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.”