Welcome to an episode interlude for Fireteam Freelance readers! The interlude is beyond the jump to save anyone from spoilers, so hit it to get started! A list of all episodes can be found at the Fireteam Freelance page.
It was late in the evening when Adah returned to the base with Li, entering through one of the old underground side entrances a block from where their automated transport had dropped them off. Conversation was light—it almost always was with Li—both of them thinking back on the performance they’d both been at rather than speaking, not that there was too much to speak of. They bid one another good night as they’d gotten off the elevator, and both had gone their separate ways to their quarters.
Quarters, Adah reflected as she stepped into her quarter of the floor, was an understatement. The building had originally been intended to be a first-generation megascraper before the collapse, and even in giving each member of the team a quarter of the floor to their own to call an apartment, the available space given to each of them was—
Palacial, Adah thought as the lights reacted to her presence, slowly brightening to a warm, dim glow and illuminating her entryway. The hall was wide, oddly so, so much that it still felt slightly odd to her even after several years of living in it. The kitchen and front room were no less spacious, extravagant to the extreme compared to what she’d expected when she’d signed on with the Freelancers. Her quarter of the floor alone could have served as a bunkhouse for a dozen families or more in other, modern parts of the world. Just the shared space of her bedroom, armory, and kitchen was almost more spacious than her entire family had lived in growing up.
And now it’s just me, Adah thought as she slipped out of her heels, setting bare feet on the thick, fluffy carpet. That had been the first addition she’d made after she’d seen how much space she was going to have available. If she was going to have space to stretch out across a floor, she was going to make sure the floor was comfortable first.
She kneaded the carpet with her toes as she picked up her heels, relishing the faint feel of the pile between them for a moment. Then she moved on, past the entryway and its nearly empty closets, and past the kitchen and her living room. She glanced at the kitchen as she passed, but decided against stopping. She wasn’t that hungry at the moment, even after the performance.
She couldn’t stop herself from humming a few notes from memory as she moved into her bedroom—as spacious as the rest of her apartment, and with two walls that were full-sized viewscreens, allowing her a full view of the surrounding cityscape or, if she wished, a number of other live or recorded views from elsewhere in the world. At the moment, as per her personal settings, the lights in her room were dim, the majority illumination coming from a nighttime view from one of the Bloc’s completed megascrapers, a partial moon backed by a blanket of satellites and space stations drifting through the night sky as points of light.
Soothing … but still fairly dark. A wave of her hand was enough to bring the lights far enough up for her to change out of her dress and into something more appropriate for her next activity. She shucked the clingy fabric over her head, flipping it out and over onto her bed, and then took a moment to find a hanger as well as deal with the rest of her clothing change. Half a minute later, now in shorts and a sport top, all that was left to take care of was the light dusting of makeup she’d given herself and to remove what jewelry she’d chosen for the night. Thankfully, much of it was easy to remove—she’d opted for hard-light jewelry rather than something more substantial, and the makeup washed away easily enough at her sink. She gave her face a final splash, glanced at herself in the mirror to make sure she hadn’t missed anything, and then headed out.
The floor was cold beneath her bare feet as she stepped out of her apartment, but it didn’t bother her. It was comforting, in a way, once she got used to it. She padded down the hall, changing direction halfway when she decided to use the stairs rather than the elevator. Like the rest of the building, they’d been thoroughly modified once the commander had taken over, renovated so that they were kept warmer and were less “emergency only exits” and actual staircases to be used.
The gym was one floor down and, like much of the rest of the base, could have served a full company with a proper rotation schedule, rather than the bare five of them that lived in the base. On the other hand, Adah noted as she moved to open the doors. None of us ever have to wait for equipment. And it was heavily used between the four of them. The commander hadn’t cheaped out.
Nor did she decline to use it herself, and as Adah stepped into the gym, that fact became all the more apparent as she spotted the commander herself over by the punching bags, hammering away with heavy blows.
“Commander,” Adah said, clasping her hands behind her back and giving the older woman a nod. The commander was in her mid-sixties, but looked easily twenty years younger due to her augments. The commander paused from her brutal beating of the bag—some form that had looked reminiscent of kickboxing—and gave Adah a nod.
“Nay.” The commander’s voice was never without its tone of authority, like a steel bar of command that ran through every word she spoke. Or perhaps something even stronger, like an island metal or a composite. Regardless, there was a strength to her voice that made those who heard it stand up and pay attention. Even when she wasn’t trying to take charge. “How was the symphony?”
“It was excellent, commander. It was a wonderful time.”
“Good.” Castillo stepped back, relaxing her stance and wiping away sweat from her forehead. “I’ll have to ask Li about it later. Did she—?”
“Go back to her quarters?” Adah finished. “I believe so.”
The commander nodded quickly and turned away from the punching bag. “Well then, I’ll leave the gym to you, Adah.”
“You’re welcome to—“ Adah began, but the commander cut her off with a wave of her hand.
“I’ve been in here for the last two hours. It’s time to call it.”
That earned her a frown as the commander looked over. “Relax, Nay. This is off-duty.”
“Eh, I’d have settled for Valerie,” the commander retorted, but she did so with a smile. The exchange was an old one, the commander forever trying to loosen the strict bearing that had come with Adah’s upbringing. “Enjoy your workout, Adah, and good job today.” She plucked a water bottle from a nearby bench and moved for the door.
“Commander Castillo,” Adah said quickly, calling the older woman to a halt. “Just a quick question, if I may.”
“I don’t know when the next op will be, if that was it,” Castillo said as she turned. “But that wasn’t it, was it?”
“No sir,” Adah said, looking the commander right in her eyes. “I just wondered how much money we lost with today’s op?”
“Ah.” The commander smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling slightly. “None of you lost anything, Adah. All of you were paid in full, as agreed. Me? Well …” She shrugged, rolling her head slightly. “I lost a little bit. Nothing I’ll miss.”
“If you’d like, commander, I’d be willing to take a cut—“
Again the commander held up a hand, cutting her off. “No, Adah, as commander the decision rested with me. I accepted the job knowing I’d be taking a loss, and comfortable with it. You don’t need to take a loss for my decision. Save the money for your family. Or your future. Do something good with it.”
Adah opened her mouth and then closed it before responding. “Of course, commander. Just curious.”
Castillo nodded, but still with that smile that went right to her eyes. “I thought as much. Goodnight, Adah, and good work out there today.”
“You’re welcome.” With that, the commander turned and walked out of the gym, tossing a towel from the rack by the door over her shoulder as she went. Adah waited until the door had swung shut behind her before dropping her stance and moving over to the punching bags to warm up.
As she did so, her smile widened.
And that’s a wrap for Interlude 1. If you’ve got comments, leave them below! Thanks for reading!
Fireteam Freelance is copyright 2020 Max Florschutz, all rights reserved.