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Traces of Doubt




Traces of Doubt is a sequel to Mount Robillard. We'll again join the rebels in their fight against the Ziroshel Union, but first we find ourselves in an interplanetary holiday resort with a man who finds his own agenda redefined by unforeseen circumstances.

- Story length about 124,500 words. Originally written in 2003-04, revised in 2007. Overall rating MA.


1. Unbidden

The balcony above was close. The one below was closer. That was a good thing, because he was going down and the rope-hook mechanism he was using didn't have room for a very long rope.

Unwinding more cable from the small device with one thumb, he slid lower until his feet touch the tiled floor of the balcony 每 wait, this was more of a terrace really, a few meters elevated from the ground, but there wasn't another suite underneath it. So this was the ground floor of the hotel. Good.

He pressed another button. There was a a tiny click from above, and he reached out a hand to catch the grappling hook that had released itself from the balcony above and recoiled into a nicely rounded weight. It fell soundlessly into his palm, and he retracted all of the rope inside the handle. Such a nifty thing, that.

A glance around showed that some light was seeping from the windows of the suite to which the terrace belonged, but otherwise only the bright dots of three moons illuminated the landscape. A magnificent landscape, he registered once again with a mild shock, looking towards the gently rolling waters of a huge lake that could be seen behind the tops of a cluster of palm trees. He'd now been in the position to admire it for a full week, but still it gave him a jolt every time. The air was full of delicate scents, of blossoms and fruit, it vibrated with the sounds of nocturnal birds and cicadas. He caught a glimpse of a sailing boat far away on the lake, some faint music wafting to his ears along the gentle breeze.

Soundlessly he turned around and smiled a little. Such an absolutely fantastic place, the ultimate realization of the subconscious human idea of what Paradise surely must look like. It was pleasantly warm, not too much but still warm enough for him to feel thoroughly pleasant in his thin, black body suit.

But now, back to reality. However warm and fragrant and peaceful the night around him, he still was in a place where he shouldn't have been: outside the hotel he was staying in, on the terrace of a suite that wasn't his, not even for the moment. So he had no business to be there, by any accounts, and it was high time to stop standing and dreaming and get back to his own rooms.

He'd already accomplished his task for the night, and his own suite was just across the six-meter gap between terraces. It was time to have a nice bath, maybe stroll to one of the restaurants to have dinner, or maybe he'd be too lazy to get dressed and just order something from the room service instead. After all, it wasn't often that he got to enjoy a place like this, and even he couldn't count on having all of his expenditures automatically covered 每 hadn't he been warned not to indulge in any extravaganza, in case his wait proved long? 每 he still felt that he could spoil himself a little.

Anyone watching the slim, lithe man right then would've probably been rather surprised to see his next actions. Of course the person would've already seen him descend, fly-like, a couple of stories along the outer wall of the hotel and land quietly on the terrace. However, the watcher might still have been startled by how swiftly the man hurled himself over the railing at the first tiny rap of sound at the door that led to the adjacent suite of rooms. As it happened, there was nobody outside the hotel to watch. The dense park was empty.

The whole thing happened so quickly that the casual watcher would've probably missed noticing that the man had somehow managed to latch the grappling mechanism to the terrace railing even as he'd quietly jumped over it. That he'd nevertheless done and was now hanging by one arm just out of sight, provided that nobody happened to standr right above him and bend over the railing to look down. Considering how unlikely that was, he felt relatively safe at the moment, even though he clearly heard that the door to the terrace above was being pushed open.

The man quickly went over his options. He was not high up, there was more than enough rope for him to glide slowly to the ground and hide. Or he could hang there, hoping that the inhabitant of the suite had only wanted to let in some night air and maybe to hear the birds singing, and when all was clear, make for the inviting dark shape of his own, smaller terrace.

He decided to wait and listen for a moment longer. Such acrobatics were nothing new to him, he was feeling comfortable enough and besides, nobody had come to the terrace. No use wasting effort and going down only to climb back up again. He could drop himself down quickly enough if it should prove necessary, and the terrace substructures weren't all solid concrete anyway. There even was a very helpful lattice he could support himself against.

Steps. Someone was walking to the terrace, someone with bare feet. The soft steps continued to the side farthest away from him and halted there. For a moment everything was quiet except for the birds and insects, then the black-clad man stopped breathing for a moment in a puzzled effort to hear better. Had that been a sob?

After listening tensely to another two or three shuddering breaths he rolled his eyes in exasperation. Really, this was the last thing he needed, to be caught as an unwilling witness of a lovers' spat, or rather, what followed! Now that he came to think about it, the suite was almost certainly for two persons, so there was probably also another person inside, in addition to the one standing outside late at night and crying. With his luck, the other party would probably come soon, then they'd decide to set things straight right there and then, outside their room. And he'd be forced to stay in hiding and listen to it all, all the stupidities people said when they were upset, be it in anger or love or something else. What a delightful prospect...

It was so quiet right now, he didn't want to take the risk that the person on the terrace might hear anything suspicious. So he latched himself more tightly to the stone lattice and relaxed his muscles as much as he could without falling down. Waiting it would be, then.

A door was opened and closed inside the suite. On his hidden perch, Juri heard the sound but what caught his attention more was the startled gasp of the invisible somebody standing outside the rooms. He perked his ears, interest rekindled. That had not been a gasp of delight, of that he was certain. Damn, surely he wasn't going to be hearing anything too unpleasant?

