The Heart of the Honest
All that was hazy began to become clear. She could see a young man watching her and trying to get her to wake.
“Ooh,” she quietly groaned. “What happened?”
“You’ve been intoxicated by some of the gases fuming on the battlefield,” he said. “I found you near a pile of rubble. You know how unstable those cliffs are in the Forbidden Valley.”
“Why were you here?”
“I’m a soldier,” he said. With this he walked away. She watched as her rescuer left her, but there was one thing she was missing. The young soldier turned around. “I’m Penton, by the way.” It was like he read her mind.
“… Ann,” she almost whispered. And with that he was gone.
“Penton…” she said to herself.
What seemed months later, Penton had moved to the southern end of the Nimbus continent. He was now employed at a less urgent job as a trainee for a special task force agency. Not quite war, but he thought it would do.
“Penton,” called the secretary. “The General will see you now.”
Penton followed a page up and down what seemed endless hallways. The door was opened for him and inside was a simple office, one with a fantastic view of the ocean, and adorned with awards and medals. The chair at the desk was turned to the view opposite the door. To the right, an intelligence officer at his laptop.
The chair turned to Penton.
“Remember me?” the General asked. “The final drive at Rivendark Canyon.”
“Mister ‘Nothing better than a gun’,” Penton smiled. “With that kind of wisdom, how could I forget?”
“It’s a memory like that that gets you a job here. But who would forget war? Albeit this seems like a formal duty, my relationships with my agents remain quite casual. I’m Dexter Elms, your General and superior. I hereby instate you as… captain.”
The dramatic end to Dexter’s second impression made Penton leap from his seat.
The general swiped an ID card across a scanner into the agent database, placed it along with a badge into a new leather wallet, grabbed a gold-crested hat and placed them on the desk in front of him.
“Welcome, agent.” He spoke with a half smile. “We will see more of each other in the future.” And with that he handed Penton a pair of keys. “A schedule and the agency’s beginner’s manual is at your desk.”
The intelligence officer made a last few clicks to his keyboard. “I made it through,” the officer said.
“Great. Who do we have?” The General got up and walked over.
“Blacktron Organization. I saved the location, but I lost the link”
“So what does the Space Mafia want with us?” Penton asked.
“About a week ago, a private of ours was assassinated two days after he was instated,” the General said softly.
“We hope that your rank will scare these interlopers, or that someone as skilled as you could get to the bottom of this,” the officer said to Penton.
“Now that we are sure of where our space fiends got the drop on our last casualty you can go about your normal day,” the General finished. “We’ll call you for your first mission.”
Penton was almost out the door. “And Penton,” the General added. “No matter what the news hounds say they know, there is no breach of security here. You understand me?” Penton left with a nod.
The street was common for Penton. Since his life had the adrenaline rush of war, he always would pace the streets, looking for something to do to feel that way again. He thought he found a replacement, but with the charges that could be held against him, and … that lost love … things were never the same.
In his daydreaming he almost didn’t feel the tap on his shoulder.
“Excuse me?” a sweet sounding voice said.
He turned around and stared. He was looking into eyes that glistened like crystals.
The woman standing before him looked at him, tilting her head curiously. “D-do I… know you from somewhere?”
Penton thought hard on that question. He knew her as well, but from where? Then it struck him. The toxic fumes. The rush to the hospital.
“Ann?” he questioned.
She gasped and clasped her small hands to her face. “You… you were the soldier that saved me in the Valley,” she said with eyes wide.
“I wondered what happened to you,” he explained.
“It seemed only yesterday,” she sighed. They both paused, looking at each other, trying to regather their thoughts.
“Oh!” Ann said, with an embarrassed tone. “I almost forgot.” She fiddled with her hair then reached into her purse for what looked like a tape recorder.
“I work for City Winds newspaper. I noticed that crest on your hat and assumed…”
“…that I work for the…agency.” Penton said vaguely. He placed the hat that he had held under his arm onto his head with an impressive glare at her.
“Ahem, yes. Uh… rumor has it that some breach-in… to your s-security network….” Ann began thinking. What if he didn’t want anyone to talk about this? What if this was that one moment, and I ruined it with my wretched work? Ann, be the girl you were. ASK HIM OUT.
“A-…” she sputtered out slowly, her mind whirling with thought. “I-I just…” she sighed. “Would you like to talk over coffee?”
“Sure,” Penton answered. “When and where?”
“Um… Café Corner? Five o’clock?”
“Great. I… guess I’ll see you there.” They both walked away, shrugging at how awkward their conversation played out.
