Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Martin Tells War Stories

This is actually an excerpt from the sequel to Broken Slate, which I'm working on here during the break. Those who have read Broken Slate will appreciate it more, I suspect!

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From Chapter Ten:Naji River, Grand Mountains, North Country

He and Gadi slept away early evening, burrowed under blankets in the rear of the cave. When Martin woke, Gadi was gone. Outside, the party had already begun. Shifting to his back, Martin winced at the impact of the raw spots and the wound on his shoulder on the stony cave floor. His body ached for more sleep. He thought of doing it, just falling back into sleep. Sleeping all night.
Instead, he got up, found his boots, and left the cave. It was broad night, so the only fires were tiny ones, up under tarps. Snow silted steadily down, piling on the slanting cam covers, collecting in drifts against outcrops and brush. Hill cots huddled around fires, drinking smoke laced, if Martin’s sense of smell did not lie, with apple brew.
Kit, on a burr log next to Gadi, smiled. “Starting to believe you’d sleep forever.”
Martin took the bowl of tea one cot held out: hot, strong, burning with brew, just as he had suspected. He drank deep, glancing across the rim at the sprogs around the fire. Though they had been talking as he approached, everyone watched him now: Martin Eduardo, hero of the Revolution. Ever since the Coup, everywhere he went was like this.
“Cutler says you just ran a job?” he said.
The kid who had given him the tea brightened. “Right, down the Rift.” He launched into the story: Lord Fowler in the Rift Valley, a Unionist. “Yago, she’s in his fields, she tells us Fowler’s sending cots up the hill to spy on the network.”
Across the fire, Dodge eyed Martin. Everyone knew about Twain.
If this sprog did, he wasn’t thinking of it. He went cheerily on: “So Yago leads us down, right. I’m on the crew takes the bosses, we bang a wedge in the doors, blow a bolt through the window, shoot any that found a way out. Kit had the house.”
Kit shrugged, her dark face angular in the firelight “No deal there. I took the boss at the gate, Yasin got the one up front, that one inside gave us trouble. He tagged Exeter, bullet to the butt, maybe he’s duck faster next time. That was it. We knew the cots we wanted were house boys,” she added. “But Lord Fowler’s too noble give up his spies, and we ain’t have Veritas or anything like it, so we used hot knives off the cook stove. That opened his teeth.”
Around the fire, cots laughed.
“We sent him down the dorm for them, alongside three of us. Held his wife for hostage.” Kit had a hit of smoke, her eyelids half-lowered. “Bosses in the basement jumped our crew, killed one, yelled up they’d already synced Security, surrender or we’re all for the flagpole.”
Martin grunted. He’d have stormed the target, not tortured the holder. Kill everyone who fought, sort survivors later. He made a sound he hoped would be taken for sympathy.
“What did you do?” Gadi asked when no one went on.
“Shot a fucking plasma rocket down the stairs,” Kit said. “Grabbed what we could and ran. Couple survivors came out a window – Yasin’s on our flank, she got those. One was our spy. We sent him up there by Salih and them, see what they might could get from him.”
By them, Kit meant the Pirians, who had funded a medical complex on Lord Oxford’s land in Kumar Valley. Officially this complex gave medical aid to the free labor and Service class in the area; in fact, as the Lord Kadir’s Unionists bellowed frequently, it gave aid to the hill country network, and not just medical aid either.
“Three dead to catch one spy.” Cutler, returning from running pickets, nudged a cot with the side of his boot to make him move, and sat down in the cleared space. “Not to mention the wounded and the ammunition.”
Kit, who Martin noticed had used the shifting about to move closer to Gadi, said, “We got the shoats, though. Plus all that rice and whiskey, and the peaches.”
“And killed near thirty of them,” someone added.
“Twenty-odd of which,” Cutler said sourly, “were actually us.”
The contract labor killed in the basement, he meant. The sprogs went quiet. Martin leaned forward to tip more smoke into his bowl. “You got back to the hills with most of you walking. Makes it a good job in my bank. Someday, if anyone wants to hear it,” he paused to blow on his tea, “I’ll tell you the worst job I ever ran.”
Eyes slewed toward him, bright in the fire.
“Not the Yardley job,” Cutler said, faintly suspicious.
“Hah, Yardley. Shit, Yardley. Yardley was an End at the beach, son. No, this’s when I’m fresh, me and Dallas, back there at Rocky Point.” He blew on the smoke. “Ain’t either of us know anything, and I knew half what Dallas did, but one issue we’re getting clear on, right fucking quick, is how if we stay under Harper’s boot, we’re yard boys until we rot.”
Cutler was watching him intently, as were the sprogs. Gadi’s eyes narrowed.
Martin smiled. “So we look about, put our mighty intellects to the issue.” Around the fire they laughed. “We decide to show Harper how to fight this Revolution.” More laughter. “Best way to do this, I decide – Dallas is a bit hesitant on the point – we run a job.”
A bit hesitant was putting it mildly. Dallas had called him six types of bent for running a job against Harper’s orders and without Harper’s leave.
“So I get what I think is brilliant luck.” He smiled. “This crew I’m friendly with, up on the Naji River, they take in these runaways from Bennett Mine. Soda,” he added to Cutler.
“Oh, crap,” Cutler said. Around the fire, sprogs groaned.
