The Price of Entanglement - Chapter 2 (Complete)

Transient

THE PRICE OF ENTANGLEMENT

Gord McLeod

CHAPTER TWO

Sal’s house was in a better part of town, and Jo tried hard not to feel too envious as she hopped out of the cab and started up the drive. Sal was hurting too, lately, she reminded herself. It’s not like her life was perfect just because her surroundings were a little bit nicer.

Sal was waiting at the door when she arrived, no doubt notified by her assistance system that she’d arrived. She was wearing the assistant when she opened the door; a pair of old-fashioned smart glasses, though they were still a few steps above Jo’s own phone. The smart road would undoubtedly have signaled the house of an arrival and her identity, and the house would then have passed the information on to the assistant system.

“Jo! It’s been weeks, how are you? Come on in,” she said with all the appearance of attentive warmth, but there was a tension in her shoulders that Jo caught right away.

“Hey Sally, yeah, it’s been a while. Sorry I haven’t checked in recently.”

“No problem, things have been a little crazy here. Anyway, what can I help you with?” She removed the glasses and set them aside as she led Jo to the living room, which was positively overflowing with gadgets. Now Jo really knew something was wrong. Sal was a neat-freak. “Sorry about the mess,” Sal said, with a touch of embarrassment.

Even her messes were neat, somehow. The room wasn’t large, but it was bright and well lit, with bleached wood flooring and white chairs and sofa that faced inward on a round glass coffee table that drew the eye with a metallic red steel frame. Scattered across the table were enough phones and tablets and auxiliary displays to run a small country.

“Just thought it was past time for me to check in and see how your systems are running. Had any trouble lately?” She tried to sound casual, not to betray her hopefulness.

“Everything’s good there, at least,” she said with just enough of an apologetic smile that Jo knew she’d been outed by something in her face or voice. “If you’re looking for work though, I could get you to run a few deliveries and a pickup for me. Nothing too big, but it’d be helpful.”

Jo nodded. It’d been worth a shot. “Sure thing. Just send me the details,” she was saying as her phone buzzed a new arrival.

“Already done.”

Jo dug out her own phone; sure enough, two deliveries and a pickup. “The Dolesham Heritage Society?” That was the sole destination she had to visit.

“I’ve been doing some work for them the last few months. I’m hoping to take them on as full-time clients, if things work out.” She sounded a little doubtful on that last point, she noted.

“Nice. I hope that works out for you,” Jo said. She stayed a short time longer, catching up on whatever details of recent events they hadn’t already shared online, and then got up to leave. “It’s been great seeing you again, Sal. I’ll stop by again when I’ve made the pickup.”

“Great. Let me just go get the packages for you. I won’t be a minute,” Sal said with a smile before disappearing off to the back of the house somewhere.

As she waited, Jo saw a flicker in the window and glanced out front; Sal’s husband was just pulling in front of the house, to judge by his car. She recognized it from previous visits; it was a massive thing, as most cars were, almost as wide as it was long. It was nearly silent as the wheels angled to allow an almost 90-degree turn in place, while Sal’s husband David roused himself from a nap on the front bench seat.

She watched as he got out of the car, retrieving his things, and was startled as she finally got a good look at his face; it was the same David, but it almost looked like he’d aged a decade since she saw him last only a few months ago. Stress was etched in every movement of his body. It was no wonder he’d napped, she thought.

They exchanged smiles and nods as he entered. His effort to banish the stress was valiant but unsuccessful. “Jo,” he acknowledged.

“David, hi,” she responded. “Sal’s just in the back.”

“Thanks. It’s good to see you again,” he said. “Honey, I’m home!” he called, and vanished upstairs.

“Okay,” she heard from further in the house, shortly before Sal reappeared with two brown-wrapped packages sealed with shipping tape. They were roughly the dimensions of shipping envelopes used to send documents, something Jo had very rarely seen, but these were thicker, probably boxes rather than envelopes. Each had a shipping label affixed to it. She’d undoubtedly planned to schedule an automated pickup, but Jo could drop it off cheaper; that was the basic premise of most of her courier work.

“I’ll drop by in a few hours with the return package, Sal. Thanks for the coffee and the chat.”

The Dolesham Heritage Society was downtown, a trip that took her past home and closer to the city, but that was fine by her. On a paying job, she didn’t have to hesitate to use a cab, especially if she could multitask; she hailed a cab for two stops with her phone, plugging in her origin point and two destination points, one at home and one downtown to the Society’s offices. She had some luck; there was nobody else using the cab when it showed up. They were roomy enough inside that they often did service multiple people at the same time, like small busses.

A quick trip into the house let her grab her athletic gear; she could use some gym time as long as she was headed downtown anyway. The cab waited on her as she grabbed her workout outfit and some basic climbing gear. The sky was still clouded over; her instinct told her rain was on the way again. She grabbed the new umbrella on her way out the door.

The drive to the Society was longer than the trip home had been; she spent a good part of it watching the roads go by as they passed near-silently over them. They were less than halfway there when the rain began again, beating slowly against the windows and roof, growing faster and harder as they drove. She grimaced. “What kind of rain is it? Is it acidic?”

