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?”