Interlude - The Watch
by D.C. Logan
The ancient little man sat slumped over his old bones on the edge of the brightly painted city park bench. He had frequented this seat every day without exception over the past three weeks. Clothing from a past generation hung off his thin, wiry frame—and although the quality of the cloth showed that this was a man who had once commanded respect from others, it was clear that he had fallen on hard times. His hair was sparse and thinning still, his skin was wrinkled with time and the excessive mileage of an active life, and he appeared oblivious to the people and activities going on around him.
He sat at the end of the bench near a flowering azalea, and occasionally his knurled hand would reach up and pluck a dying bloom from the bush and discard it under its dense foliage. Seemingly focused in his pruning, it would have taken an exceptionally sharp eye to see that the old man was much more observant than he appeared to be. Bright blue eyes that retained their active sparkle followed the progress of every individual in the park from the tiniest infant to the nearly invisible groundskeepers that patrolled its furthest reaches.
The temperature of the day was pleasant, but then all days were here on the colony. With the advent of weather control systems to keep the breathable air circulating in such a volume of space, all days were more or less identical to each other. The light was soft and uniform on the faces around him—and it made his task easier to see all of them in identical light. He recognized some of the regulars to the park and dismissed them out of hand—his background traces on them had excluded them from his candidate pool. He paid particular attention to the young men and women in the park. The young could be particularly focused and capable when encouraged with the right motivator—and they were often dismissed based on age alone. Not an error he of all people was likely to make. There was a smattering of uniformed officers in the park this morning, more than he had seen in the past, and he made a special effort to appear harmless and weak. He shifted his body as if his bones ached with years of abuse, humming tunelessly as if he hadn't a thought in his head, and carefully looked at nothing or alternately fixed his stare on the ground in front of his shoes.
A young couple took a seat together at the opposite end of his bench. His disguise was so well realized, and he was so effective at blending in, that they actually started in surprise when they noticed his presence. Ashamed of their reaction, they quickly left for a more private venue, and Heero snorted mentally in reaction. Momentarily distracted by the flirting couple, he didn't notice the slightly inebriated young man in a long, tattered hooded coat weaving erratically down the cindered path toward him.
He looked up just in time to avoid the grasp for the support of a stable object that the drunk obviously required, and avoided the outreaching hand with an ease that belied his apparent age. "Dammit Duo," he cursed softly. If Duo blew his cover he would kill him for good this time around.
The object of his ire crashed into the seat next to him and, singing a nonsense song in an off-key pitch, proceeded to snuggle his face into the back of Heero's overcoat.
"Don't overdo it you fool!" he hissed under his breath.
Duo sat sideways on the bench and—still tunelessly, but not as loud—ran off another stanza of whatever he'd been listening to before leaving the apartment. Something about fast cars and prostitutes, if Heero wasn't mistaken (his grasp on L2 slang must be improving).
Heero stood up rather abruptly, and Duo slid into the seat he'd vacated. Heero's old man made a point of allowing the disgust he felt over being so rudely disturbed show on his face for the public. Yet, using eye contact and a subtle language of fingers and postures, he indicated to Duo who required observation during his shift. Duo, acting professional now that he'd made his entrance, curled up on the corner of the bench and visually targeted the points before nodding that he'd understood. Heero turned and shuffled down the path away from the bench, and Duo slipped comfortably into character for the second watch of the day.