“These runaways have an idea for a job. Hit their old mine, grab up weapons, burn the coal. And I reckon Soda’s crew and ours, it’s plenty. Frogs in a bucket! How hard can it be?”
Cutler was having trouble getting his breath. “Is this – this – Will knows you did this?”
“You know,” Martin said thoughtfully, “I’m not sure whether I ever exactly mentioned to Will how the Bennett Mine fuck-job was mine.” He drank more smoke. “Anyway. Ida, that’s the crew hook from the mine, she built a few explosives. And Dallas and us, we had three Lopaka long rifles, a couple magazines each.”
Around the fire, moans and curses.
Martin grinned. “I scouted the site. I ain’t know if any of you have been over there by there by Bennett Mine – well, you might of,” he said to Cutler. “Big outcrop cliff, high over the river. The mine’s to the other side. Gravel track to the railway spur, scarp on one side down to the river, tree-line on the other. I’m green enough I think that situation will help us. I’m thinking we’ll put a tree across the road, stop any Security the mine calls in. Cakes and cream.”
“You ain’t have enough fire,” a sprog protested faintly.
“Oddly, that did occur to me. It’s why I brought in Soda. His crew ain’t much better armed, but they do have a couple six rifles. All hard weapons. No one in the hills had plasma then. Deal was, we’d split the take.” Martin put his hand on his chest and made a bow. “I did all the planning. Soda, he’s maybe twenty, and his crew’s raw field cots, even younger. They all thought the plan was brilliant.” He laughed.
All around the fire, the sprogs stared, their dark eyes wide.
Having spoken Soda’s name, Martin found himself remembering the contract he hadn’t thought of in years: skinny, like most runaways, with those reedy orphanage bones, the ash-pale hair that had given him his hill-name drifting loose in his eyes. Martin had always loved smart boys best, and Soda had been so smart, so quick to see Martin was getting at, quick to come up with ideas of his own. His only crime had been ambition, and being far too eager to believe Martin knew what he was doing.
Weary to his center, so tired his chest ached, he thought of not going on. He didn’t want to remember the end of this. Only you couldn’t start a story and not finish it.
“Well, Dallas and I, we took out our crew.” He paused, remembering Liko reaching across the fire to take the rifle from his hand. Liko, who had also always been too ready to believe Martin knew what he was doing. He rubbed his eyes, and then sketched out a quick map in the grit by the fire. “We set up in a triangle around the mine. Here on the road, by the pit, here above the barracks. Soda’s crew along here. Ida went in with her crew here, blew their power grid. I’m so fresh, I thought that would kill their com.”
Next to Gadi, Kit muttered under her breath.
“We ain’t even have handhelds,” he added. “Too stupid to think how we should have some way to communicate between crews. Ida hit the barracks, but the bosses got out, I don’t know how. We’re up on the pit – I am, and Dallas – frogs in a bucket my ass, the bosses shoot Ida, killed her outright. They’ve locked the mining cots in their rack, they’ve got Ida’s crew pinned. I can’t communicate to Soda down on the road, to bring them up behind the bosses, who send half their number up to flank us, now.” Martin paused, his mouth filled with bitter memory. “That’s when I heard the helos coming from Sarito Flats.”
Cutler cursed.
Martin stared down into the fire, into memory. “I sent a messenger running to the road.” They had abandoned Ida’s crew, pinned down against the barracks. Deserted them.
“What happened?” the kid across the fire asked.
Martin shook his head. Behind his eyes: the cold dusk of the forest, the roar of the helos, Security dropping into the trees like giant spiders. The crack of plasma fire in the darkness. Him running with Liko; Liko falling. Diving after him, dragging him to hide among the rocks. Shrill endless screaming from someone in the trees. Liko shivering in terror. Labor Security bursting past, chasing Soda, his young eyes desperate wide. The crack of the rifle, blood and bursting flesh.
He took a breath. “They got all of Soda’s crew. All of Ida’s. Two of ours. We did almost no damage, got no weapons.”
“Burned out Naji Ridge,” Cutler said. “Had every cot in the hills dogged by ’Backs for months. Couldn’t take a piss behind a rock without tripping over Security, not for months after, I remember that.”
Martin poured more smoke. He had lost count of how many bowls this was, but colors and the firelight had gone very lucid. “Redbacks showed up at Rocky Point, too. Harper gave us cover, but we still got kicked around.”
“They ain’t notice your dead?” the kid across the fire asked.
“One of the ways Harper helped. He listed them as being sold down the Islands the summer before. He took my skin off, of course,” he added, “but at least he ain’t give us up.”
“Harper whipped you?” Gadi said uncertainly.
Martin laughed. “Harper ain’t use the stick, not when he’s got his fucking mouth.” He rubbed his ear. He had already been feeling stupid and evil: Harper had made certain he knew just how stupid and evil he was. Do you think this Revolution is a game? Do you think their lives are your toys? I have you down in that yard for a reason, and it is not to oppress you. When you learn to use your thick head, that’s when I’ll give you more responsibility.
He drew another long breath. “So believe me: any job you ain’t clear most of your own crew, go on and feel happy about it.”
They stared at him. No one laughed. He supposed it wasn’t actually funny. He had a long look into his smoke. “This could really use more brew,” he said sadly.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Want to Read Things In Order But Are Getting Confused?

