Brian stood outside the dark, impassive Guardstation, vainly attempting to swallow his nerves.
It was smaller than he remembered—the stark, black building had seemed to loom fearsomely over Marshall Street during his childhood, but now Brian had to admit that its tall oak doors and austere facade looked a bit desolate and dingy with rust and decay.
Brian checked his watch for the fifth time. He was still eleven minutes early.
Am I going to look too eager? He wondered. Who the hell shows up to something like this early? I don’t even know what they want from me. Gods, this is such a terrible idea. He fretted, almost pacing in front of the Station’s steps. What if he isn’t even here yet?
Just as Brian was about to turn away to wait somewhere a little bit less conspicuous, the double doors burst open and out tumbled a haggard-looking Guardsman. He was wearing the traditional black woven tunic and canvas pants but splayed across them was a tableau of what looked like…mud? Brian hoped it was mud.
The Guardsman seemed to be in a hurry; he jostled past Brian and down the steps of the Station, but he stalled when a jovial voice called out to him from the threshold.
“Don’t you dare come back without that rat Frushtick!” It shouted after him teasingly.
The Guardsman chuckled and tossed a “fuck off!” over his shoulder before jogging off around the corner and into the depths of the Undercity.
Brian turned back to the doorway. In its open frame stood a large man with a well-worn uniform and a wide grin.
“Welcome my boy, you’re just in time!” He said, reaching out and slapping Brian on his thin shoulder.
Brian managed to pull off a tiny, stiff bow before being ushered hurriedly into the Station.
“Commander Mcelroy it is good to see you again,” he said politely as the officer hustled him away from the entrance.
“Believe me Gilbert, the pleasure’s all mine. Now come away from those windows.” The Commander practically pushed Brian through the main chamber—past the curious eyes of the stalling Guards, who had all gone frighteningly silent since Brian had entered.
Only once they were shut away in a small, sunny office did the Commander seem to relax. He dropped into the leather chaise behind the desk and motioned to Brian to sit in the musty wicker chair opposite him. The man grinned good-naturedly as turned to rifle through some forms in an adjacent cupboard.
“You were definitely seen lollygagging about just then. We will have to find you a convenient explanation for your presence here Mr. Gilbert.” He fished out a long form and glanced at Brian with thoughtful, narrowed eyes. “I think we might just be able to pull off a traffic violation. Maybe you…parked like an idiot? You own a carriage or a caravan, yes?”
Brian nodded dumbly and took the proffered stack of papers, settling them on his lap.
“That’s a good lad. Now that’s all taken care of—let’s get down to the real business, shall we?” The man leaned his elbows on the smooth wooden desk and stared at Brian almost sternly. “Do you have any idea why I asked you here, Brian?”
“I’m afraid I don’t Commander Mcelroy” Brain said, fiddling a bit with the corners of the form he had been given.
“Hey listen here; that’s Justin to you.” He said, his tone measured. He gave Brian a sad smile before continuing.
“The thing is, my boy…the thing is I think we might just need your help with something here.” He drummed his fingers on the desk. “Now I was a bit hesitant to get you mixed up in something like this and well, the other folks around here weren’t exactly happy about bringing you in either but I, well…” he trailed off for a moment before turning back to Brian and grinning again, jabbing a finger in his direction.
“I’ll have you know I am a fucking excellent judge of character. And I have always known you were a good kid, Brian.” Justin’s eyes softened a bit as he spoke. “I hope we can talk as equals and friends from now on. We’re gonna have to trust each other, and all that and rank and formality nonsense has no place in a true and beautiful friendship like ours, right?”
Brian half-shrugged and nodded, feeling a little bewildered. What could a Commander of the Watch need his help with?
And furthermore, Brian wondered, why in the world does he think so highly of me?
While he had technically known Justin for most of his life, Brian hadn’t ever spent much time with the older man. They had met long ago at a benefit Brian’s father had held for the Guards in a lofty uptown cathedral. Brian had spent most of these occasions either dreadfully bored or hopelessly uncomfortable, stuck between rich elderly men who would chuckle merrily as they loudly advised his father to “sharpen” and “toughen” young Brian up a bit.
At this particular event however, Brain found himself rescued by a kindly Guardsman Mcelroy. Brian was only a child of ten at the time and Justin was already a well known-if-young officer of the Watch, but the man had sat with Brian and chatted easily with the shy boy through most of the evening. Since that day he always held a fondness for Justin, but Brian really only saw him a handful more times before he found himself shipped away to the Academy.
A mere month after Brian’s lackluster graduation, he had returned to the Polis. He was hoping to find some sort of inspiration in the sprawling, murky city. After all, he’d been happy here as a child, hadn’t he?
He had admittedly felt a bit aimless until yesterday, when he had run into Justin while wandering through the downtown vendor stalls. Brian had been delighted to see that Justin was now wearing the double embroidery of a Commander, but when he moved to bow Justin had simply gathered him up into a large hug.
“Come to the Station tomorrow. Ten past midday.” Justin said to him quietly before he broke away. Brian frowned and gulped nervously but Justin just smiled crookedly and struck up a conversation as if nothing had happened.
Brian studied the Commander sitting across from him now. While he did look a bit older around the eyes, he still seemed to carry the same cheerful confidence that had comforted him so long ago. Brian smiled softly; it was an easy decision.
“Whatever you need Justin,” Brian said, his voice deliberate. “I’m here for you.”
Justin nodded and sighed as he reached underneath his desk.
“Alright then, Brian.” He slid a sheaf of papers across to him. Written in small letters across the top was “David Gilbert/Case File”
Brian’s heart stuttered.
“How much do you know about your father?”