When there was a knock on Bram's door in the middle of the night, he wasn't particularly surprised. He was often awoken in the middle of the night for work. It was part of the deal. Luckily, he woke easily and was generally even-tempered. When the knock came —more of a pounding on the door, really— Bram simply groaned and pushed himself up out of bed.
The pounding came again, and Bram shook his head, as if shaking the sleep from his mind. "Yea, I'm coming!" he shouted, and groped for his boots. He shoved his feet in the boots and stood without tying them. As he trudged toward the door, Bram tucked in his thin shirt and buttoned his pants. By the time he made it to the door, he was somewhat presentable and felt fine unlatching it, and opening it a crack.
"Took you long enough," the beta on the other side of the door said.
Bram frowned. Far be it for him to take shit from a beta, especially one a head smaller than himself, but he knew his place and kept his opinion to himself.
"It's the middle of the night," Bram offered.
"Brilliant, aren't you, Mickey?" the beta quipped with a smile.
"Studying higher maths," Bram replied. "Need my sleep for that. You need something now?"
"Lace up your boots, Mickey. We've got work." The beta slapped Bram's chest and walked away. As he did, Bram noted a piece of paper left behind.
Bram caught the paper and looked at it in the dark. He couldn't make it out in the moonlight, so he shut the door and latched it again. Inside the one-room shack that served as Bram's home, he lit an oil lamp and sat down at his table. He took a deep breath and tried to clear his head without success. There was a bad feeling in his gut about the night.
For the last few days, he'd been reading the papers of a German writer named Einstein. It had been hellish to get his hands on them and it was fascinating work, but his mind had been drifting. He thought he had trained his mind not to wander, but lately he had found something was coming and he couldn't get his mind off of it.
Resigned to his fate, Bram opened the piece of paper again and looked at it. The writing on the paper was sparse and unsteady, the handwriting of someone unused to writing. The writing was a crude map and directions out of the city to someplace called Mortcerf. Frowning, Bram trained his mind on the name of the town and relaxed. He saw a little town, not unlike the other peasant villages outside Paris. Milk farmers, women doing the washing, drunk men wandering back from the taverns, an old shed or two left to rot with disuse, there was nothing particularly interesting out in Mortcerf. There was the occasional whore, which was unusual for a village, but other than that, it seemed a normal little place.
Bram sighed and stuffed the piece of paper into his pocket before getting up from his chair. In the light from the oil lamp, he went to the wardrobe and pulled a jacket from inside. He'd slept in his pants and work-shirt, so with his boots on —though unlaced— he was nearly dressed already. He would probably toss his jacket aside later, but it was a cool spring night and for the moment Bram thought he'd rather have it. Shrugging into the garment, he focused on Mortcerf again, but found it lacking once more. Whatever was out there was well hidden, or nonexistent, at that moment. He hoped they weren't going to make a mess of a sleepy little village.
Sitting down on his bed, Bram laced his boots, then he got up and ruffled his red hair. His face wasn't exactly clean-shaven at this hour, but he hardly had time to fix it. If he knew Damion —the beta that had come to wake him— he'd be pissed if he had to wait on him. Not that Damion was punctual. The beta was drunk more often than not if he could get away with it and accused Bram of being in the same state. Bram rubbed his stubbled face and scowled. Damn Damion and damn whatever job this was. Bram was sure this could wait until morning, after he'd shaved and eaten some breakfast.