Here are Links to the chapters of Triple Junction in order:

Chapter One: Part One

Chapter One: Part Two

Chapter One: Part Three

Chapter Two: Part One

Chapter Two: Part Two

Chapter Two: Part Three

Chapter Three: Part One

Chapter Three: Part Two

Chapter Three: Part II

Ené went to work.  Martin left them to it, going to help Huan, who had placed a round tray in the center of the cabin, filled with various fruits, raw and pickled vegetables, and was now was arranging cushions.  As they worked, Martin heard Jossa talking to Tomé.  From what she was saying, he realized she thought Tomé had rank here.
            Eventually, Ené finished, and got Will dressed in a clean silk tank shirt under his grimy thermals.  They settled in a circle – the favored Pirian position.  Huan served tea.  Martin showed Will how to use the flasks, while watching watched Jossa covertly.  He supposed if you had come up among the Julians, maybe Tomé would seem the leader.  The one at the front.  The one who did all the talking.
            Will was poking at the food on the platter.  “What is this?” he muttered to Martin.
            “Plums,” Martin said, pretending not to understand. “Those are mulberries.  That’s pineapple, we don’t have that here.  Those are--”
            “No.  This fish.  It’s raw?”
            “Pickled.  Not raw.  Don’t eat it if it’s too scary, kwai.”
            Will ate a mulberry. “This the bait, is it?”
            Martin grinned. “This is manners.”
            “Manners are bait,” Will said sourly.
            Side by side in the circle, Jossa and Tomé were agreeing to the general concept of alliance between the fleet and the network.  
“And we are to be in balance,” Tomé added.
Jossa paused.  She started to look toward Martin, and did not.
Martin spoke anyway. “My Captain understands daiya.”
Tomé nodded, but she was watching Jossa.  More essentially, Huan looked unconvinced.
“Martin has explained the concept.” Jossa put down her flask. “An alliance with the Pirian fleet would mean much to our network.  Weapons, medical, food, tactical advisors – we need all you’re offering.  But this daiya, from what Martin says.” Jossa paused. “It’s not that we’re unwilling.  I just think you should remember what we are.  Runaways and slaves.”
Martin selected a spear of pineapple from the tray and bit in, watching Huan from under his lashes.  He had forgotten how lovely pineapple was.
“I’m not certain what you think we have to give you,” Jossa said, saying it more plainly.
Ené leaned forward, snapping open his pocket.  Pirian pocket handhelds, small and flexible, folded up to slender straps that could be wrapped around a wrist or tucked into the band of leggings. When open, they formed a curving bowl, the VR screen popping up in this curve to show three dimensions.  Republic tech had nothing like them.
Accessing the shuttle bank, Ené brought up a schematic of mapped jump-points.  Martin had seen such point maps before. They were difficult to construct, not in the least because no one could agree on an anchor point.  Also points moved as stars moved, in relation to one another and as to whether a given jump-point would still be viable, which varied (so far as Martin understood the theory) as gravitation pull varied between connecting points. (That’s what math is for, a jump pilot Martin bunked once had said blithely.)  Ené’s schematic seemed to use some point beyond the Drift as its anchor, and stretched back toward the Core.  About a dozen jump points shone deep blue.  The rest were golden.
            Ené tipped the schematic between his hands. “The Tarahuga is central to the Siji.”
            Martin nodded.  Recently, he knew, the nature of the Siji had shifted. Originally, centuries back, the Pirian fleet had formed the Siji confederacy out of volunteers among them in order to rescue those of their shipmates impressed into contract labor on Republic settlement planets.   In those early years, the Siji had used ransom as their main tactic, resorting to armed force only when other tactics failed.  Lately the Siji had grown more militant, favoring the armed solution more often, and or even as their first response.
            Ené watched the systems glitter between his hands. “The Siji look ahead.  Feasibility studies, you say.” Ené tipped his hands, making the field slip and widen – more blue systems appeared. “Your rebellion,” he touched one blue point, “interests us.”
            “Is it.” Jossa’s tone made it clear she doubted that proposition.
            Ené slid one hand over all the blue points. “Not you alone.  Our scholars think fifteen outer systems are toward rebellion.  Near to rebel.” Ené glanced up, waiting.  Martin couldn’t see for what. When no one spoke, Ené smiled. “What so?”
            Martin stared at him.  He glanced at Huan, and back at Ené, who sat relaxed.  A test, Martin thought. Like all of it, this was a test.  He cut his eyes at Jossa.  Her long angular face was calm.  He drew a breath, relaxing, and studied the schematic.
The stars gleamed, a pattern in space.  He remembered Jossa up in that cave in the Zhayr Mountains, drawing on its sandy floor, explaining how he would fetch his crew down from one side of a valley while she brought hers down from another, how Will would hammer them from a third. We’ll get them boxed, she said, adding in warning: if it’s anything you don’t want, Martin, listen now, this is important: you never want to defend more than one front at a time.
Jossa said abruptly, “It’s the Republic, so they’ve got resources.  No one has endless resources, though.  And we’re forty-three jumps from the Core – from their home base.” She reached to slide her fingers around one side of the schematic and then the other. “I’d encourage these rebellions first.  Spread it out.” She touched Julian, third point on the triangle. “The Republic will send their Navy to put down the rebels.  We’re the main hub, so they’ll come through us.  You set up in our system, blockades by the Drift.  Use those stealth ships of yours, poach the big ships.” Drawing back her hand, she frowned. “I’d also consider another tactic.”
            Ené smiled. “Yes?”
            “Take the fight to the enemy’s ground.”
            Ené glanced over at Huan, letting his smile widen.  Then he nodded at Jossa. “Yes?”
            “Well…get something working at the Core.” Jossa chewed her lip.  Her loose dark hair, streaked iron grey, had grown long enough to drift into her eyes.  She shoved it back. “I don’t know your resources, but even on a small scale…the Republic must have dissidents.  Get someone to the Core, work with them.  If the Republic has trouble at home, they’ll be less inclined to give attention to anything out here.”
            “An excellent point,” Ené said.
            Jossa studied him. “And one you’ve already thought of.”
            Ené folded up the handheld and strapped it around his wrist.  He spoke to Huan in what Martin assumed was the ship dialect of the Tarahuga – all Pirians shared one language, but each ship had its own version of that language.  Martin could understand Tarahugan, a bit at least.  Ené was saying he thought this bunch were as likely as any, plus they had a cousin, so why not? Huan argued that the cousin was a factor against, not a factor for, to which Ené replied it was all the same in the end – a comment that made Huan wince.
            “If I can clear up a point,” Jossa said.  They paused, their clear dark eyes fixed on her.  “I don’t understand your language,” Jossa said, “but if you’re worried about bringing us harm, well, all of us here in the hills, we chose this fight.  We all knew what it meant.  So whatever you’re worrying you might bring down onto us, so long as you bring a chance at winning against the holders, we don’t care.”
In the Tarahuga dialect, Ené told Huan that they had seen what those in the Republic did to their contract labor.  Huan said something that made Ené grimace.  Tomé said that they were people or they were not, and people could enter into daiya.  Huan cut it short: making the decision, as Tactics Officer. 
In Public, she said, “We’ll eat.  And then we’ll discuss your most essential needs.”

