Ilya awkwardly had to hand off the kampdator to Alberich so she could unfold her motored bicycle she’d parked there. She pulled from the bike’s storage compartment a long riding coat made of a heavy, solid blue cloth. She threw it around herself against the cold, leaving the large collar unbuttoned around her shoulders. Since the bike was too small for all of them to ride, she pushed it alongside the men as they started off.
Ilya’s town served as the center of the farmlands of a dozen families, and with the exception of a few bars, the entire area practically shutdown at sunset. This meant the trio had the narrow streets to themselves. Even still, they felt the need to move quickly, and when they spoke it was in hushed tones.
Cael had balanced the suitcase on his head as he walked between Ilya and Alberich, trying to discreetly watch each of them; the angry little woman shuffling her soft boots as she pushed the bike along, and the big man who managed to walk so silently beside him with the bulky kampdator tucked under one arm and the leather satchel slung under the other.
“Alberich, can I ask who Lukas is?”
“He is in a hurry to find us; it would seem rude if we happen to meet him unprepared.”
He shrugged, “I don’t know who he is.”
“Do you know why he’s so interested in you?”
“I think once I regain my memory I’ll have a better idea.”
“But you think you lost your memory when you were just a child.”
Alberich glanced around at the darkened porches and store fronts, each building indistinguishable from the other.
“I think there’s something in my head he wants.”
Ilya couldn’t help herself, “Something your other personality knows?”
“I don’t have another personality.”
“That woman called you Alberte.”
“That,” he switched the kampdator up to his shoulder, “was the name I had to use.”
Ilya pushed her bike ahead so she could see his face beyond Cael’s suitcase. “She said Alberte was her patient, and Alberich was a dangerous, second personality. She said you were dangerous.”
The large man seemed to cower under Ilya’s accusation. Her voice growing more intense with righteousness as Alberich’s seemed to fade. “I’m not dangerous, I’m not violent. Alberte was just an alias. I suppose keeping up the ruse is difficult under hypnosis.”
Cael took a couple of larger steps to get himself in between the two again. “Dr. Vitor-Bieito also mentioned a second personality, was that an act she put on for Lukas?”
“I don’t know. She thought I may have planted memories. She told me about a war she lived through when she was a young woman. Tampering with the mind was a common tactic. Innocent civilians were turned into carrier pigeons. Others turned out to be sleepers with planted orders that were awakened when it was time for their mission.”
“So, what are you, Alberich, a pigeon or a sleeper?”
“If I was just a child, I would assume a pigeon. I can’t imagine a child doing much damage in a war.”
Cael took breath, “Depends on the war.”
“That Lukas looks like you.” Ilya’s whisper seemed to accuse Alberich. “You must be of the same people, then.”
“I thought as much when he first approached me. I wasn’t raised with my people; though I didn’t know that until he came.”
Cael cocked an eyebrow, “Really?”
“How could you not know? You’re huge! Are there two races of giants out there?”
“Ilya.” Cael hissed.
“I was 16 years old and had already been towering over the other kids for years, but my mother said I was an early bloomer… and then I see him walking up, and I suddenly knew. Before he had even had even reached me, I knew he was more a brother to me than the brother I was raised with.”
“Some brother, that man is terrifying. How did he find you?” Ilya injected.
“I don’t know.”
“How did you find Cael?”
“Oh, well,” Alberich shifted the kampdator under his other arm. “A few of his names came up in a few conversations, is all.”
Cael perked up, “Oh? Which names?”
Ilya suddenly felt dizzy. She gripped the handle bars of her bike and tried to keep walking normally.
“There were a few; Calvin Nadami, Michel Rien, Gael… something… all simple enough to infer if one knows what to look for.”
Ilya kicked at Cael’s ankle.
“Ow! I’m balancing here, thank you.”
“How many names do you have?” She hissed.
“Don’t look at me like that. You knew who I was when you first bailed me out of jail and married me. In fact, it’s why you bailed me out of jail in the first place.” Alberich shot them a curious look. “Can we discuss this later?”
The gears started grinding with new vigor in Ilya’s stomach. Cael… may not be Cael. Who could he be then?
“Three years, I’ve worked with you, and not once did you mention aliases. Is Cael even your real name?”
“Ilya now is not really the time.”
“Why not, we still have a few miles until we reach home.”
Despite her argument, they continued walking in silence.
When Cael looked over, he caught her watching Alberich from the corner of her eye. She was having a lot trouble dealing with all of this. A wave of an emotion he likened to extreme fondness settled in his chest; and that surprised him. What was he going to do with her?
“Ilya, I’m sorry. I owe you an explanation. I promise, I will tell you everything you want to know. Everything. However, you’re right, we still have a few miles to go and with Lukas bearing down on us, I think it would be best if we moved a little faster. Do you think you could ride ahead and grab one of the trucks to pick us up?”
That caught her off guard. “One of the trucks?” She thought a moment, “Yes, of course. You’re right. I can make sure they have some food set aside and the guest room ready at the house… and I could see what my mother thinks we should do next.”
“That sounds good.”
Ilya looked as if she was still trying to decide something. He knew she hated to leave in the middle of an argument, but she eventually hopped on her bike. And after buttoning the collar up over her face, she kick started the little motor and rode off without another word.
Alberich stopped walking as the dust kicked up in front of them.
“She wasn’t happy about leaving you here.”
Cael took out a flask from his coat pocket and skillfully unscrewed the top in one hand while holding up the suitcase with the other.
“She hasn’t been happy since you arrived.”
“Do you think she bought it?”
He took a draught as he watched the tail light disappear into the distance.