Tanner walked slowly up the steps of the crummy apartment building on the outskirts of Sri Lanka. It was one of the last places on Earth not furnished with the cutting edge in human architecture and one of the best places to disappear. But, Tanner thought to himself, being in charge of the Protectors gave him a few allowances not afforded to an ordinary man.
He finally stopped on the fourth floor landing, leaning on the wall to catch his breath. At 70, he was quite shy of his expected life span but it wasn’t the years, it was the mileage. And his was quite long indeed. He stared at the door marked 4B and gathered his strength. As he was about to knock, he heard a strange noise from inside, like a cork popping from a bottle. When the realisation hit, he quickly opened the door and walked inside. And there, a scorched pillow against one side of his head, a small caliber pistol barely hanging from one hand, Wind lay on the sofa.
“You stupid old man,” Tanner said and sat down in the adjoining couch. He took the pipe out of his coat, along with his bag of tobacco. He knew this could take a while.
Tanner didn’t bother timing it for more than 15 years now. But, as he expected, roughly four hours later, Wind woke up with a gaping breath of air. Tanner looked through the reports he was reading and took off the glasses. “Nice of you to wake up,” He said. “Aren’t you getting tired of this?”
Wind coughed and dabbed his hand against his blood matted white hair. “I keep holding up hope,” he said. “That some day, this might actually work.”
“Experience tells me that is a hopeless cause.”
“Well consider me the eternal optimist.” Wind smirked. Tanner didn’t. “What do you want, old friend? Haven’t really seen you since you want up the gravity well.”
“Learning the lingo, are we?” Tanner teased.
“Trying to keep up, just in case.”
“I want you to come with me. Something significant is about to happen.”
“And why should I care?” Wind put the .22 on the coffee table and walked over to the bathroom.
“Do you remember telling me about Wales, circa 1450?”
“Do you remember what you had for lunch on October 23rd, 2052?” Wind opened the tap and rubbed it into the side of his head.
Tanner ignored the snide remark. He heard that a lot. “You said you were trying to help an outline village get rid of a nasty bear that was scaring their flocks. That the bear tore right through you. And when you came back from that, the villagers called you a warlock.”
“Now I remember,” Wind said, soaking a towel in blood as he cleaned his face.
“They burned you at the stake. It took you a year to come back after that. Since then you’ve been shredded, napalmed and liquefied, all taking you quite a while to return. You were even once cased in cement and thrown in the ocean. But you were lucky you knew me by then and I got you out of there.”
“You should have left me there,” Wind stepped out bathroom. His head was clean now but the scars still showed on his sand blasted face. He always looked like he just went head to head with a grizzly. At least, since Tanner knew him.
“Do you really think so? Then why didn’t you go back there on your own? Shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Wind opened his mouth to say something but decided to close it and sit back down on the sofa.
“You told me once, during the Aurora Crisis, when I was at the end of my rope, to not think about what I need but also think about what is needed.”
Wind chuckled. “A monk told me that. A long time ago.”
“Well. It worked for me. And apparently, it worked for you. By now, you could have stuck yourself in a place that will kill you every time you came back, or, at least, taken yourself out of the consciousness loop. But you haven’t. Aren’t you asking yourself, ‘Why am I still alive?’. Because I think I’ve figured it out.”
Wind chuckled again and looked at Tanner. “My unflinching sense of duty towards the human race?”
“Something like that.” Tanner said and took out his pipe again.
“I fucking hate you, you know?”
“Which is why I am the only real friend you’ve had for the past couple of hundred years.” Tanner said, stuffing his pipe.
“Fine. I’ll give you that.” Wind said and cracked his knuckles, his neck and his back. “What’s so important you had to drag your ass all the way down here?”
“Our long range sensors detected something, or a bunch of somethings, heading towards our solar system. That’s what the regulars know. I’ve sent my best teleporter and seer to take a closer look so I know it’s the Maldirs.” Tanner took out a very old matchbook and broke away one match.
“Aren’t those the guys you said are–” He raised his hands for air quotes, “‘tasked with protecting the Earth’ from any interference.”
“Yes,” Tanner said, flicking the match and bringing it closer to his face. “So, if they’re finally going to show themselves. I’m betting it’s not a social call.”
Wind stared at Tanner as if trying to read his face. But he was assessing his own past and present through the filter of his friend’s connection to him. Tanner didn’t call often. And when he did come calling, especially all the way and in person, it meant that something serious was up. The Aurora Crysis came to mind. And if there was any thread of care left in him, Wind did not let a friend down in his town of need.
“How much time do we have?” Wind asked.
“Three of four days.”
“Than why are we still standing in this shit hole? Let’s go.”