Cassandra awoke to the feel of the sun on her face. It was an unusual enough experience that she was, at first, mildly confused. She wasn't at home, obviously. Her own modest apartment was several levels down and closer to the interior of the city where the sun only reached in pockets. She stared at the ceiling, one hand raised to protect her eyes from the bright light, and took stock.
She was on a couch, she decided, and she rolled to her feet with a groan. Her bare feet sank deeply into soft carpeting. A narrow-eyed look around revealed the familiar furnishings of Phoebe's living room. Her mind cleared. Ah, yes, now she remembered. The Strathmore birthday party, the confrontation with William, and her decision to crash at Phoebe's for the night.
She wiped one hand over her face and hair, then padded over to the bedroom door. She knocked lightly. When there was no answer, she knocked again. “Phoebe? Phoebe!” The door swung wide and she found herself eye-level with a sleek, muscular chest.
“Well, well. Were you here all night pretty girl? You could have shared the bedroom with us,” the man said. No doubt he thought he sounded quite suave. Cassandra raised her eyes up to his face. She didn't recognize him. She looked past him toward the bed.
“Pheebs, you might want to get your toy out of my way if you want any more use out of it.”
“Hey, no need get bitchy,” the man groused. The figure on the bed leaned up on one elbow. The half-naked man thankfully moved out of her way.
“I'm out, Pheebs. I have to get home.”
“Whatever,” she flipped her hand vaguely in Cassandra's direction and flopped back down. “You didn't need to get all grumped up just to tell me that.”
“It's after 11. Don't you have lunch with Grand today?” Cassandra walked over to the windows and pulled open the drapes. Sunlight streamed in through the polarized glass.
“What? Already? Crap.” Phoebe bolted upright and squinted in the light.
“You know how he is if you're late,” Cassandra continued conversationally. She turned around and admired her sister's dark red hair, sticking out in every direction. “And by the looks of things you've got your work cut out for you getting ready.”
“I'm awake already, ok? Why do you have to be so annoying?” Phoebe glared.
Cassandra shrugged. “What are sisters for? And now I'm leaving.” She gave a little wave as she walked out the door.
The Maglev wasn't too crowded, but she still felt conspicuous in her evening dress. She pulled out her Pad and browsed the CommCore as the carriage rode smoothly onward. With everything that had happened the night before, she still hadn't written the piece on the Strathmore shindig. It was due three hours ago, but writing a gossip column didn't exactly take up a lot of her brain power. She should be able to pound it out quickly once she got home. She sighed softly, and started reviewing her notes.
There was a man waiting in the lobby of her building when she arrived home. He wore an inexpensive suit, but a designer watch on his bony wrist. A pair of glasses rested on his nose, which pegged him as an old fashioned type, but the eyes behind them were sharp and observant. Most people went in for corrective eye surgery nowadays. This was a man who valued substance over style, as her father would say. She wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone, but she paused politely when he stood at her entry.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Ms. Cassandra Windstrider?” he asked. He didn't even blink at her irregular attire. When she nodded warily he held out one hand. She shook it perfunctorily. An odd, nameless tension was uncoiling in her chest. “My name is Arthur Dent, of the firm Langley, Dent, and Kobitz. I represent your late uncle, Ernest Stewart.”
Cassandra was already frowning, but inside she was feeling a sense of relief. “I'm sorry. You must be mistaken. I don't have an uncle on either side of the family.”
Dent's smile was polite, his voice firm. “Perhaps I should say your Great-Uncle. He is...was Grandon Stewart's brother. Perhaps you've heard him referred to by his middle name, Christian.” Her brows rose.
“Uncle Christie?” she asked in some surprise. “I heard him mentioned by my mother once, years ago.” She also recalled faint memories of a jovial old man with white hair and a twinkle in his eye. Was that him? The name had triggered the memory, so perhaps it was. She did know that her ever intimidating grandfather had a brother and that his name was not spoken in the family. She wasn't clear on the details though. She'd always thought it was because he died. She'd never asked because when Grand said a subject was closed, only someone with a death wish brought it up again.
The man just smiled. She cleared her throat. “I'm sorry to hear he's passed, but I fail to see what this has to do with me.”
“Is there somewhere we could sit down? Your apartment perhaps?”
“Wouldn't it be better to speak to Grand...that is, my grandfather. He is the head of the family.”
“No, Ms. Windstrider. The legacy is for you. His instructions are quite clear.”
“Legacy? Mr. Dent, I have no need or desire for a legacy from anyone in my family.”
“Please Ms. Windstrider. I have come a rather long way and I promised I would discharge my duty faithfully in this matter.”
She sighed. She could either tell him to get lost, and possibly run into him elsewhere even less convenient, he seemed persistent, or she could give in. She realized she just didn't have the energy to argue.
“Very well, Mr. Dent, if you'll follow me?” She waved at Harry, the day guard at the desk, and he nodded back pleasantly. When they stepped into her living room, Cassandra gestured at a chair.
He waited for her to take a seat before sitting himself. Definitely old-fashioned, she thought, suppressing a smile. “Would you like something to drink, Mr. Dent?” she asked.