Chapter Three: Part I : Sya Lake, Bisavo Mountains, North Country

Chapter Three: Sya Lake, Bisavo Mountains, North Country

“How long we plan to wait?” Will paced the graveled walk that led to the boathouse. Feverish from his wound, he was edgier than usual, which was going some. “I got shit I could be doing myself.”
Martin and Jossa were thieving shelter on the veranda of Sya Lake Lodge.  Though not much shelter: the lodge proper was locked tight, and the veranda only had a lattice-work windbreak.  Light snow skated over its flagstone floor.  Out on the lake, slatey clouds lay low on the water.
            “There,” Jossa said.
            Martin had spotted it too: a ripple against the clouds, like heat above a fire. He tried to track the motion of the shuttle, but it was too subtle, one second there, the next nowhere. He felt the rush of wind displacing as it landed.
            “That’s it?” Will asked skeptically.
            Jossa glanced at Martin.  He stepped off the veranda, heading for the shore like he knew what he was doing.  The others followed.  Martin hadn’t gone five steps before a hatch opened out of nothing, spilling golden light into dusk.
A Pirian in a skinsuit slipped down a ramp, unsteady in Julian’s gravity.
            Martin kept walking. Three Pirians now.  The close-fitting suits covered everything except their heads – the hoods were down.  One suit was bright yellow and red, another violent purple, another pink with indigo accents.  Martin knew the colors meant nothing: Pirians just liked color.  Two were looking about themselves; the third watched the contracts.
            Martin approached this third.  Speaking in Pirian, he said, “Daiyio.  Welcome to our circle.”
            By the badge at her waist, this Pirian was Second Arbitrator Mainwatch, a gratifingly high rank for this mission. “How fortunate,” she said. “A cousin to greet us.”
            “Not a cousin.” Martin spread his hands, making himself slow down – this was the first time he had spoken Pirian to a Pirian since his convinction.  Crap knew what accent he had, after all these years.  “I’m Martin Eduardo y Farrik de Ladybird.”
            The arbitrator’s eyes widened slightly.  She glanced at her tactics officer, a plump dark woman, and turned back. “Forgive me.  I am Tomé Tarahuga.  My cousins, Huan Laiscoto, and Ené Tarahuga.”
            Huan Laiscoto was the tactics officer.  Martin avoided looking at her directly, which was polite. “I have heard good things of those ships.”
While this was also polite, it happened to be true.  The Laiscota and the Tarahuga were important in the Pirian fleet; and the Tarahuga was central to the Siji.  That the agents for the negotiations were from those ships was another good sign.
            Jossa stepped up. “Martin?”
            Martin switched to Public. “My Captain,” he informed Tomé, though this was not a perfect translation, “Jossa Yazid, leader of the hill-country Revolution. And this is Will Clary.”
            Tomé surveyed their ragged band. “Perhaps we might go inside?” She gestured toward the shuttle. “Where the situation is warmer, and more comfortable?” Her Public was good, though accented. The extremely formal grammar showed it had probably been acquired from some animate tutor linked out from the Core. “Also safer for us.”
She gave a theatrical grimace toward the skies. Though the Pirian ship that had brought them, hanging in orbit above, would run interference against any Link Security satellite tracking the shuttle’s heat signature, it was still a chance something might get spotted.
            Not that Martin was arguing, in any case.  Far from it.  If he knew Pirians, they had food and drink waiting.  Giving Jossa a nudge, he herded her toward the shuttle.
            Once aboard, the Pirians stripped off their landing gear – Pirians hated clothing, and always wore as little as possible.  Underneath the skinsuits, they wore short leggings and scanty tanks of jewel-bright cloth.  Like Martin, like nearly everyone raised on their side of the Drift, Pirians had been given the nanotropic fix for zero-gee and hazardous environments, so they had perfect bones and muscles.  Their brown skin gleamed with the skin oil all Pirians used, made from olives and beeswax.  Martin inhaled, surprised at the sharp flood of memory the scent brought back.  He had spent half his childhood aboard Pirian ships, especially after he and Jaq Sulavee had linked up.
Ené padded across the cabin to the galley; Huan rummaged for cushions in a storage bin. Tomé, solicitous arbitrator, offered the facilities. “If we might provide services,” she said, her vowels far back in her mouth, her consonants crisp. “If time for composition is necessary.”
            Will cut his eyes at Martin.  Grinning, Martin touched open the shuttle’s pisser.  Will shouldered past him, poked at the cascata, and then startled back.  Martin laughed.
Will shot him an evil look. “What in shit is that for?”
            “When you’re housebroke, I’ll explain it to you.”
            “Oh, fuck up.” Will limped over to poke more carefully at the baca. Warm water welled up inside the bell.
            “You put your hands in,” Martin explained. “Your face, too, if you like.  It’s a scrub.”
            Hesitantly, Will pushed his hand at the bell, startling again as his fingers slid through the membrane. “Hey.” He slid his other hand it. “It’s warm.”
            Ené Tarahuga had come up beside Martin.  Martin thought he was just there to watch the barbarians, but Ené said, his tone neutral, “You are injured?”
            Will yanked his hands from the bell and dried them on rump of his trousers. “What?”
            “The injury.” Ené gestured toward Will’s ribs. “We offer solace.”
            Will scowled. “I ain’t fucking hurt.”
            “He’s a medic, Will,” Martin said.  Ené’s rank badge said he was Third Scholar Midwatch, but his secondary marking was Surgery. “You should let him have a look.”
            Martin knew it would be an issue.  On Julian, illness was a genetic failing.  Getting sick or injured was admitting your inferiority. What kind of a loser were you, to be broken like that?
            On the other hand, these were only Pirians.  Inferiors by definition.  After a wavering moment, Will followed Ené from the facility, across the shuttle to a bench Ené drew from the bulkhead. “If you remove the shirt?” Ené asked politely.
            The burn had not improved in the two days since Martin had seen it: about as wide as two spread hands, crusted inky black in the middle, it had blistered red and yellow around the edges. Ené tightened his mouth in a wince. “Plasma weapon?”
            “Lopaka pup,” Martin said. “Just the corona.”
            Ené nodded. “I give you,” he hesitated.  To Martin, he said, in Pirian, “What is the word for anesthetic?”
            Martin told him.
            “I will give anesthic first.”
            “Anesthetic,” Martin said, correcting his pronunciation.
            “And then we treat.  You understand?”
            Will nodded, his face set.
            Pirian doctors were different from those used in the Republic.  No straps, nothing invasive: even the anesthetic was administered by a pelos, a dermal sheet lain over the wound. It melted into the skin, taking effect almost instantly. Will blinked and straightened. “Hey.”
            “Better?” Ené asked, smiling.
            “What is that?”
            “I give you some,” Ené promised.  He used a handheld doctor to gauge the depth of the burn, mapping it on the wallboard.  Will watched the ’board.  Not just the wound, but also his ribs built up: his spine, his shoulder blade, his muscles, all in various shades of green and cerulean, elaborate, perfect.  The real Will hunched on the bench, scrawny, muscles knotted under brown skin, scars of old whippings scrawled across his back.  His dark hair was cut close to his skull – the hill-country cure for woodlice.
            In Pirian, Ené said, “No ’tropes.”
            “They’re not approved for human use here,” Martin said in the same language.
            “Or on the stations,” Ené said, “but people still use them.” Martin shrugged. “Is it because he’s contract labor?”
            “No one has the fix here.”
            Ené let out a sound, disbelief, exasperation.  The doctor flashed, letting him know it was done, and he shut off the program. “Not so difficult,” he told Will in Public. “See?  We give you help with your immune system, and with pain, we help with healing, everything is better.”
            Will reached toward the board, toward a place on his ribs which was marked in deep scarlet. “What’s this mean?”
            “Ah.  My program believes you need healing there. An old injury?  You are hurt once? Broken?  Here too, see?” Ené touched Will’s clavicle on the screen, the end portion connecting to his shoulder: also angry red. “Another wound?”
            Will grunted.
            “The program tells where you need healing.”
            “We’re here all week you start working on shit that old.  I was twelve when that one happened.” He hit the board with the back of his hand. “Just the burn, is it?”