“Have I really been out of the date-life that long?” Penton thought.
“You’re a leader’s daughter!” Ann encouraged herself in thought. “Annette Grace, you are stronger than this… Oh-my-gosh-I-almost-passed-out!”
Ann eagerly looked up at the door every time the bell above the door rang. Finally the one she was waiting for had arrived.
“Hiya,” Penton said, as he sat in the booth.
“Did you have trouble finding the place?” she asked.
“No, I come here all the time. Cheap, but awesome coffee. Have you ever had their chocolate, chocolate-chip mini-cookies?”
“OOH my goodness,” she cried, and gripped the table. “They’re to die for!”
“I know right?” They placed their orders and sipped warm coffee as the early evening continued.
“So, what was that question that you wanted to ask me a few hours ago?” Penton asked after wiping coffee from his face.
“Oh.” She rubbed her finger around the rim of her cup of coffee. ” It was about… this security breach thing.”
Penton’s chin came up in surprise. The General was right, but how did she find out so quickly?
“You know,” Penton lowered his voice. “I have to swear you into secrecy for a fully honest response.” He had successfully captivated her.
“Ooh, I swear!” she said, intrigued.
“Then you can’t speak of this to anyone.” She giggled at his serious but playful tone. “The Blacktron Organization has leaked into our system. They are keeping track of new recruits of the agency in order to exterminate them.”
Ann sat up. She had a slightly worried look on her precious face. “D-does that mean—?”
“—I’m in danger?” he finished her sentence. “Hopefully not. I want to get to know you better.” He paused for only a moment. “Speaking of which, do you have parents? I’d like to meet them someday.”
“NO!” she almost yelled. She looked at Penton’s shocked expression and settled down. “I mean, they’re hard to reach. I left my mom behind some time ago, and even before that, she left my father and took me with her.” Her eyes began to fill with tears.
“Hey—” Penton was interrupted by the sound of a saxophone from the house-band began a slow, jazz, dance tune.
Penton took a look at her. She looked sad as she stared out the window. Her eyes had no shine and her small lips drooped in a sad expression.
“Care to join me for a dance?” Penton asked, stretching out his large hand. She laid her fragile hands into his and they walked to the small dancing platform in front of the stage.
Throughout the dance they stared at each other. While Penton knew that something was brewing between them, Ann felt uneasy and worrisome that he would change his mind.
This had no effect, however. Their relationship began to blossom, and they shared many days together. They would talk more, and laugh more as they dined and explored new parts of the city around them. From hours to days, from days to weeks, and weeks to months; their relationship continued, even beyond a full year.
At one night they were lead to a small cliff with one lone tree upon it, stretched out above a water-filled gorge on the outskirts of the city. The moon reflected on the water. It was at that glance that he took her by the arm and kissed her in the ashen moonlight. They looked at each other, unsure of the others feelings, but fear didn’t falter them, and they kissed again.
From then on they were closer. They stayed by each other every day. Questions were never left without an answer. That is until one morning, at a breakfast trip to Café Corner.
“I think I should take you to work sometime,” Penton told Ann. She sunk into her seat.
“Well… why?” she asked.
“Well, you know. The agency is a lively place and I thought it would be nice for me to show you around. Besides I’ve already been to your cubicle. Wouldn’t you want to see where I work?” She sank deeper into her chair.
“Is there something wrong, Ann?” he asked.
“I’ll go,… I guess,” she finally agreed. “Just don’t introduce me to anyone important, okay? They… go crazy when us reporters are in their ‘territory’,” she quoted with her fingers.
“I don’t think you have too much to worry about,” Penton assured her. “Dexter broadcasts his press conferences. I actually think he understands your trade quite well.”
“Look, sweetheart, I’ll do my best for you, okay?”
Ann looked at him with a worried glance. Respect beamed from his face in the morning sunlight. “…Thank you,” she said.
To Ann, the agency was much like it was to Penton on his first day. The grand height of the lobby made her head spin. Looking up to it made her sunglasses slide off her head. She felt as if no one could touch the ceiling of this immense building.
“And here you have my office.” Penton turned her toward the open door. She looked up and saw that the ceiling, albeit much lower than the lobby’s, was still far above.
“WOW!” she said in sheer amazement. “This… this is your office?”
“I know it isn’t that much like a cubicle,” Penton admitted. “In fact I’m almost persuaded to ask Dexter if I could have a smaller office. His office is just a small room, anyhow. He probably would understand.” He looked at her as she looked up. “What do you think?”
Anne pulled her hair back and pressed her fist to her lips. She did not answer.
