Evening drew near and the gloaming mixed with the continued rain to create a mist swirled soup. Atom opened his eyes. He had not slept through the afternoon, but Margo lay sprawled across his lap, trapping him beneath her toddler mass.
“Koze,” he whispered. “Are Daisy and Shi still back on the Ticket?”
Margo stirred despite his attempts to remain quiet.
“They are still here,” Kozue replied.
“Any ships break atmo?”
“Not that I have detected, although someone crossed the abbey’s perimeter. From my mass calculation it is a female and she did an exemplary job of evading the abbey’s security.
“She didn’t count on me, though,” Atom pictured the eyebrow twitch of his ship’s AI.
“What else can you tell me?”
“She appears… moving in a…” the connection faded. “Atom, I’m detecting…”
“Kozue?” Atom glanced around, shifting up in his seat as his eyes searched the mist. “Koze, can you hear me?”
The com remained silent.
Atom rolled Margo to the side and craned his neck to scan the yard. The mist swirled and phantasms of all shapes and sizes rose from the shadowed depths of dusk. Atom waited. Uncertain of what to expect, he prepared for the worst. Just as he slipped his arms beneath Margo a final figure appeared from the gloaming. This figure remained and did not dance as the others had.
Slipping Margo from his lap, Atom rose. He wandered to the top of the porch steps and studied the figure ghosting through the mist. The heavy cloak kept out the drizzle and mist, but did little to hide the slight build of the woman beneath. Atom watched as she slid toward him, moving without stirring the cloak.
He leaned against the porch post, thrusting his hands in his coat pockets with a casual ease as he turned his eyes to the rain.
“Can I help you?” the voice, low and steady, wafted from within the cowl.
“You’re a hard woman to find, Lilly,” said Atom with a knowing nod.
“You must be mistaken,” she replied with the slightest hitch to her words. “My name is Marian.”
“What brings you here, Marian?”
The woman halted at the foot of the steps, less than a dozen feet from Atom. “I came to see an old friend,” she stayed just beyond the halo of the porch lamps. “His last message seemed like his time was drawing short.”
Atom’s gaze drifted to the woman. He held his tongue and studied her vague, cloak muffled shape. As the silence grew between them she idly shifted the hem of her cloak enough to slip a booted foot forth and draw a line in the damp soil along the edge of the light.
“Damon?” he asked.
“Unless your friend is hiding among the sisters,” Atom trailed off with a shrug, leaving dripping rain to punctuate the silence. “But I don’t recall any other men, and none of the sisters are sick, to my knowledge.”
“Stranger, I don’t know what business you think you have with me, but I suggest you step aside and let me be. It’s a fact that I aim to see Damon, but after that I’ll disappear into the black and I don’t plan on harming any beyond those that seek to harm me.”
Atom gave a warm smile, but noted her hands shift beneath her cloak.
“I’ve no quarrel with you,” steel edged into the woman’s voice.
“Genkohan pays well,” Atom revealed his pistol with a casual flip of his stained and battered brown coat. “They prefer you alive to dead. That suits me fine as I don’t relish taking a life I don’t need to.”
“You’re a bounty hunter?”
“As the job dictates,” Atom smiled with a heavy heart. “Hitman, debt collector, merch, smuggler, you call it, I’ve probably floated it.”
“And why’d you take this job?”
“What if it pays in death?” the woman edged forward.
Atom gave an easy laugh. “I’m ready for it.”
“And her,” the woman lifted a hand to indicate Margo sleeping in the chair at the rear of the porch.
“Margo’s ready too,” the smile faded as his hand drifted to his rail-pistol. “People have tried, but it always cost them more in the end than if they would have just walked away as the job ended.”
“And you always finish a job? What if I paid you more?”
“I’ve never failed to complete what I started.”
“Even if the cause isn’t just?”
“I’m not paid to judge, just to complete a task.”
“Then I’m sorry to break your streak,” the woman stepped forward.
Atom drew his pistol, but before he could take aim a vice gripped his forearm and a metallic hand caught him by the back of the neck and lifted him bodily into the air. His legs kicking like a panicking swimmer, even as his off hand reached in vain to loosen his assailant’s grip.
With graceful poise the woman glided up the steps.
Atom followed her with his eyes. His head, pinioned by unseen hands refused to move. He tried to angle his pistol towards her, but she reached out and slipped it from his numbing fingers. Then, she laid a gentle hand on his as she returned the pistol to its holster.
“You won’t be needing that right now,” she lifted her head, barely revealing a flash of teeth in the shadows beneath her hood.
Before he could reply the ghostly assailant launched him into the stone wall, dropping him into a stunned heap beside the door. Atom looked up through swimming eyes to make out the hulking form of an armored golem. Breathing short gasps, Atom tried to wrap his head around the disembodied scene before him.
“Leave me be,” Lilly crouched down and placed a metal cylinder in Atom’s hand. “You’ve shown me a kindness in the past and I’m returning the favor. Next time I’ll aim to preserve myself.”
The woman rose and swept through the door, followed by her silent golem.
Atom lay still as his vision clouded.
He awoke a short time later to Margo shaking his shoulder. When he regained enough sense to sit up he looked down at the object in his hand.
His eyes widened in wonder.