Spacer Furies 48
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    "A little paranoid about heights these days?"
    "Not paranoid, just careful. Heights, open spaces. There must be a conference room someone isn't using around here."
    We found an empty courtroom. I leaned on a bench, sipped my coffee and watched him pacing around.
    "Spit it out," I advised after a few moments of that.
    "All right. Look, Sasha...." He paused, as if still unsure of what he wanted to say.
    "I still haven't decided if that bothers me."
    "The first name, or just that it's me saying it?" He gave me a curious look. "Is it that that isn't who you think you are anymore?"
    "Wrong tense. 'Never was.'" I gestured with my coffee cup, regretting having said anything. "Never mind. Skip it. What did you want to say?"
    "Things have been sort of... tense, between us for a while now. And I know it's mostly my fault—"
    "It's not your fault," I interrupted. "Nothing is your fault." He seemed to spend a moment absorbing my somewhat bleak tone. "Look—I've screwed up your life. And I'm sorry." I looked away for a second. "I'm sorry." My voice was a lot smaller than I would have liked.
    Long pause.
    "I understand you and Beth had lunch." That careful, casual tone signalled an opportunity for retreat from emotion, and I took it without hesitating.
    "Coffee, actually. She's an interesting woman."
    "Something wrong with interesting?"
    "It's a word people use when there are other words they would rather use."
    I considered that and amended, "Forceful, I might say."
    "Yes. She can be. She might have forced her way to some inaccurate conclusions."
    Which ones, I wondered, was he referring to. I couldn't quite picture the two of them discussing the situation. "Whether she did or not," was my careful response, "she's still right."
    He seemed to understand what I meant. "Maybe." Another pause before he admitted, "I do tend to get a little obsessive. I'm a cop, it's how you solve cases, by hanging onto puzzles, not letting go. I made detective in record time."
    "I'm not surprised."
    "A couple years ago I had a Rubik's Cube. I couldn't stop trying to figure that out, for weeks on end."
    "That's what they're for."
    "Huh. Well, you were another Rubik's Cube."
    "Um, thanks."
    "I'm not in love with you, if that's what you're worried about." He put a little force into the words.
    "Trust me, I'm not worried about that in the least," I retorted. At the distance twenty-four hours brings, I can be a little amused at myself; interested or not, and in this case not, I doubt any woman reacts well to being compared to a Rubik's Cube, no matter what the context. I don't find them particularly challenging, myself. "Look, I appreciate it, but... it would probably be best if we continued to not see very much of each other." There. Said. He looked a little taken aback.
    "With this... tension?"
    "It doesn't have to be tense. But it would be best for both of us." He was looking at me oddly now, so I went on, a little hurridly, "I mean, I'm not trying to be—to be cruel, or anything. It's the situation."
    "You mean the people who are after you."
    "In a word, yes."
    "I don't get it."
    More like he just wanted to be stubborn about things. I went on with painstaking care. "I have been more scared than I was when I picked up the phone that day, but not by much. I don't need you having any more guns held to your head, all right?" I think my voice was shaking a little; I made an effort to regain control.
    "Oh. So, you're concerned about my safety?"
    He gave me a pained look. "I'm a cop. I take risks all the time."
    "I know that. That's your life, and your right. This is... this is different."
    "I don't see how."

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson