Sunday, January 11, 2015

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.

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