"Salvador?" A man of perhaps forty, judging by the voice, and not sounding too happy. "Salvador?"

The tone was demanding, bordering on a threat. Juri had just enough time to quickly revise his imagined setting 每 okay, two men, then 每 when the person standing a few meters from him answered. Juri was not surprised to hear that it was a rather youthful male voice, but the words nearly made him let go of the supports.

"I'm on the terrace, sir."

Sir? Juri clamped his teeth together before his jaw dropped completely. What the hell?

"You're not to call me 'sir', Salvador!" The older man was already stepping out of the door, sounding displeased. "What's wrong with you? Why do you keep doing it?"

"I'm sorry, s每 Calvin."

The younger man's voice was not much above a whisper. Juri heard the rustle of clothes and fought against the urge to climb a little higher to take a peek. Rather more than that, though, he wanted to go and kick the bastard hard. What'd he done to the younger man to make him so upset, and why in heaven's name would the young man call him 'sir'?

Hold it, Juri told himself. They have a relationship, a kinky one. The older guy doesn't like his partner slipping, because he might even slip in public. You're forever jumping to conclusions, and one day it's going to be dangerous for you.

"What's the matter?" The older man's tone softened.

"My head is aching," the younger voice said weakly. And real bad too, Juri added quietly to himself, if your voice is to be trusted. "It's so hard to think at all... Calvin."

"You should sleep. You are staying up too much, you're tired."

Talking like he was a stubborn kid, Juri snorted in his head. Really, you should now hold him close and kiss it better. Or just hold him and let him sleep next to you. No stupid, potentially dangerous games when your partner obviously isn't up to it. And maybe it's your fault too, maybe you bastard have 每

"No, I can't. I can't sleep, the dreams come again."

Now the young man sounded seriously anguished and Juri clutched harder to the lattice to keep his hands in one place. He felt this strong and very irrational desire to climb up and hug the young man tight, and had to sternly remind himself that being impulsive was really one of the least useful of his characteristics. That his success as a spy was definitely due to his ability to keep such urges under control instead of succumbing to them.

"You're just tired, Salvador." Now the older man was clearly making an effort to be placating and reassuring, and Juri felt another quick pang of revulsion. "Come, let's get you to bed. I'll give you something to help you sleep."

"No!" The young man nearly cried it out, then an involuntary whimper of pain escaped him. "No, I don't want anything. I'll just dream more."

He breathed hard for a few moments and then said, so softly that Juri hardly heard it: "I need to find him, Calvin. Why can't you help me find him?"

"How many times do I need to tell you that I don't know what you're talking about?" The man was angry now. "You must stop this rubbish and focus on your task!"

"You don't understand! I have to find Troy!"

"Salvador!" The man was certainly grabbing him, Juri could practically feel the hard hands grasping slim upper arms. "For the hundredth time, you don't know anyone called Troy! It's just your imagination. Come, now we go inside."

Some more rustling, determined steps and bare feet following reluctantly, then the door closed with a definite click. If there were more sounds, they didn't carry to the outside through carefully sound-proofed walls and glass.

Juri stayed in his hiding place for another couple of minutes, then cautiously hoisted to the terrace once more. After a quick look around he threw the grappling hook to his own side, secured another hook to the railing next to himself, tightened the narrow cable and swung himself to safety along it, using the handle part as a slide.

At last he was back in his own small suite. He took a deep breath and slipped out of his body suit, carefully deposited it and his equipment once more in an inconspicuous case, and shoved the whole thing back into the closet. After putting some soft background music on, he went into the luxurious bathroom and lowered himself into the shell-shaped bathtub. As water gushed out of the numerous taps and began to submerge his slim, toned, olive-colored body under a rapidly growing mass of bubbles, he raked fingers through short, black curls and looked his reflection in the mirrors beside the bathtub sternly in the eye. The mirror image stared back, dark eyebrows frowning above a pair of clearly slanted eyes.

Juri couldn't stop thinking about the conversation. It kept playing in his head, growing more and more intriguing with every loop. Even more puzzling was his own reaction to it, the stubborn deluge of unpleasant emotions: fear, confusion, revulsion, desperation. Each one more incomprehensible as the previous. Why was he all of a sudden feeling so concerned about the goings-on of a couple he knew nothing about? He'd accidentally landed there to overhear it, and knew a lot better than to pay any attention to such things. He was here for a purpose, he was dead set on fulfilling that purpose, and nothing must come between him and his goal.

There'd been diversions before, but the pull had been this infuriatingly strong. For goodness' sake, he didn't even know what the people involved looked like! Now, if he'd seen them and if the young man in question had been physically alluring, it might've been understandable. Juri was well aware that he swung both ways, and a good-looking young man might well possess external qualities that'd coax out his innate protective streak... and he'd successfully avoided such traps before. Juri Lombard was a professional, proud of his abilities. The mission came first, everything else only a long way behind it. And yet, now he was having trouble tearing his mind away from a potential diversion, after merely listening to a dubious conversation. How unprofessional was that?

Juri relaxed in the bath and turned the water off. He leaned back, resting his head against the smoothly rounded edge of the bathtub, closed his eyes.


I'm on the terrace, sir.

"What the hell was that about?" Juri mumbled to himself.

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