Inheritance and Ashes
Posted on Sun Jul 19th, 2020 @ 4:02am by Kindra Graham
Mission 1: Gearing Up
Timeline: Just after 'A Rough Landing'
"An accomplished companion is knowledgeable about current events and able to discuss a wide range of topics," Kindra quoted to herself. She couldn't rightly recall when her lessons settled so comfortable in her mind as to become habit that needed no reminding.
Kindra reclined in the leisurely heat of lavender-scented bubbles, the Cortex screen mounted above the tub scrolling news. Last night's client had expressed his appreciation with an extravagant tip and an invitation to stay and enjoy the tub after he left for his business meeting. Her personal quarters on the cruise liner, though plush and luxuriant, boasted naught but a shower. Don't drain the tub was the client's parting request.
She concentrated, allowing her mind to absorb the informational facts, conjecture, and opinions, flowing into her awareness like raspberry cream squeezed between layers of sponge cake, to be served later and tasted in small polite bites or licked from fingers.
A name and obituary scrolled by - Walter Scott Buccleuch - dead at age seventy-nine - like a train hitting a dog on the tracks as it roars past, the horror too fast to properly get her head around.
She sat up with a splash and scatter of bubbles, rolled back the feed and read the article more carefully. Dead of natural causes. Survived by wife Margaret and son James. No mention of Kindra or her mother. Cremated. Funeral and interment ceremony on the Buccleuch estate three days after. Why so fast? Why hadn't Margaret contacted her? Walter was the only father she had ever known.
Grief curled around her stomach and threatened to overwhelm, but Kindra's training held it back. She was a companion, she must not break down, she must return to her quarters exuding confidence and poise and not the tiniest hint of tears. She had clients that needed her. But Margaret would need her more, she had to go home.
Kindra nearly waved the Cortex screen from news to communications to contact her next contract, a woman and first-time client, but that would be inappropriate in Kindra's current state. She dressed, returned to her state room, canceled her contracts, arranged expedited transport, and packed her things. Only then did she break down.
* * *
It wasn't until the transport ship landed on Persephone that Margaret finally saw fit to reply to her messages. Kindra's stepmother was staying at the family's townhouse in the city, not the Buccleuch estate. She would send a car.
Kindra arranged for her three trunks to be stored at the spaceport, and emerged from the ship dressed to receive a formal client, wearing a knee-length white pencil skirt and matching double-breasted jacket over a red button-down blouse, complemented by red pumps and a simple ruby pendant and earrings. Her thick dark hair wound around her head in an elaborate braid. The car's driver handed her into the spacious back seat and stowed her suitcase in the trunk.
The woman was not Margaret's usual driver, though perhaps her last driver had retired. The ride across the city was slow and uneventful as usual, Kindra closed her eyes and allowed herself to doze lightly. At last the car arrived outside the brownstone replica, set between similar townhouses in an ostentatious row. Kindra herself had stayed there only a few times as a child, it was where Walter had lived and worked when he left the Buccleuch country estate. Kindra waited for the driver to open her car door before she stepped out onto the walkway.
Margaret opened the door herself and kissed both her cheeks. "Mèi mei, how lovely to see you. Qǐngjìn (please come in)." She was dressed in an elegant black gown, for mourning.
"Lǎo péngyǒu, nǐ kànqǐlái hěn yǒu jīngshén (dear friend, you look well)," replied Kindra, stretching the truth a bit. Margaret had aged and did not look well, though the care she'd taken in her appearance was obvious. Kindra stood aside as the driver scooted past them, upstairs to the guest room with her suitcase. "How are you holding up?"
Margaret took her hand. "The parlor is so stuffy at this time of day, I thought we'd take our tea in the garden." With her fingers Margaret tapped, the parlor is bugged, against Kindra's palm.
Kindra followed her stepmother down the hallway passing professionally decorated rooms where her stepfather had once entertained business partners. There was nothing here of Margaret, of her artistic flare and preference for bright colors until they stepped out the back door.
The small walled garden was awash in color and scent with gardenia and heliotrope, jasmine, honeysuckle and clematis vines, and beneath their feet a carpet of sweet alyssum. In the center was a small table set with a tea set and plate of finger sandwiches and petit fours, and two chairs. Margaret was the elder, but Kindra was her guest, so Kindra sat first.
"Walter and I had this garden put in for your mother. After her passing, it was a comforting reminder. We both missed her terribly, and now it is only me. You are very like Siobhan, you know."
"I wish I'd come sooner." There was no kindness in asking why Margaret hadn't contacted her. "I'm so sorry, I can hardly believe he's gone. What happened? The news feed said the cause of death was congenital heart failure."
Margaret poured two cups of tea and leaned close to hand one to her. "Heart failure by way of a knife, congenital by way of James stabbing him with it."
"Shénme (what)?" Only years of handling delicate porcelain stopped Kindra from dropping the cup. Murdered by his own son. The quick cremation – James had covered it up. "Why?"
Margaret sipped her tea, then set the cup down running her finger along a chip on one side. This was not any tea set, it had been her mother's favorite, and as a child Kindra had been responsible for that chip. "After you earned your companion license, Walter retired, turning family business matters over to James. I was not privy to the details but… Walter was contacted by Kinmont Armstrong."
"My birth father? I thought he was dead." Why hadn't they told her?
"As did we," said Margaret. She took a finger sandwich from the tray, then put it on her plate untasted. "He warned Walter that James was… up to something disturbing. Walter didn't believe him and tried to investigate the situation himself."
Kindra put down her cup, and prompted, "And.. James found out?"
Margaret only nodded. "Walter was afraid to tell me anything more, and now he's gone." She took something from her pocket, then pressed a data rod into Kindra's hand. "Walter asked me to give this to you. It's a copy of his will. James doesn't know what it says yet, he's meeting with a lawyer next week."
Kindra tucked the data rod into her breast pocket. She did not know her stepbrother well, and companion training didn't encompass a situation of the like, other than to offer compassion and comfort to those hurting. The two chatted about inconsequentials and ate the sandwiches and cakes. "Will you be all right?"
"Long as I'm no threat to my son, I should be fine," said Margaret sadly. Kindra was not convinced.
After tea, Kindra retired to the guest room. She withdrew the cortex mobile device from her suitcase and inserted the data rod, with hope of finding a personal message from Walter. The password for the encrypted file was easy to guess, the name of her first pony. The will was dated just after Walter and Margaret returned to Persephone after bringing her mother's ashes to be interred in the columbarium at Madrassa.
"Jiàn tā de guǐ (Damnit)." She read the will again. This was bad. What might James do when he saw this? What might he do to Margaret, if Kindra was still there? She needed to keep a low profile, while continuing her vocation, but how? Before she removed the data rod, she ran a companion diagnostic. More data was stored on the rod, encrypted. Beyond her skills to tap.
A message from the companion registry pinged on her device. Strange, because she had changed her status to unavailable. She started to delete it, but then the client's membership number caught her eye. Leading zeros and a single digit. She opened the message, from someone who identified themselves only as 'the Benefactor.'
There were instructions and the name of a ship: Geronimo.