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
Saturday, January 17, 2015
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: 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?”
“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
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?”
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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?”
“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.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Chapter One: Ashoka River Basin, Kairos Mountains, North Country
Martin and Ivy sat on a limestone outcrop, sharing a flask of smoke mixed rum and watching the distant road. All around them, burr trees loomed, their dark branches weighed with snow. High above, the little moons shone green. Ivy pulled up her knee to retie the rag holding on her boot sole. “So you ain’t think it’s a trap?”
Martin snorted. “Pirians got better shit to do with their fuel and their time, is it.”
She tugged at the rag, wiggled her foot in the boot, and then got up and scuffled around on the rock, trying out the repair. “Just ain’t see why they want alliance with us. I mean hill cots,” she added. “I know what Jossa said, Pirians want alliance with our Revolution. But why not link up with the Committee?”
Martin drank more of the smoke and rum. It was warming him up, easing the ache in his muscles and belly. Ivy dropped next to him again, reaching for the flask. He let her have it. Two or three years back, Ivy had tailed it from an estate in the Rift Valley where she was a field cot; maybe fifteen now, she was as skinny, filthy, and ill-geared as all hill-country contracts. “I’d make alliance with the holders,” Ivy said moodily. She banged her heels against the rock wall. “Wish they’d hurry. I’m cold. You ain’t afraid? Of the Pirians?”
“Why in shit I’m afraid of Pirians?” He took the flask back.
She drove her elbow into his ribs. “You ain’t ever scared.”
“Now that’s a lie.” He tucked the flask in his cargo pocket.
She cut her eyes at him. “Are you scared now?”
“Jobs aren’t scary,” Martin objected, grinning. She laughed louder, shoving at his shoulder. He shoved back, and the handheld on the rock between them meeped. Martin flicked his dropbox open: two stars. The job was go.
Ivy jumped from the rock, landing tidily on her feet. Martin handed down her Lopaka long rifle. She slung it across her back and headed off at a trot. Martin stood, stretching his spine, waiting for her to get out of range. Far off through the trees, he saw lights from Lord Naoko’s sedan sweep across the river. Distantly came the crump-thump of the bridge blowing. He glanced to be sure Ivy was clear, then knelt to the detonator. Sliding back the ports, Martin clicked the switches. A second later, the trap blew: thud, and ka-thump.
Nothing happened for long enough that Martin got worried. Then slowly, with a great dull rumble, rocks thundered across the road. A second fall crashed beyond the first, spilling and bouncing. A final few rocks tumbled from the muddy banks.
Martin rolled down from the outcrop and loped through the blackwood and burr trees, some of them thousands of years old – this was Naoko’s land here, high up in the Kairos Mountains, most of it untouched since settlement days. In among the trees, space lay open, vast and empty on this luminescent night; burr needles, glittering with ice, padded the forest floor. Winter insects racketed against the dark.
Skidding down the bank, Martin peered up toward the bridge. Nothing. Darkness. The metalled road shimmered with moonlight. He located a thick stand of box reeds and rolled onto his belly behind it. Propping his Lopaka short rifle on his forearm, he ran a few test sights. Once he was sure this was a good place, he scanned the brush, hunting for Ivy or Dallas or Liam – any of his crew. The deep cold of the ground bit through his trousers and jacket. Shitting winter.
Far off, he heard the growl of a transport engine. Inside him, calm drew together. He didn’t notice the cold now, or the dark. He felt easy and merry. As the transport rounded the curve, he drew a deep breath, his blood as light as fire.
It was silver-blue Vahid sedan. No use aiming at the windscreens, then. They’d be reinforced against plasma. Martin took sightings on the engine casing and fuel-cell assembly, also shielded. He was just messing, though. When it came to shooting, he would take out the axles. The Vahid was driving fast, so they had heard the explosions, despite Kit using small charges. Rounding the curve, they saw the rock fall, and skidded. Martin waited. It was always the chance they’d be idiots and get out of their own accord.
Not this time. The Vahid reversed, going for a K-turn. He fired twice, hitting his target both times, and then a third, to be certain: both axles blown, and the front near wheel as well. Then he raised his aim and put a blast into the front windscreen. This wasn’t to blow the screen, but to scare those inside. He heard their screams even through the blast glass. As he had hoped, panic did the rest. They threw open doors and scrambled out. Idiots. Smart would have been to stay put, call for Security – it was a solution for that, but it’d have won the holders time, maybe even enough time.
Inside the Vahid, someone was shouting to do just that: come back, seal the doors, wait for help. Too late: Ivy and Naz were grabbing fleeing holders, knocking them to the ground, getting the restraints on. Martin went up to the sedan and put his rifle into the open door. Only one holder was left inside, the one they wanted, in point of fact, Harold Lord Naoko. His long high-boned face, dark with temper, went blank when he saw Martin.
Martin smiled sweetly. “Step out now, is it, sir?”
Naoko squeezed the handle of his door.
“Else I could shoot you where you sit,” Martin said. “Not in the plan, but I might could tell my hook, oops, finger slipped. He ain’t like me much anyways, what’s to lose?”
Naoko swallowed visibly. Then he unsealed the door and stepped out into the icy night. Tall, like most holders, he wore fancy dress: a long dark jacket of fine wool, slim hand-carved buttons, silk and linen trousers. Martin, thinking how he would look after a week in the hills, felt the edge of his smile crook higher.
Naoko didn’t like that. “Filthy chip,” he spat across the lid of the sedan. “Security will have you on your knees for this.”
Martin laughed. “Ain’t be the first time.”That was when it went to shit.