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Triple Junction: Chapter Two: Part III

Labor Security had not been as tender with the barracks as with Efram’s study.  In the common room, the wooden sofas were upended, their cushions ripped open and their straw padding scattered about. The hearth rug was tossed in the corner; the quilt that hung over the entrance to the women’s racks was torn down. The dishes from the shelves over the tea kit scattered across the floor. Many of these were tin, but those that weren’t were smashed.
            “Shit,” Martin said, from the mudroom doorway.
            Polly wielded a broom among the broken crockery. “Why aren’t you in the infirmary?”
            He swiped at his nose, still leaking blood. “I ain’t hurt.  Where’s Dallas?”
            “At the infirmary.  Where you’re going.  Get, Martin.”
            Martin hated Everett, and he was wary of Republic physicians in general – he had never been certain what would happen if they discovered he was upgraded.
Liko appeared at the mouth of the men’s quarters. “What did Efram want?”
Despite how much his bruises stung, Martin felt a flush of pleasure at the sight of Liko. “Nothing.  To give me shit.  She thinks we should stop pulling jobs.  Thinks we’ll have a more peaceful Revolution that way.”
“We shouldn’t have pulled that one last night,” Polly said. “She’s right on that.  Here,” she directed Martin, nudging the pile of filth and broken dishes.
Collecting the litter bin, Martin hunkered down to hold it while she swept.  Liko, shaking out the quilt, showed it to Polly.
“That can be mended,” Polly said. “Leave it on the table.  Don’t you look pretty,” she added to Dallas, who had come in through the garden door, a white sticky bandage bright against the dark skin of his forehead. “How’s Delia?”
“Everett’s gone keep her. You’re going over?” Dallas said this last to Martin.
“Did I buy a nanny when I ain’t looking?” Martin asked Liko, who refused to be amused.
“Bittner says they uprooted half the greenhouse,” Polly said, sweeping up ash from the over-turned bin by the fireplace.
“Right, she’s put the kids to repotting.” Dallas went to help Liko with the sofas. “What did Efram want?”
“Martin spun us a tale about us cutting down on jobs,” Polly said, “which I absolutely bought, because I’m fresh from the fields yesterday.  But I think Liko’s more dubious.”
“Me?” Liko said. “Not believe something out of Martin’s mouth?”
“Oh, fuck up, the pair of you,” Martin said.  His nose was still seeping blood.  Scrubbing at it with his sleeve, he went over to the tea kit and grimaced.  One of the Redbacks had pissed in the sink.  Turning on the water, he rinsed it, using a fork to lift the drain plug gingerly. “She did go on about the jobs,” he said, before adding the part about the Pirians.
Liko, who had been collecting kindling and returning it to the woodbox, stopped about halfway through this narrative.  Now he said, “Who weaseled?”
Martin shrugged.  The sink was rinsed out.  Nevertheless, he was fastidious in washing his face.
“If we have a worm in the network,” Liko hesitated, looking at Dallas.
All the tea towels were on the floor, tromped by Security.  Martin dried off with the front of his shirt.  “Harper probably has six weasels in our network,” he said.  “If it’s an organization anywhere on this fucking planet Harper ain’t own six-tenths of, I’m be a mighty shitting surprised chip to discover it.”
Liko and Dallas traded looks again.  Martin pretended to ignore this.  His head began to ache fiercely.  He turned on the water and rinsed his face again.


            The visit to the infirmary was useless.  Though at least Martin hadn’t had to worry about Everett discovering the nanotropes – he used a field doctor, with basic functions.  It would never pick up anything so exotic as the ’tropes.
“Minor bruising,” Everett said, entering data in his desk.  He hadn’t looked at Martin, not even while strapping the doctor on his wrist. “I’m not dispensing pain patches.  Don’t ask.”
“Lord Efram said you should,” Martin said, sliding his glance toward Liko.  It had been the price of his coming to the infirmary – Liko had to come with.
“Oh, I’m sure,” Everett said.
“She said I should tell you so.  Opix and anti-anxiety patches.  Two sheets each.”
“Lord Efram thinks she is physician here now?”
Martin made his eyes wide. “I don’t know, sir.  Do you want to sync her?  I’m sure she’s still awake.”
After a moment, Everett bent to his desk, banging in data.  Martin heard Liko take a breath.  But when they left, Martin had a sheet of Opix, and two of anti-anxiety patches.  Also two sheets of immuno-boosters, which though he didn’t need, someone would.  He slipped them in his medkit with the rest.  “What?” he asked Liko.
“I ain’t say a word.”
“Right, I heard you.” They were on the narrow path between the pumphouse and the greenhouse.  Martin caught Liko and nudged him backwards.
“Stop,” Liko said, not resisting. “It’s too cold.”
Martin pinned him to the wall, macking at his throat.  Liko was warm in the icy night.  He had an erection, which swelled as Martin leaned into him.  After a moment, his hands burrowed into Martin’s trousers. “Too cold,” he murmured in Martin’s ear.
Martin worked at his belt buckle.
Liko shoved at him. “Let’s go in the greenhouse.”
It wasn’t much warmer in there, though Dallas and Bittner had covered the broken panes and relit the furnace; but at least it was no snow.  They made their way past the young trees in their barrels, the rows of vegetables, the tanks of fish, to the back where bags of mulch were stacked among worktables.  Martin hoisted Liko up to a worktable and yanked off his jacket.  Liko was grinning, his dark eyes glinting in the dusk. “Come here,” he said.
Martin did, sliding between his knees. “You’re so,” he said into his ear.
“What?” Liko murmured, kissing his shoulder.  Martin’s back arched. “What am I?”
“Hot,” Martin said, and Liko laughed again.
After, they lay on the worktable, wrapped together under a blanket stored on top of the mulch for just this purpose.  “What if he asks Efram?” Liko asked drowsily.
“He won’t,” Martin said, petting Liko’s hair.  He loved Liko’s hair, dark brown, black, and red, like really good wholemeal bread.  Right now it was slightly too long.
Liko turned in his arms. “If he does.”
“If he does, Keiko will back me.”
“You take too many chances. And for what? You could have done without the patches.”
“Easy for you to say,” Martin said, before he could stop himself.  Liko shot him a look, and then turned on his back, pulling away. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Martin started to explain, and then just repressed a sigh and turned to his own back.  The bruises Labor Security had left on him hurt, but not that badly, Liko was right.  He rubbed his wrist against his eyes, trying to think how long it had been since he had slept a night through.
“You shouldn’t call her Keiko, either.”
“Oh, fuck biscuits.”
Liko pushed to his elbow.  His dark eyes were fierce.  “You’re brave as shit behind her back, Martin.”
Martin glared at him.  Then he got off the table and found his trousers on the floor.
Liko got to his feet too. “And with me,” he said, grabbing up his own trousers.
“In shit does that mean?” Martin demanded, buckling his belt.
“When did you plan to tell me about Liam?”  Liko swiped his hair from his eyes, and in the same gesture shoved his forefinger against the bruise on Martin’s throat. “Or this?”
Martin backed out of range, scowling.
Liko’s color was high, his eyes dark. “How close did you come? When did you plan to tell me that?”
“Fuck up.”
“Right.” Stepping close, Liko yanked the Opix patches from Martin’s belly. “Just how high were you when you nearly got yourself killed on the job last night?”
“I wasn’t,” Martin said. “I ain’t.”
Liko’s mouth shut hard.  He stared straight at Martin, his dark eyes steady.
Martin turned away, grabbing his thermal shirt off the table.  He wasn’t high.  A couple hits of rum wasn’t high, and what did Liko know about any this anyway?  He yanked on the shirt. “You don’t know anything about this.  Liko.  All right?  You write fucking posts and you write fucking songs.  No one shoots at you, and no one punches you in the head, and you’ve never gotten the stick in your life.  So get off my neck.”
Behind him, Liko said nothing.
Martin could feel his heart hammering.  He wet his lips. “I’m sorry.”
Liko put his undershirt on.
“No,” Martin turned, reaching for him.  Liko stepped out of range and kept dressing. Martin folded his arms.  His bare feet ached from the cold dirt floor.  He tried to think of something he could say.  Liko pulled on his thermal shirt.  “I didn’t mean it,” Martin said.  “You know I ain’t.”
“Do you think I don’t know what you think of me?”
Martin reached for him again.  Liko moved away, sitting on the table to pull on his boots. As soon as he had them laced, he left.
Martin took his medkit from his trousers and put two fresh Opix patches on, along with an anti-anxiety patch.  Then he went to see if the Redbacks had found their stash of smoke – smoke was technically off-market, but it wasn’t anything anyone generally got put in the system for.  The ’Backs had missed it, this time through, so he helped himself to a half-block and fashioned a stub, the least pleasant way to do smoke – stubs burned fast, and tended to scorch fingers and lungs both.  But when you didn’t have a satsi or were too impatient to brew tea, stubs were better than nothing.  He took it outside the greenhouse, because both Dallas and Bittner got bent when you smoked inside.
When he returned to their rack, Liko was there, getting undressed.
“I’m sorry,” Martin said. “Love?”
Liko sent him a dark look.  But it wasn’t really anger, and Martin, relieved, crossed the small space between the bunks – their two bunks on one side of the tiny room, Dallas’s bunk on the other – to wrap his arms around Liko’s narrow hips from behind.  “Stop being mad at me.  I can’t stand it.”
Liko slammed an elbow back into him.
“Oof.” Martin hugged tighter. “You’re so mean.  Why do I love you so much?”
“Why do I love you?” Liko said. “That’s the question.”  Martin nuzzled his hair. Liko turned to wrap arms around him.  “I hate being mad at you,” he said, muffled.
“You feel so good.”
“As touching as this is,” Dallas said from the doorway, “some of us would like to sleep.”
“Some of you are jealous,” Martin said, and licked Liko’s ear.
“Sow,” Dallas said, dropping onto his bunk.
“Come have a scrub with me,” Martin said, nuzzling Liko.
“I’m plenty clean,” Liko said. “Not like some.”
“Well, come talk to me while I get clean.”

“Oh, doesn’t that sound like a treat.” But Liko hooked an arm around his neck and went with him to the showers.

