Jed and Mr. Worth.
The armored town car that Jed and Sarah rode in stopped at Aberfield’s airport, where they boarded a private Dirge Train capable of traversing the darkness of the Wastelands. They boarded a Model 7, which contained the heaviest armored plating known to the survivors of Earth. The inside of the train carried the most sophisticated electronic equipment, capable of detecting any known anomalies in the darkness and engaging anomalies with the appropriate weaponry, which was all state of the art.
Jed had never seen so much equipment aboard one vessel. He did his best to quell his curiosity and focus on the task at hand – to reach the Princeton and analyze its security risks. Sarah briefed him on the fundamentals first: the contract would last three months, his payment would be split three ways across the three months, and all room and board would be taken care of.
Secrecy was of the utmost importance, a fact that made Jed a bit nervous. Sarah wanted to implant him with a tracking chip that would allow her and her organization to monitor his whereabouts and all communications during the duration of his time at the Princeton, at the end of which the chip would dissolve and he would be free to go about his merry little way.
Jed didn’t trust Sarah. Something about her – maybe the sparkle in her big brown eyes, maybe the lovely curves on her form, maybe the sharp and pointed way she snapped at him whenever he would ask questions she didn’t want him asking her – it all made him nervous. But he needed the money. And more importantly, he needed the work...to forget.
“You are lost in thought again, aren’t you, Mr. Worth?”
Jed snapped out of his daze. He had been staring out the window of the train for a while now, peering into the darkness, remembering the old days when he had his wife by his side. “Just thinking,” he replied, knowing he was going to get harassed by her for being so vague. She reminded him of his old teacher in Catholic school. Always riding him about his thoughts, about his life. He didn’t like people prying. He especially didn’t like his employers prying.
Sarah took a seat across from him, her blue blouse clashing with the black and grey shades of the inside of the train car. He caught a whiff of her perfume – heavy and sweet. “Short. To the point. I find you to be a man of few words, but also a man of deep, harbored feelings.”
“You know nothing about my feelings.”
“I’ve seen the world, Mr. Worth. Many times over. And I know trouble when I’m near it.”
He smiled. “I doubt you know what real trouble is. Your nails are manicured, your hair is permed, your makeup is put on just right. And you’re wearing perfume. Either you’re trying to seduce me – which I promise you I can’t be seduced – or you’re the one who gives orders in your organization, not the one who gets their hands dirty.”
Sarah turned and took her turn to stare out the window. The darkness outside was almost suffocating, and Jed had to keep from panicking at the fact that they were traveling right through the middle of it. He had been on a train like this only once before, during his escape from authorities when he killed the man who murdered his wife.
“I may keep my beauty intact, Mr. Worth, but I assure you that my soul does not contain the same level of naiveté that many of humanity’s victims do.” She placed her hands on the table between them. Jed noticed a very long scar running across the top of both hands and down around her wrists into the sleeves of her blue blouse. “These hands, they have killed.”
“I don’t doubt they caused death, but did they themselves kill?” Jed asked.
Sarah sighed, and then she retracted her hands into her lap. “You seem highly suspicious of me, Mr. Worth.”
“Can you blame me? You seem to know who I am, maybe a little about my past. But you’ve told me nothing about yourself, this tower I’m supposed to watch over –
“Defend,” she corrected.
“Defend, or why you even picked me for this job to begin with. I know a half dozen other mercenaries that you could have grabbed for this job, each of them just as capable and possibly more willing.”
“But you need the money, don’t you?”
He shrugged and rubbed the stubble on his face, realizing he was overdue for a shave. “I like money.”
“You need it, Mr. Worth. I’ve seen the debt you’ve accrued over the past few months.”
“What is debt, Sarah? This world is at its end. If I run up a tab at the Silk Spider, I can just hop to the next safe town and start a new life. Nobody is going to chase after me in this darkness, not now, not ever.”
“You underestimate the evil in this world, Mr. Worth.”
“No, I give it just the amount of estimating that it needs.”
Sarah placed her hands on the table, only this time she turned them over so Jed could see the scars clearly.
“These were given to me by a child.”
Jed said nothing, only stared at the scars for a moment before peering deep into Sarah’s big brown eyes.
“A little girl...she was defending herself.”
“From the monster that is you?” Jed asked with venom in his voice.
“So...not only do you recruit mercenary types like myself, you also kill children. Good to know who I’m dealing with.”
“Do you want to know why I tried to kill her?”
“Not really.” He caught how upset his voice sounded and he wanted nothing more than to calm himself down. The thought of this woman in front of him trying to kill a defenseless child – well, not completely defenseless – made him sick to his stomach. Part of the nauseous feeling was indeed the alcohol still working its way out of his system, but he had a rule that he kept in his line of work: kids are not collateral damage.
“I could tell you it was to save this world, to ensure humanity’s existence...but you probably wouldn’t believe that.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“Then I’ll tell you this, it was to bring you here. To bring you to Saddle’s Sasspire, to bring you where I could find you, to bring you aboard this train. Her death...it is still carrying you along the currents of time to where we’re headed now, to the tower. To the Princeton.”