“The average pH value of the rain is 2.4.”

It was getting worse. 2.4 pH shouldn’t hurt your skin, though you wouldn’t want it in your eyes; it was almost as bad as lemon juice, if she recalled correctly. She glared off to the right as they drove downtown, to where the clouds above were met by clouds below; plumes of gasses and waste rising to mingle with the clouds were making life hell, but the degradation of environmental law seemed unending, and so nothing was done about it.

Fidgeting restlessly, the growing subtle anger left her anxious to get to the gym; she needed to burn off some energy. Today was definitely going to be a tall overhang kind of day, she thought.

The cab passed the last few blocks in a downpour so hard she could barely see out the windows until it had slowed to a stop out in front of the Society building; it was an old concrete building distinguished mostly by its complete lack of distinguishing features. It looked faded and somehow worn down; she couldn’t decide if that boded well or ill for an organization that was known primarily for the restoration of historic buildings. What did it say about them that they couldn’t, or didn’t, maintain their own?

She opened the car door and left the thought aside as she struggled to open her umbrella and get out without getting soaked. The sound of the rain pelting the windshield yielded to the sharp patter of rain on concrete as she dashed up the steps and inside; behind her, she heard the cab drive off. Luckily for her the gym wasn’t far.

Inside, the building lived up to its own exterior. The walls were that shade somewhere between off-white and yellow that said they were seriously overdue for repainting, and the carpeted floor was badly worn in distinct paths crisscrossing the room. It was the sort of place you in which you expected to encounter short tempers and irritated glares; to her mild surprise, though, the reception staff were polite and friendly, and she was on her way again within minutes. The new package bound for Sal was almost indistinguishable from the two she’d brought, though it was wrapped in new-looking heavy white paper rather than brown.

The rain had eased off again somewhat when she left the building; she’d been toying in the back of her mind with the idea of summoning another cab, but with some relief she decided to walk it. Downtown wasn’t her favorite place to walk anymore; it had used to be nicer, when it had green spaces and trees planted here and there, but over the last decade, everything had died and eventually just about everyone gave up trying to get anything to grow.

Twenty minutes later, she was too busy clinging to the underside of an under-hang to think much about rain and dead plants. Sweat beaded her forehead and her muscles burned; it’d been too long since she climbed this course, she decided. She’d been too easy on herself lately.

The locker room was empty when Jo returned, thoroughly wiped out and far more centered after her workout. She stretched several times and took a few deep breaths in front of her locker, then brought her phone out of her pocket. “Let’s see if everything’s as it should be,” she muttered under her breath. It was habit mostly, years of shared change room experience mixed with professionalism since her locker still held the package intended for Sal, but she had to make sure nothing had been tampered with.

She brought the phone up to the locker door and triggered a command that caused it to emit a high-frequency note beyond the range of natural human hearing. Anyone in the building with augmented hearing might be irritated with her, she supposed. Almost instantaneously after the sound was produced, the interior of the locker was mapped and projected next to the mapping she’d created before heading out for her climb.

She frowned. The two were supposed to be a perfect match. Her hair brush was out of place.

She looked around the room, but it had been empty when she’d arrived, and nobody had arrived since. She’d been too preoccupied while climbing to notice who had come and gone from the room since she’d left it.

The before imaging showed the brush against the back wall of the locker, just on top of the package. The sonar-like image was clear as day; the brush had shifted by several millimeters in the imaging she’d just performed.

She stared at the image for a few seconds, startled. A few other items had moved just the smallest bit, too. A thumping sound caught her attention and she stared at the locker. The sound was very faint, but clear, and it repeated a few times. She thought back to the layout of the locker room and the gym outside; might be people rappelling on the wall, she supposed.

She opened her locker and to the naked eye, nothing had changed. She changed and gathered her stuff, then made her way out. She couldn’t resist casting a look back at the wall separating the change room from the gym; it was concrete. Her lip twisted down as she thought. Had to be the vibration, she told herself.

The exit was two sets of glass doors out to the street; the rain still fell, though it was a shadow of the downpour she’d been through earlier. She flipped away from the imaging app and summoned a cab. As she waited, she looked back in at those still working out, though nobody stood out as significant. “Ahh, you’re going crazy,” she told herself. “It was just a fluke.”

That thought firmly in mind, she hopped in the cab as soon as it arrived. This time she was sharing it; the other person rode in the back for the first ten minutes of the shared journey, then the cab let him out at a small market on a non-descript intersection. She rode the rest of the way alone, the rain beating lightly on the hood and windshield, the sound nearly lulling her to sleep. She snapped out of it as Sal’s house came into view.

Her visit this time was very brief; she just dropped off the delivery, though she hesitated, on the verge of asking what it was all about. She held back though. No sense getting her worked up over nothing, she figured. She got back into the waiting cab, bag a little lighter, bank account a little fuller, though not nearly full enough, and spent the trip home thinking about who else might need something from her.