“Be honest,” he said. “It will help us to keep a steady relationship, like it always has.”
She turned away from him, looking through one of the many windows out to the cobalt ocean.
The General stormed through the door. “Lousy criminal,” he said.
“You mean Dr.I, right?” Penton questioned.
“Who else? To think he was once my friend. And now he goes in and brings my dead daughter into this!” The General glanced over to Ann at the window.
She stepped back and hid her eyes with her sunglasses.
“He acted like he knew Ann and said this odd thing about choosing sides,” Penton added. “The nerv—”
“Shh!” The General interrupted Penton. He walked toward Ann.
She shivered as she turned to him.
“Annie?” the General asked, removing her sunglasses. They stared at each other, and in one swift moment, they were locked together in a hug. Both of them were crying as Penton stared with his mouth gaping.
“Uh… I’m her boy friend!” Penton called over the crying. “How many guys out of your league have you been with, Ann?”
Ann fought for breath. “Penton,” she said, looking over the General’s epaulet-covered shoulder. “I’d like you to meet my father.”
Penton almost fell onto his desk at the thought. “He’s your WHAT!?!”
The General pried Ann from his shoulder and looked into her tearful eyes. “I’m afraid you have some explaining to do,” he told her.
“To both of you,” she added.
They sat at Penton’s desk, intent on hearing Ann.
“Let me just cut to the chase,” she began. “Penton… I was hired to assassinate you.”
Both of the men sat up in alarm. So this was the Blacktron Organization’s assassin! They had been on the hunt nearly a year for her!
“Why?” Dexter had the urge to ask.
Ann took a breath and continued. “You see, Mom trained me to be a marksman, like herself, for self defense in case the Blacktron organization would come after the three of us. She thought that Blacktron was forcing her to go over the top. So, knowing that they’d come for me as well, she found a way to fake our deaths in a car crash. But they still found me. They had pawns in the hospital you took me into, Penton. I was hired in Mom’s place.”
Her eyes began to well with tears. “You would have never expected a journalist, right? But when we met again … I found out that it was you. I ignored my mission … and fell in love with the one who saved my life.”
Penton stared down, absorbing all that she laid out to him.
She started to cry harder. “You don’t deserve me!” Ann cried out. She rose from her seat and ran from the office. Then Penton heard his car start. Was she stealing it?
“I can’t believe she lied to me,” Penton said, with a sigh.
“That’s just like her mother,” the General told him. “My wife was born into the first family of Blacktron immigrants, and met me in space, when my father was trying to colonize that same planet. I met her brother, Dr. I, and he led me to her.”
The General faced Penton. “She needs someone strong to understand her. I couldn’t think of anyone better than you Penton.”
Penton inhaled deeply. “Thank you, sir.”
“Find her,” the General said. “She needs you right now.”
Penton thought carefully about where she would go. “I know exactly where she is,” he said.
He left and took one of the company cars out to One Tree Cliff. Sure enough, there Ann was, sitting against the tree, looking out into the gorge.
“Just go,” she cried, when she saw him. “Leave me here. You could never love me now.”
“I have a story, too, Ann,” Penton said. “I’ve been a hypocrite. I would always say that honesty would keep our relationship steady. I’m afraid I haven’t been completely honest with you either.”
Penton walked up to the tree and sat next to her. He took her fragile hand. “After the war, I sought after some sort of thrill that would keep me entertained like the war, but to a lesser extent. It was a criminal motorbike-racing league, ran by this creep who, in return for using his facilities in the old city, sent us out to the new city to steal goods and money for his use.”
Penton drew a long breath. “I also fell in love with the woman who was my competition,” he said, “but she betrayed me. When she made that move, I sat down to think about what I was doing. I was a criminal, wanted by society, and a hot-head. I left it behind and started a new life. Sometimes I would ask myself if any one would ever love me, and now the one who does love me just asked that question about herself.”
Penton shifted so that he was directly in front of her. “If you love me,” he said, “I’ll love you too.”
“I …” Ann was hesitant. “I will.”
Penton moved into a kneeling position. “Promise?” He pulled a diamond ring from his pocket. “Ann,” he said softly, “will you marry me?”
Ann’s eyes were wide. Those diamond eyes stared at the diamond ring, tears flowing from them.
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Oh, yes.”
They stood up and stared at each other. The moon shone, much like it did the night of their first kiss. And as if it were a replay of that wonderful day, they kissed each other into a new life that would take them on the wildest adventure they could ever imagine …
Copyright Peter Gray, 2012
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