MERcURY OUT CoLD
Loredana and I got married twice.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. From a legal standpoint on this old Earth, we tied the knot at the courthouse downtown. The clerk signed our license in the presence of two witnesses: Teget, who insisted on wearing his traditional Medan garb of armored leather vest, knee-high boots, and loose-fitting tunic plus matching trousers; and a lady named Cordelia Keyes. She came dressed in a classy black skirt and jacket with a scarlet blouse. Her high cheekbones and coppery brown skin suggested West African descent. I recognized her from the texts Loredana sent me when I was in Paris with the guys.
Always nice to meet your wife’s best friend five seconds before the wedding.
Right. So, the paperwork was signed. We were married.
I kissed Loredana. She looped her arms around my neck so we could better share the moment. Cordelia’s restrained applause and Teget’s shout of joy were dim background noise.
Of course, we made sure to put our names down—Mark Hale and Loredana Lark-Hale. Because, you know, “Mercury” wasn’t a name anyone outside of Procyon knew. Even the average civilian hand toiling away in temporary offices on the legitimate charitable side of the foundation saw me—when they saw me at all—as “Mark.”
“Lark-Hale’s got a nice ring to it,” I said. “Very Star Wars, Princess Leia.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Expanded Universe. When she got married to Han? Organa-Solo. They had twins and—” I shook my head. “Never mind. It isn’t even canon anymore.”
“I shall take your word for it. But Lark-Hale fits.”
“Congratulations.” Cordelia’s voice carried a hint of an accent. Could be Latino? She leaned in and kissed me on the cheek in a cool, professional manner just as similar.
“Thanks.” I grinned. “And nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. I hadn’t pegged Lori for marrying any time soon, but then again, miracles happen at this time of year.” Her smile hinted at mischief. “Bet we’ll be seeing each other again, especially if your brother happens to accompany.”
Teget was deep in discussion with a courthouse security guard who examined the ax’s glittering blades with an expression approaching reverence. Glad Loredana had talked the staff into letting him take the thing past the metal detector. “Are we talking a social call or professional visit?”
“Both would be welcome.” Loredana hugged her friend. “Thank you again, Delia, for making the trip up to see us. I trust you’ll remain for the reception?”
“I wouldn’t miss it. Tell Archie to save me a dance. The rumba, if he’s still spry.”
“Dad will trounce me if I don’t.”
“Tu ya sabes.”
I watched her leave. “Old pal?”
“We were at school together, yes. Harvard. Inseparable.” She held my hand. “Delia’s done consulting for Procyon, from time to time.”
“Oh? What kind? Legal?”
“Private investigations, for our Intelligence division based in Miami.”
Ah. One of these days I’d draw different conclusions based on first impressions.
My phone buzzed. Ramos. But, not a “You need to come stop this bad guy-slash-monster” call, thankfully. <The party’s rounded up. We’re all at Rosa Roja Park. Ho-ho-ho.>
<A Christmas joke? Ramos, you’re slipping. Be there in 15.>
“Well, Mr. Hale.” Loredana winked at me. “We are officially husband and wife.”
“Yeah. It’s funny—doesn’t feel like it, does it?”
“Only because we have yet to exchange wedding bands.” She admired the sapphire engagement ring I’d given a few months ago. “The paper is simply that—paper that satisfies a legal requirement.”
“But for our wedding … I know it’s last minute, but are you sure you’re okay with the officiant?”
She kissed me again. “I couldn’t be happier.”
I gotta hand it Dominic—he put in a lot of miles on the Echo Watches just to pull the real wedding off. I mean, transporting people and especially himself was part and parcel of his Procyon job. But a wedding party?
“Nice work,” I murmured.
We gathered on the bridge along the Avenue of the West, over Meda’s outermost canal. Ancient stone buildings surrounded us—smaller family residences, huge buildings with copper flashing and soaring domes, thick ivy dangling from all surfaces. A rickety wooden boat chugged north along the waterway, spewing steam as its occupants waved at us.
Our group faced my childhood home. It was a single story, made of white blocks with sandstone-colored columns at each corner. Hexagonal in shape. Copper dome. Ivy framed a wooden doorway with brass hinges at each corner.
Dozens of Medan citizens filled the streets nearby. Kids sat on parents’ shoulders. I wasn’t exactly a celebrity—didn’t think Medans went in for that kind of thing. But Teget was a renowned warrior, and I was the one fated by my parents’ death more than two decades ago to protect both dimensions. Our grandfather Naos had ruled the temple until his death; Teget assumed a great deal of responsibility splitting his time between there and Earth. So, they knew us.
