I’m going to be out of town for a few days. I know this is very sudden, and I’m sorry for leaving you in the lurch, but I’m sure you’ll be able to handle things while I’m gone. If you need to contact me, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Itsuko handed the neat handwritten note back to Talon. “Samui wrote this all right.”
“She’s listed as ‘on vacation’ in the database,” one of the other agents reported from his computer.
“Vacation?” Talon repeated with a raised eyebrow.
“She didn’t say a thing to me, either,” Itsuko answered. “When was the last time you saw her?”
Talon thought back. “The last time I saw her was when we came back from the whole ‘Invasion’ mess. She was very quiet, more so than normally.”
Itsuko nodded. “I thought so. Then she probably went to see Shelly.”
“Are you sure?” Talon asked with a hint of worry.
“Don’t worry!” Itsuko reassured him. “She’ll be back before you know it.”
Staring at the stack of papers Itsuko dumped into his arms, Talon wished this were so.
Subject: Re: Where’d you go? :)
>Samui! Where are you?
Right now, at Bulma’s (B0E4FF).
>On vacation? You? :)
Hard to believe, yes.
>Talon seemed a bit worried about you. I think he would have gone after you
>had I not tossed a pile of paperwork to keep him busy.
Thank you. Let him know I am fine.
>Well, anyway, have fun, wherever you are. ^_^
STRA Special Agent, Capow Branch
NEXUS, Milky Way, Solar System, Earth
Japan, Tokyo, Capow
2015 Circle Way
Even though nothing happened, Talon still found that the paperwork piled up faster than he could handle. Whenever he was nearing the end of the towering pile, Itsuko would come with more for him to do. And, despite her repeated assurances that Samui was all right, Talon couldn’t help but feel a bit worried. Samui was serious about her responsibilities almost to the point of ridiculousness. It just wasn’t her to up and leave. At least Samui left a note, though; if she hadn’t, then Talon would have known for sure that something had happened to her.
When he went to the STRA office to pick up the day’s papers, Itsuko also handed him a copy of the email Samui sent to her.
“When did you get this?” he asked her.
“This morning,” Itsuko replied. “When I called Bulma, she said that Samui had already gone, but left a
message saying that she should be back within a few days.”
Talon looked at the newest reports and forms he had to do and sighed. “Until then, I’m on my own.”
Itsuko wasn’t sure if that was a question or a statement, but she answered him anyway. “Yup.”
6/31/20XX 8:30a.m. (352)846-8801 OFFICE-MAX Page
I should be back by tomorrow, but in case I’m not, here’s the complete report of ‘Invasion’. I was going to email it to you, but there seems to be a problem with the ISP here, so I’m faxing a printed copy to you instead.
P.S. Tell Talon to hang in there.
As much as Talon appreciated Samui’s little note of moral support, he much preferred to have her return and help him.
So this is what Samui had to deal with when she was the only agent here, he thought as he began the day’s work. No wonder she was so interested in getting a partner.
Feeling a wave of fatigue wash over him, Talon yawned and stretched before going back to tackling the large stack of papers before him.
Chicago Sun-Times E! July 1, 20XX
REVERED STRA AGENT FOUND DEAD
Shelly McLaughlin, a well-loved STRA agent who retired a little more than two years ago, was found dead from multiple stab wounds in her apartment yesterday around noon. The discovery was made by a delivery boy who was answering her order for pizza. McLaughlin was 54.
MORE BIOGRAPHY REACTIONS BBS HEADLINES
The flag before the STRA headquarters hung at half-mast in a limp manner, as if it were too mournful to flap in the weak breeze that blew through the city. The atmosphere of the office itself was just as somber, and weighed on all those who worked there. The usual banter was absent, replaced with the low hum of the centralized air-conditioning system and the rhythmic tapping of fingers over keyboards.
Samui still hadn’t returned.
“What do you mean, you might not come in tomorrow?” Itsuko asked Talon.
