She opened the door and her eyes narrowed. "What do you want?"
Her visitors looked at each other, then back at the older blonde woman. "We're here to see Maude Standish."
That made her eyes widen. "I'm a gods-fearing woman," she declared loudly. "You are welcome in my dwelling." They walked inside and she closed the door. Leaning against it, she chuckled and said in a more normal voice, "Standish. I haven't used that name in three hundred years."
She turned to face them. "So tell me – how is Ezra?"
That stunned them into silence.
"Unless one of you is him – regenerated – probably you." She pointed at the shorter man in the denim jacket. "Because – unless I miss my guess – your friend is the legendary Leftenant Chris Larabee."
"I'm not Ezra," the indicated man laughed. "My name's Vin."
"Ezra's not regenerated yet," the other one said. "And yes, I'm Larabee."
She sniffed. "Oh, you can relax. As I said, I'm a gods-fearing woman. Only thing is, I choose which gods I'm gonna fear. And anyone with enough balls to take on the entire High Council is okay in my book." She sat down. "So. Two things. What are you doing here, and how is my son?"
"Ezra's just fine, Ma'am," Vin said.
"Ma'am? Oh, how polite." She smiled. "I'm glad to hear he's doing so well. What is he doing?"
Larabee and Vin shared a smile, then Vin replied, "He's a mech-tech."
They both laughed as her mouth slammed open.
"And that's why we're here," Larabee said. "We need some specialised tools, and since he said he's always showed signs of being a--"
She held up a withered hand. "I have never encouraged that. He had talents in other areas I supported. His father was the one who encouraged..." She ran a gnarled, twisted hand over her forehead. "A mech-tech. Stars above."
She stood. "So, I guess he sent you to his childhood home, gambling I'd be here – or someone who knew me. And gambling I still had..." She sighed. "Come on, then."
She led them to a suite of rooms. A doorway led to a small workshop. "There it is. Take everything you need."
As Larabee loaded all the tools and books, Vin asked her, "Why did you come back here, Ma'am?"
"I'm on my thirteenth regeneration," she told him. "And I've got Tzenig's Syndrome." Larabee gasped, and she smiled at Vin's confused expression. "I'm dying. I wanted to spend my remaining time where I was happiest." She touched the wall, and Larabee realised the twisted and gnarled fingers were not from old age, as he'd believed. They were the unimstakeable hallmark of Tzenig's. The con woman was telling the truth.
"Where I lived with my Patrick," she went on. "Where we raised Ezra together. Before I lost him and we were forced to do what we had to do to survive."
Shaking herself out of reverie, she smiled. "Tell Ezra I love him."
Ezra stared at the case. "I can't believe she just parted with--"
"She's dyin', Ez."
He looked up, visibly startled.
Larabee nodded. "Vin's right. She's on 13. And Tzenig's." At Ezra's dropped jaw, he went on. "I saw the signs, Ezra. It's no scam."
Ezra lowered his head.
She opened the door at the knock and her eyes narrowed. "What do you want?"
"I'm a gods-fearing man," the hooded figure said. His hands came up and he lowered the hood. "Hoping for shade and sustenance."
Her twisted hands flew to her mouth, and then her arms flung about his neck. "Oh, Ezra..."
"I love you, too, Mother," he whispered into her ear.
And the dying woman's life-scarred hearts began to heal.
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