It helped that a bunch were my cousins. I still hadn’t figured how many.
I stood facing Loredana—me in a black tuxedo, right down to the bow tie. And, yes, I knew how to tie one, thanks very much. No clip-on for this guy.
She wore a gorgeous white gown, slim, elegant, without much adornment. But for me, she was just as beautiful when she’d shown up in the goofy Dr. Who sweater and jeans.
Our nearest and dearest were arrayed in a semi-circle toward us—Dominic, Brandon, Garvey from Procyon Security, Wilhelmina, and Liz, even Alvarez. No sign of Doc Arne; there was a nice bouquet of flowers at Loredana’s condo in lieu of his appearance.
Archibald Lark, my new father-in-law, was at stiff attention behind Loredana. Poor guy had tears dripping onto his bright red moustache. He wasn’t Procyon but given how much he’d learned about our true nature, there was no way I’d let him miss this.
Cordelia stood to Loredana’s right. I guess her work for Intelligence ran a bit deeper than I realized.
Teget was at my right side. He held a black velvet box like it had nuclear launch codes nestled inside. Just two gold wedding bands. Grinning like a big dummy.
“Be bold, brother,” he whispered. “Now is not a time for the faint of heart.”
I winked at him and accepted the thinner of the two rings.
He reached for Loredana’s hand and kissed her knuckles before giving her my ring. “And you, Lady Lark, I welcome to our household, in the line of Medan protectors.”
Loredana’s cheeks were aflame. “I … Thank you, Teget.”
Ramos cleared his throat. He was somehow even more dashing than the rest of us guys in his black tux. He’d found creases to sharpen we didn’t know existed. “I’m not an ordained minister, or whatever passes for a legal authority on this strange and wonderful world, but the bride and groom insisted on me performing this brief ceremony. So, I’ll keep it simple.
“Mercury, you’ve always been a pain. I’m sure that will continue. But I’ve seen you grow into something more: A leader. There’s a lot of responsibility piled onto your shoulders. A great deal the world—several worlds—expect of you. Let me make it clear: That’s all secondary from now on.” He touched Loredana’s shoulder. “She’s your highest priority. Make sure you never falter.”
My heart hammered against my ribs which, thankfully, were healed up and no longer painful. “I will.”
“Loredana, I’ve seen you handle everything. Even this kid.” Ramos smiled. “Your patience and diligence balance his impulsiveness. I’ve never met a braver person.”
She smiled back at him. “I have, Gabriel.”
Ramos blushed. He lifted a well-worn Bible and read from it: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
He closed the book, his eyes brimming with tears. Who am I kidding—the same went for me. Everybody was crying, at one level or another. Liz was flat out sobbing into Garvey’s shoulder, who patted her shoulder gently.
“Mercury, Loredana, there are billions of people who have no idea the sacrifices you’ve made for them. But those who love you, the ones gathered here, they do. And more importantly, God knows. I pray His will finds you and keeps you. Seek Him, and He’ll never let you go.”
I was breathless. I could have been standing on the edge of a black hole, ready to dive in.
“Mercury, you’re up.”
Teget nudged me.
I blinked. Focus! My hand shook as I slipped the band onto Loredana’s finger. “With this ring, I thee wed.”
She did the same with my ring. Cold metal settled against the skin. “With this ring, I thee wed.”
That was it. All we needed to say. No long vows or proclamations made before others; if they didn’t know what we were about to do, well, they wouldn’t be here.
I did offer up a silent prayer. Thanks for bringing me here, out of a dark place.
“By the power granted to me by the authorities of Meda and the wishes of my two friends, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Ramos grinned. “Go ahead and kiss.”
The evening was full of more food and dancing and laughter than I’d ever experienced. Our reception being back on Earth, more people could show up—like Brandon’s friend Reed Andreen, who had way too many questions for Dominic about the Echo Watches. That’s how he arrived for the party, after all. But Dominic’s wife Jessica dragged him free for a trip around the dance floor.
I sipped champagne and leaned back in a chair, my jacket discard, bow tie hanging loosely. Ramos swung by, his wife Olivia giggling as they followed the beat to—was Ramos doing the samba? Since when?
Archie Lark was in front of me, his moustache making him look extra dour. “Mercury.”
“I suppose there’s no undoing what’s been done.”
“I’ll take that as a joke instead of an insult.”
“Ta.” Archie chuckled, though it wasn’t as happy as I’d have liked it to sound. “Mayhap I’ve misjudged you.”
“Mayhap? A tad.”
“If you come back with ‘cheery-O,’ there will be no place I won’t find you.”
I didn’t doubt it. “Look, Archie—”
“Stuff it. It’s plain two me Lori is devoted to you—and from what I’ve seen, you’re equally devoted to her. Do a tired old soldier a great courtesy and see to it that does not change.”
He offered his hand, and we shook. Iron grip, but not bone-crushing. “Take care of my daughter, lad.”
Thankfully, he was gone on his way deeper into the party and I could be alone again, for a few seconds. Nothing like your father-in-law warning you to be on your best behavior to set your pulse ticking up—especially when you’d seen him operate as a crack sniper against the forces of evil. Archie Lark might be a jerk, but I guess he was a jerk who was on my side. Which I could handle.
And if things were right between he and Loredana, well, all the better reason for me to give him a bit more respect.
Dominic slumped into the chair next to me. He wiped his brow with his sleeve. “I think this has me more worn out than the running battles we waged last week.”
“No joke.” I leaned back and closed my eyes, let the music carry deep into my core. “Hey, look, thanks for everything. Again.”
“Such as pulling our butts out of the proverbial frying pan more than once. And for … You know. Providing a sounding board.”
“You’re welcome. Everything good?”
“Are you kidding?” I took in the restaurant with a sweep of my arms, as if I could gather up not just the people but the lights, the sounds, the smells, the sense of release and the feeling of joy at being able to be alive without fighting one terrible monstrosity after another and package it all forever. “I was an orphan. Now I have you guys.”
Dominic nodded. He swirled his half-empty glass. “What I meant was, are you good in terms of being ready. For tonight.”
My bleary brain thought he meant there was an astral fiend incursion scheduled, and I so did not want to tackle that later in the evening. But after he raised his eyebrows a couple of times, I realized he must have been super-subtly referring to our, ah, marital duties conversation. “I think so. I’ve tried not to stress.”
“But have you talked about it.”
“Sort of. In a roundabout way.”
“Which is to say, not at all.” Dominic sighed and shook his head.
“That’s not what I said! We’ve—” I glanced at Loredana. She and Edith Pathkiller were laughing at a story Cordelia Keyes recounted, probably because her face was twisted into the goofy approximation of a circus clown. “Look. It’s been an awkward subject.”
“You’re telling me.”
“Then why do you keep harping on it?”
“I’m trying to be a good teammate, Mercury, and … I guess, a good friend.”
Yeah. He really was. I could give him a break. I grinned. “Tell you what: If you don’t hear from me for a few days, assume we were just fine.”
Dominic chuckled. “Cheers to that.”
We clinked glasses.
Vigil Cove was a couple miles north along the coast, a dinky village I’d never paid any attention to. A lone lighthouse with a black top and candy cane striping slumped on a heap of rocks perched at a bowl-shaped harbor. Signs warned of ongoing renovation. Other than that, the only thing Vigil Cove had going for it was the cars bunched around six or seven restaurants and a couple bed-and-breakfasts.
Loredana and I rented a solo cabin.
I’d give you a full description of its décor and architectural provenance, but we were—otherwise occupied.
When we did finally surface from kissing for air, Loredana’s breaths came out feathery. “Well.”
I nodded, equally winded. “Yeah.”
A light drizzle was subsiding, the moisture clinging to our hair—until it shifted to chunky flakes of snow. One landed on the tip of my nose. I went cross-eyed.
Loredana laughed. She brushed it free. “I would ask again, but I feel as if we’ve been over the subject innumerable times.”
I snorted. “Pretty much. You okay?”
“I am. Yes.” Her cheeks, already flush from champagne and dancing, went deeper scarlet. “Though I must admit, I never would have dreamed such apprehension from the least dangerous situation I’ve been in for months.”
“I hear you. But hey …” I took her hands. “Us. Together. Right?”
“Yes. Together.” She opened the door and led me inside. “Always.”
Fun fact: You can undo a lot of buttons without looking where your hands are if you’re motivated, in a marital sense. I reached for the door, missed the handle twice before I could swing it shut. Then swung it open again to make sure the “Do Not Disturb” sign was facing the right way.
As for what happened next, well, that’s none of anybody’s business.
Fade to black.