This is the first section of the sixth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
Her flight landed without much of an incident. It had been a quiet trip with few disturbances. Well unless you counted the fellow passengers who seemed to be tourists from the Habitat, certainly their endless enthusiasm for the trivia of the airport and the flight had been grating at Malka for most of the journey. Was it really the fashion on the Habitat to behave to people like this? If it really was one big city then was that city life? It certainly wasn’t what she was used to.
Breaking away from her followers as she’d begun to think of them she headed off to pick up the vehicle Gwen had planned for her. As she arrived at the awaiting rentals desk the woman at the desk held that look of professional distaste that Malka had grown used to when dealing with someone who was not doing the job they saw themselves doing.
“I’ve a reservation for a vehicle, name of Malka Rao”
The woman behind the desk eyed her up and down “You sure you’ve got the right reservation.”
“You tell me, I didn’t book it.”
“Yes this was an unusual one, we had the vehicle shipped here from Cairo”
“Well it needs to end there so I guess that’s not that unusual”
“No, I said it was shipped here” there was that look of professional disgust again.
“Look I’m clearly missing something here, why don’t you just explain?”
“These one way rentals are normally fine we get it to drive itself back here, or drive itself here in the first place. You’ve had to mess the system up.”
“Don’t look at me, I didn’t organise this. Anyway why did it have to be shipped here? Why not use the normal procedure?”
“You really are clueless aren’t you.”
Malka had to resist the temptation to start shouting at this attitude. Years in the military really didn’t work well in this situation. Was this what Gwen had planned? Sending her to the place with the most frustrating service person she’d been able to find. “Fine, what is it a really old car from before automatics?”
The woman laughed “No”
Malka waited for a short while for more information to be forthcoming and realised she wasn’t going to get anything “So what the hell is the problem?”
“It’s a bike”
“You’re expecting me to cross a continent without automatics on a bike?”
“No, I just expect you to sign for it.”
“Have you not got anything else?”
“Of course, but not for a couple of days and for an appropriate extra payment.”
Malka thought for a moment, this really did answer her question about what Gwen had planned. This really was going to be one long test, or at least character building exercise which seemed to be her phrase of the moment. Normally the best thing to do with these things was to roll with it to begin with and then see where it took her. “Just show me where to sign and give me the keys.”