Triple Junction: Chapter Two: Part II

Twenty minutes later, Labor Security helos from Sya Hub came into the yard.
            It was a sound to strike terror into any contract, helos coming down on your barracks.  It woke Martin from a dead sleep.  Sitting bolt upright, he grabbed Liko, who also jumped awake, staring wildly at Martin.
            Martin scrambled from the bunk to peer out the window. “Shit.  Two of them.” He grabbed his trousers and threw Liko’s to him. “They’re coming here.”
            Liko dug through the bedding, threw Martin his shirt.  Out in the common room, dishes broke.  Martin found their boots just as a Redback appeared in their doorway.
            “Why are you in here!  Get the fuck out!”
            Martin kept his hands and head down.  He tried to stay between Liko and the Security.
            “Move!  Out!”
            They scrambled past the Security, who smacked them his stick, dodged past other Security already ransacking the barracks, and tumbled out into the bright afternoon.  Labor Security in the yard harried them toward the line of contract labor forming up there.  Once they were in line, Martin gave Liko his boots and pulled on his own.  Liko rubbed his arm where one of the ’Backs had gotten him with the stick.
“All right?” Martin said in the contract undertone, the bare whisper used when you didn’t want the boss to hear.  Liko nodded, dropping his hand.
            Generally when Labor Security came down in their helos it was to shoot a runaway.  But today, up on the steps of Owen Hall, a JLS Lieutenant stood arguing with Keiko Lord Efram. She kept cutting him off with flat snapped phrases.  Martin shifted closer to Dallas, on his other side in the line. “What’s it?”
            “Naoko,” Dallas said.  Martin winced.
            Lord Efram raised her voice: “ – an obvious bug hunt.  The Kairos Mountains are five hundred kilometers away.  How do you think my schoolteachers got there?  Do you think they have helos at their disposal?”
            The Lieutenant, who like most Labor Security would have come up Service class, was having a hard time facing off Lord Efram.  His shoulders hunched, he muttered something about insurgent activity.
Shivering against the cold, Martin hugged his ribs.  This was one of Efram’s better ploys, this relentless attack which often rattled her opposition into surrender.  Behind him, he could hear the crash and bang of Security going through the barracks.  He wasn’t worried.  All their contraband, including Twain, was up at the cave.  This reminded him that he had not yet gotten around to telling Efram about Twain, or Liam for that matter.  
Over at Werner and Hoyle Hall, students hung from windows, shouting comments down at the Security and at one another.  He saw Gadi Lord Woodville, the new student who was their most promising recruit, leaning precariously from a third floor window, arguing with a senior student.  Lord England, his house father, shouted at him. Gadi sneered and slid inside.
            The Lieutenant abruptly broke off arguing with Lord Efram and came stomping down into the yard.  Martin put on his best stupid pretty boy look.  Pulling contracts from the line, the Lieutenant paused to ask Efram who her liaison was.  Martin cursed.  At a gesture from Efram he stepped forward.  He got shoved in with the others – Crow, Akron, Teja, Bittner, and skinny little Delia, looking terrified.
Martin cut his eyes at Efram in passing.  She had her handheld out and was syncing her counsel, meanwhile still snapping orders at the Lieutenant: “No chemical interrogation.  No physical incentives.”
            “What do you expect us to do?” the Lieutenant exploded. “Ask nicely?”
            “You have no evidence that my labor force has anything to do with this incident. That I am allowing any interrogation is beyond reasonable.” Efram paused to speak to her counsel on the handheld. “Has this been captured, Mr. Jain?”
            A buzzing mutter.
            “Take them,” the Lieutenant shouted at his men.  He stayed behind with Efram.
            Interrogations were held in the lock-ups in the basement of Owen Hall, conveniently sound-proofed and with built-in feeds.  Martin got done in the second set, which meant he got to watch the first set come out – bloody, bruised, but still walking.  Not serious interrogations, then. As they were going out the outer door, the Lieutenant came stomping in.  He knocked Delia from his path – the kid stumbled and nearly fell – and pointed at Martin. “That one.”
            Oh, splendid.  Martin suppressed an eye roll as he was shoved into the cell.  Two Redbacks were already there, kicking a campstool around.  One of them caught Martin and banged him face-first into the wall. “Grab some bricks!”
            He did as he was told, let them search him, did not object no matter how intrusive they got.  His medkit was in his trousers, but it was empty.  They ran his chip, which led to the usual issues.  Security never liked his record.  He’d been sold too many times, lived on too many estates.  They never could believe he wasn’t trouble of some sort.
            “Four different quarries and a mining contract,” one ’Back said, “then you get sold on a tech contract?  How’s that work?  How do you learn tech skills in a quarry?  Turn around.” He punctuated the command with a slap.
Martin turned around, locking his hands behind his head.  The Lieutenant had come into in the cell by then.  He prowled the far corners, scowling.
“What did you do?” the Redback demanded. “Study in your spare time?”
Both officers laughed at this, which was funny all right, spare time for a quarry cot.
The first ’Back broke off laughing to hit him again. “Well?”
“I’m uphill.” Martin nodded at the screen of the officer’s handheld. “From across the Drift.  I speak Pirian, and read it.  Deja Lord Strauss, my seventh holder, he does history and law. He bought me to translate Pirian.”
This shut them up.  They stood staring at him, uncertain and half-queasy.  The Pirians were the monsters under the bed in the Republic world: evil murdering savages.  “You’re Pirian?” the Security said.
“Free Trader,” Martin said.  “Ran cargo for the Pirians.”
“You traded with them?”
He shrugged. “It’s on my contract.”  He didn’t add, you illiterate.  He’d been convicted for piracy and transporting contraband.  A crap conviction, like most contract labor convictions.
“He looks Pirian,” the Redback said to the other one.
Martin snorted.
“What?” the Redback said. “You think that’s funny?”
“When’s the last time you saw a Pirian?” Martin asked.  “I mean, outside a propaganda animate – oh, wait, sorry.  I mean a history capture.”
The Redback flushed.  The Lieutenant stepped forward between the two of them and knocked Martin down.  He sat up after a moment, blinking dizzily.
“Get him in restraints,” the Lieutenant ordered.  
The ’Backs did, strapping his hands behind his back and sitting him on the campstool.  Then the real interrogation began.  Not that it was tricky, or anything he had trouble answering.  In fact, much of the time, the Lieutenant didn’t even wait for answers to his questions.
“Who’s been off grounds this week?” The Lieutenant hit him. “Who?  Give me names.” He hit again, much harder, knocking him off the stool.
            That was how it went.  Martin understood almost at once that the Lieutenant didn’t really think anyone at Rocky Point had done Naoko.  This was a bug hunt, as Efram had said.  The Naoko job had used explosives, here were these educated cots, vaguely in the area, who might know enough to make explosives, let’s shake some trees and see what falls out.  And having been called on it by this high-ranked Lord Holder, the Lieutenant couldn’t back down.  But he was getting through the motions as quickly as he could.
            Which meant Martin just had to give him no reason to change his mind.  Keep saying no. No, no one had left the grounds.  No, he ain’t know a thing about explosives.  No, he didn’t even know where Noka’s was – all right, Naoko’s, why’s he go there?  Much less blow any bit of it up.  He was a math teacher, that’s all.