“I’m going to find Samui. I don’t know the how close she was to Shelly, but—” he didn’t know how to finish his thoughts. “I just want to make sure she’s okay.”
Itsuko smiled at Talon’s confidence. “Well, just as long as you don’t disappear on us, too.”
Talon pulled out his Locate materia and took a deep breath to clear his mind. This time, he wouldn’t have Samui’s capsules to help him, but he hoped that he had a clear enough picture of her in his mind for his materia to get a lock on her.
Closing his eyes, Talon began concentrating on Samui, and the Locate materia began to glow and pulse. Keeping his eyes closed and his mind fixed on Samui’s image, Talon began walking, letting his instincts guide him.
STRA Agent Status Database
Namida, Samui: on vacation until 7/4/20XX
A gentle wind caressed the knee high grass, setting off waves of motion as far as the eye could see. Small hills broke the regularity of the plains, although in the wind it seemed like they were just larger waves that rose and rolled over the smaller ripples of grass. Samui sat at the top of one of these hills, staring off into the distance.
“Hello, Talon,” Samui greeted without turning when she heard Talon shuffle up the hill.
Talon stood a few feet behind her. He wanted to reach down and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder but something stopped him. Instead, he folded them across his chest. “You had us worried.”
Talon stood in silence as everything that he had been planning to say felt like they were being swallowed back into his throat. There was no warmth, no life in Samui’s voice at all. Worse, she was closed off to the world around her. Talon took a step forward. “It’s beautiful out here.”
Samui lay back in the grass, making her just about invisible. “Yes. Very.”
Talon sat down beside her and watched her out of the corner of his eyes, and was reminded for the umpteenth time of how little he really knew about her. Time and time again his expectations were proved wrong by her actions or her words. Now, as he was again in uncharted territory, he didn’t know what to say or do. It felt like they were strangers again.
And then the bomb dropped.
“I’m not going back.”
It came out as more of a whisper the first time, but then Samui sat up again and repeated it with conviction.
“I’m not going back.”
Talon was struck speechless. What should he say? What could he say? “What do you mean?”
Samui pressed small diskette into his hands. “My resignation papers, and a list of potential partners.”
Talon alternately stared at Samui and at the disk. “Why? Is it for Shelly?”
Samui didn’t reply for a very long time. Instead, she looked out over the ocean of grass. “I don’t want to do this kind of work any more.” Without waiting for Talon to react, she continued. “It’s not just because Shelly died; I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.”
Talon was at a loss for words. Should he encourage her into returning to a job she might be hating, or should he support her decision and possibly lose a valuable friend? Samui had brought him into STRA. How would his work feel without her?
Then, remembering his conversation with Samui about selfishness, Talon knew exactly what to say. He looked Samui straight in her eyes.
“I don’t know what your real reason for doing this is, and you don’t have to tell me, but—” he gave back the diskette. “Please think it over again.”
Samui’s eyes widened, and Talon swore that a faint blush rose in her cheeks. “I—”
“For once, make a decision for yourself,” Talon continued. “All of us will support you no matter what conclusion you come to.” He paused for a moment before turning around and walking back down the hill, leaving Samui still staring at him.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Talon felt calm as he prepared himself for the day, even though he still had no idea what Samui decision was. But, one thing was certain, to him. He had to step out of her way and let herself choose.
Stuffing a piece of toast in his mouth (his breakfast) and putting on a light jacket (it was getting a bit cold), Talon grabbed his keys off the kitchen table and opened the door.
Samui was leaning against the other wall.
“Good morning,” she greeted.
Talon stopped, surprised. Good thing he had just finished eating or he was sure would have choked on his toast. “Good morning…” He coughed out. Regaining his breath, he straightened and faced Samui. “So, what did you decide?”
Samui lowered her eyes a bit. “You were right; I had ulterior motives for leaving. But when I thought it over again, I realized that I’ve grown too fond of this place to leave it behind. And—” Samui looked back at Talon, her eyes shining with a kind of warmth he had never seen before. “I’ve grown fond of the people here, too.”