“No, thank you,” he replied. He opened his case and pulled out a leather portfolio. Her eyebrows raised nearly to her hairline when she saw the small pile of paper inside.
“Is that real paper, Mr. Dent?”
“Mr. Stewart was quite insistent that there be no digital trace of his dealings with our firm.” Cassandra blinked. This was sounding more interesting and weird by the moment. Her eyes caught sight of the letter head on one of the papers with the name of Langley, Dent, and Kobitz, LLP, and a connection snapped into place in her tired mind.
“Wait, are you the Dent of Langley, Dent, and Kobitz?” She was well aware that partners of successful law firms did not handle routine estate matters in person. They sent functionaries or para-legals or minions or something.
He smiled patiently and handed a folder to her. “Christie helped me start my firm, oh, years ago. I owe him a great deal. Now, as to the wishes of your uncle.”
An hour later Cassandra closed the door on Mr. Arthur Dent's retreating back. All thoughts of her past due column were flown from her head. She picked up the top sheet of paper and stared at it for a very long time. “You've got to be joking,” she muttered to herself.
Six Hours Later
Aft Terminal, Level 12, Gate 26B. Cassandra stepped out onto the landing platform and smoothed a hand down her short leather jacket. She was relieved to have changed out of her evening wear. Now she wore a black tee, black jacket and faded jeans, topped off, so to speak, by her favorite skimmer boots. She stared with a critical eye at the vehicle before her.
It was a relatively small stratocruiser, big enough to haul her old Cloud Skipper, but not even as large as a standard pleasure yacht. It looked like nothing so much as a tricked out cargo carrier actually, one that had seen better days and would probably fall apart in a stiff breeze. There was a platinum blonde bombshell pouting on the side of the hull, and the name Marilyn Monroe was spelled out below her. There wasn't a gate office or check-in desk that she could see. Just the cruiser, alone and unattended on the landing platform. These private carriers generally didn't do much to the spaces they rented out. She supposed they didn't have to. If you were flying with them, you probably didn't care much about the experience, just the destination and the anonymity.
She looked around for someone to speak to. The reservation showing on the Pad in her hand detailed the specs of the trip with Silver Lining Transports. Three day round trip, half day there, two nights on New Hope, half a day back. The pilot was Gennosuke Haitachi, owner and operator of Silver Lining Transports. Crew of one, Hotaru Haitachi, presumably related somehow.
“Hello?” she called. There was no answer, except for a small noise from the vicinity of the aircraft. She walked closer until the noise resolved into a soft snore. A few steps more and she found the source of the sound. A young man, hair flopping over his sleeping face, was sprawled on top of two large wheels of the landing gear. “Hey!” she shouted. He wore a plain black tee shirt and jeans. Maybe he was a member of the ground crew catching a nap? One arm was flung above his head, the other hung down the side of the wheel.
She nudged the hanging hand, and it swung bonelessly, but it's owner didn't even twitch. She took one finger and poked him in the shoulder. Hard. Nothing. Finally she gave up on being polite and she kicked him in the side. That got a reaction. He sat up fast with a grunt, hit his head on the metal above, overbalanced, and fell over onto the floor with a thud. He lay there for a moment before groaning and pushing up onto his elbows. He shook the hair out of his face and looked up at her with bleary eyes.
“uh...what?” he asked.
She pursed her lips and regarded him thoughtfully. “I'm looking for the pilot,” she gestured at the stratocruiser above them.
He blinked, then grinned cheerily. “Sure, hold on, lemme go get him.”
He stood and dusted himself up. Then he scooped the leather bomber jacket that was piled on the ground and threw it over his shoulders. He patted the pockets for a few moments before sighing in satisfaction and pulling out a pair of aviators and a battered hat. He put the hat on his head, put on the aviators and straightened his jacket. Then he smiled at her, glasses glinting dully.
“Hi. What can I do for ya?”
“You've got to be kidding me,” she muttered in disbelief.
“What, you're looking for a pilot right? I can fly. I'm a pilot. I'm THE pilot.”
“THE pilot. You're,” she consulted her notes, “Gennosuke Haitachi?”
He paused for a second, as if thinking. “Yup.” He grinned wider. Just then the door on the cruiser closed with a clang, and a teenaged girl in a white beret ducked under the wing and joined them. She waved at Gennosuke and Cassandra, smiling from ear to ear.
“Hello! I'm Hotaru! You must be one of our passengers. I see you've met Great Pilot Haitachi.” Her voice was ridiculously upbeat and girlish. Looking between the two of them she could definitely see the family resemblance.
Cassandra looked at Hotaru. “Is he drunk?”
The girl giggled. “Oh no. Great Pilot Haitachi isn't drunk. He's hung over. You should be happy. Great Pilot Haitachi flies much smoother when he's hung over.” If it was possible her smile grew even bigger and she held out her hand. “Let me take your luggage and I'll show you around the Marilyn Monroe!” Cassandra felt a bit dazed with all the incessant cheerfulness, and she hardly protested when Hotaru took her bag and led her toward the ship's hatch.