            The Lieutenant grabbed a fistful of his hair, wrenching his head around. “Nice bruises, chippie.  Where’d you get those?” He smacked Martin’s mouth. “Teaching math rough work?”
            Martin spat blood, not quite on the Lieutenant. “My holder is, though.  Awful free with her fists.  Maybe I should put a complaint in with my labor agent, is it?”
            The Lieutenant knocked him off the stool again.
            But soon enough, he got dragged out and shoved back into line.
“All right?” Liko reached to steady him.  Martin nodded and spit blood into the snow, looking blurrily around for Efram.  “She took Delia off to Everett,” Liko explained.  Everett was the school physician.
            A Security charged at them. “Did someone tell you to talk?” he shouted at Liko. “You want some more?” he yelled at Martin.  Before either could respond, even if they had been idiot enough to try, he drove his stick into Liko’s belly.
            By the time the Lieutenant emerged from Owen Hall, the sun was lying low along the mountains. The temperature had dropped, and the air was frigid; cold grainy snow whipped against exposed skin, dusted the sandstone walks. The Lieutenant crossed the yard, fastening the togs on his heavy jacket.  Efram came to meet him, her back straight.
The Lieutenant ignored her. Instead, he addressed the contracts. “If I find out that any of you know anything about what happened to Lord Naoko, I’ll be back.  I’ll make what happened today look like dancing school.” He stood, giving them long scary glares, and then wheeled toward his helos.
At that moment, Gadi Lord Woodville leaned further out of his window to shout, “Whynt you go ask Lord Kadir to take you dancing?  You fucking dog for the salts!”
The Lieutenant whirled toward the dorm – but first, dozens of students crowded the windows, so he couldn’t know which had shouted at him; and second, what was he going to do? Arrest a Lord Holder’s son for calling names?  And finally, as he stood there, impotent, fuming, all the students began shouting – some insulting Prime Minister Lord Kadir, others Lord Astak, Kadir’s opposition in Parliament; and plenty just mocking Gadi.  In the face of this chaos, the Lieutenant did the wise thing: he got in his helo and flew away, him and all his men.
The great racket of blades silenced the students, and the house fathers shooed them from the windows.  Efram came across the yard to the contracts still in line. “Let’s start cleaning up. Anyone who needs the infirmary, go ahead and report.  We’ll cancel classes tomorrow,” she added, brushing her hair back from her forehead wearily.
“Yes, miss,” everyone said, trailing away. “Thank you, miss.”
“Martin,” she added. “In my study, please.”
Liko started to object.  Martin shook his head and went with her.
Her study, on the second floor of Owen Hall, had been searched as well.  Efram muttered upon discovering this.  “Rum?” she asked Martin, heading toward the liquor kit.
“Shit, yes.” He righted an armchair for her and another for himself.  Sinking down into it, he winced at bruised muscles.
“How did you get to the Kairos Mountains?” she asked, bringing him a rum and limon.
“Keiko.  We just teach school.  What do we know about explosives?”
“Right.  And where are Twain and Liam?”
He smiled. “Lord Efram gets mean,” he noted, and drank most of the rum.  It stung the cuts inside his mouth.
“Really,” Efram said. “Where are they?”
Martin drank the rest and got up to refill his glass.  Every muscle in his body hurt. “Twain will be all right.”
After a moment, Efram sighed. “Suki was sweet on Liam.”
Martin hadn’t known that detail.
She shook her head. “I won’t tell you again how much easier you would make my work if you would clear these jobs with me beforehand.  But suppose this Lieutenant Grenville had asked for an inventory check.  What then?”
“I would have relied on your wit and intelligence,” Martin said, mixing limon and sugar into his rum.
Efram snorted. “Not to mention, I can’t see the point of these raids.  What are you gaining that could possibly be worth the risk?” 
   Martin drank the rum, refilled his glass, and returned to his chair. “Shit, you put that Grenville in a mood.  If he missed a rib, I can’t think which.”  He put his boots on her tea table, rubbing his bruised knee.
     She pointed at him with the hand holding her wine glass.  “You got lucky.  If Grenville hadn't scared so easily--” She shook her head.
“Freedom of Property,” Martin said.
“Oh, I could appeal.  Probably I would even win – fifteen or twenty months from now.  That would be a great comfort to you with a bullet in your head.”
“They’re not trying that against Lord Efram.” It was half the point of making Efram the holder for this station of the Revolution, that she was one of the twelve names of Julian.
“This is the third Lord Holder the network has taken hostage,” Lord Efram said. “What is Jossa trying to accomplish?  She can’t think this is winning anything with Parliament.”  She sipped her wine moodily, and then added, “Or the Committee.”
“Oh, Jossa worries about that daily.  Winning points with the Committee.” He got to his feet. “Did you want something actual, or was the ass-chewing it?”
“The ass-chewing isn’t done. Sit down.”
“Shit’s sake.” He sat down again, folding his arms over his chest.
“You do realize meeting with the Pirians is treason.”
“Unlike plotting a Coup.” Martin said. “Which is dandy.”
Lord Efram shot him a glance, ripe with amusement.  He grinned back.
            “If you’re not worried about treason,” she said, “what about efficacy? Jossa must know the Revolution will be more effective if the hill-country network works along with the Committee.”
            “Oh, please, Keiko.”
            “What?  How will we gain ground if we’re each running our own Revolution?”
            Martin snorted.  “I’d like to see some evidence – any fucking evidence – that the Committee is running a Revolution.  What’s the last job you ran?  Have you ever run a job?  Shit.”
Efram took a peppered almond from the dish beside her and flung it at him. “These raids the network is running damage the cause.  You did see Lord Vilner’s proposal this last session?  To ask the Republic Navy for an intervention?"
“That ain’t ever get under the shoe, and you know it.  Some South Country bent puts up a bit of crap, you run in circles?”
“Do you know what would happen under an Occupation?” Efram demanded.
He got up for more rum without answering.  He let Efram think about the Republic Navy storming Julian, burning houses, burning fields, burning orchards, shooting contract labor, yes, but shooting the odd accidental holder too, maybe raping some holders along with contract labor.  He let her imagine military transports grinding along roads, firestorms blistering the Quarters in Vermont City, concussions shattering the stained glass of the University in Durbin.  Naval troops setting up camp in the rich vineyards of the East Country Estates, in the plazas of Port City and the wide grainfields of the high North Country. And at the end of the day, the Republic presenting the bill for the successful suppression of the rebellion to the Julian Parliament.  
Martin drank his rum and watched the polished intricate patterns of inlaid wood of Lord Efram’s liquor kit.  None of it was his.  None of it ever would be.
“Jossa’s doing this on purpose?” Efram said, faintly incredulous.
He kept his back turned.
 “What do you want?” Efram said, but not as though she were asking him.
He answered anyway. “You know what we want.  We ain’t kept it secret.” He turned. “Ass-chewing over?”
She shot him a surprised look, and waved her hand. “Yes.  Go by the infirmary, please. Get that eye looked at particularly.”
“Can I tell Everett you said I could have Opix?”
“Out, Martin.”
“Thanks for calling classes,” he told her, on his way out. “That was decent.”
She flapped her hand at him, shooing him on his way.