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Authors: Kristene Perron,Joshua Simpson

Warp World (5 page)

BOOK: Warp World
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ith an exasperated sigh, Seg scrolled through the list of post-mission reports he was required to file. The slight expansion and contraction of his lungs triggered an ache in his ribs, which set off a tremor of pain that rippled across the landscape of his injuries. Better than the sharp, breath-stopping pain he had experienced when his ribs had first broken, but pain nonetheless. He was recovering but not healed—as the medicals reminded him whenever he petitioned for release from the medfac.

The gleaming metal and spotless white of his recovery room should have been a comfort after the fire, blood, and muck of the raid but he was anxious beyond his usual impatience.

It was his desire for Ama that put him in such a restless condition, but bureaucracy had definitely contributed its own sour effect to his mood. On his digifilm, more evidence of the People’s slavish dedication to rules and protocol: forms for notations of major events, culture and caste contacts and encounters, labor expenditures, medical accounting, transit for his own extrans and intrans and for all materials he had brought with him. His new Kenda army counted as material, of course.

He counted softly under his breath and only glanced up briefly as the door cycled open and Jarin entered. “Twenty-three … twenty-four … twenty-five … how do we accomplish anything?” He waved the digifilm at his mentor. “Twenty-five routine forms upon return. Before we begin any
analysis on the mission.”

“You know that you would have only half those forms if you had remained on-world for the raid, or confined your extrans activities to the field headquarters.” Jarin said. “Unortho behavior has its costs.” He took a seat next to Seg’s bedside.

“So the reward for accomplishment is administrative drudgery.” Seg shoved the film away.

“You were expecting adulation? An end to all tedium? One raid, even one as successful as yours, does not change the World. Outside these walls, life continues as it has for centuries. Houses and Corporations bicker and make ready for further raids, raiders train for battle, the Well demands more vita, and the CWA plots to destroy all who oppose their will. Specifically Adirante Fi Costk, who will never forgive the loss of House Haffset or the humiliation he suffered at your hands.”

“I know that. And he’s only one of many enemies that I’ll make.” Seg raised his hand. The dismissive wave, the one that said
your words are wasted on me,
was a gesture he used often but never more so than in discussions with Jarin.

“Undoubtedly, but there are few worse enemies you can make than one of the five most powerful individuals on the World.”

Despite his complete lack of interest in the task, Seg scooped up the digifilm once more and turned his attention to the list of forms.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Jarin—dark gray hair sprinkled with an equal amount of white, wrinkles that presented a perfect mask of harmlessness—regarding him with his ever-present critical stare.

“Your success will not shield you, Segkel. You won one battle and you won it brilliantly, but be honest about what you have accomplished here. A great deal of vita and a great many caj have been collected. The vita will feed the Well, the shields, and power the gates. The caj will be expended, except for those kept as trinkets by the degenerate wealthy. But the raid is over. Done.” Jarin offered his own wave, to demonstrate the ephemeral nature of a Theorist’s work. “And now you must prepare for the next fight.”

Seg tapped his fingers on the side of the digifilm as he considered the words. “So, this is meaningless? The blood, the death, all of it means nothing because the World continues on as before, wallowing and stagnating, drowning accomplishment in bureaucracy?”

“Precisely.” Jarin’s mouth twitched. “Try not to be so childish. The World feeds upon suffering to survive. If you mean to be a part of the process, you must not assume a great victory liberates you from your duties. Theorist Lannit assumed he could afford to pass up the most basic and simple protocols. It cost him success. And his life.”

Seg leaned forward, wincing slightly. “I know the story of Lannit and his arrogance, Jarin. I know it by heart.”

“You know the story as presented to cadets. The comparisons between his raid and yours are inevitable now, I am afraid. The …” Jarin’s eyes moved upward as he searched for a fitting description. “The myth process defies control. But Theorists do not deal in myth; we seek truth no matter how mundane, no matter how lacking in romance or intrigue. Always. And the truth is this: the difference between your success and Lannit’s failure is only that you were luckier.”

“I made valid judgments.” Seg sat up; his body went rigid in protest against the sudden movement.

Jarin rose and took a deep, composing breath. “Segkel, listen to me. You must return to orthodoxy long enough to deal with the aftermath of this raid. Your popularity will give you some shield against Fi Costk, but it will not protect you forever, and, believe me he will wait as long as it takes to bring you down. You need to return to the fold and allow the Guild to help you with this process.”

“I’ll consider it,” Seg said, though his tone suggested otherwise. “If that’s all you—”

“There is one other matter.”

Of course there is.
Seg twirled his finger in the air, a signal for Jarin to continue.

“Amadahy.” Jarin raised a hand to forestall Seg’s reply. “Your choice is made, my opinion on that choice is irrelevant.”

Seg’s hand, which had clamped onto the digifilm, released its vice-like grip.

“I ask only that you consider your actions from this point forward. Whatever Amadahy is to you, to the People she is caj. If you wish to keep her, you would do well to treat her as caj outside of the walls of your residence. Ensure she behaves accordingly in your absence.”

“She’s not caj. I gave my word—”

“What will your word mean when she offends a Person? When some good Citizen demands blood because she has the audacity to look them in the eye? When Fi Costk steps in to accommodate their wish?”

Seg pressed his lips together and looked past Jarin to the bank of machinery that monitored his physical state and sped his healing.

“Consider what I have said, Segkel. For her sake, if for no other reason.”

Seg nodded—barely—then turned his attention back down to the film. “I need to finish this.”

Jarin’s smile rose and fell. “Yes. Yes you do.” Then he was gone.

The door chimed a moment later. Seg stabbed his finger against the screen to pause the scroll and put the film aside. “Enter.”

In contrast to the frail, aged form of his mentor, the man who entered could barely squeeze his large frame through the compact door. Seg took him in with curiosity, noting the fine weave of his clothing and the carefully manicured short haircut that adorned the otherwise familiar face. “Manatu? What are you doing here?”

“Sorry for not coming earlier, Theorist. You were quarantined; I only just found out you were released.”

“Yes, well, it’s understandable. You look well and perhaps we will meet another time but I have important business to tend to.” Seg held up the digifilm. “Extrans processing invoices.”

Manatu moved a chair to the wall.

“What are you doing?” Seg asked.

“I’ll be here.” Manatu sat. The huchack fiber–weave frame of the chair squealed ominously.

“Why?” Seg sat up in the bed with a grimace. “The raid is over, Manatu. Go home. Spend your money.”

“I don’t have any money, Theorist.”

“What? You couldn’t have spent it all. The payoff on this raid hasn’t even finished calculating yet and it should have been enough to set you up in comfort for a lifetime. You were getting a percentage on the gross.”

“I signed it over to my parents. I do that with all my disbursements,” Manatu said. “What else would I do with it?”

“You signed it
over to them?” Seg thrashed slightly in the bed, then groaned as the med system chimed a warning at him. “All of it?”

“I bought these clothes.” Manatu held out the vest of his suit. The color was drab, as was most clothing of the People, but the fabric fell softly around his fingers. The texture was the sign of the most expensive, well-woven huchack fiber clothing money could buy. Seg had only seen the like at a distance. Manatu pulled the vest aside to show Seg the holster he wore. “I also bought a pistol to replace the one I left with you.”

“So … don’t you have to find another contract and get back to work, then?”

“My job is to watch you.” Manatu leaned forward and put his hand on the rail of Seg’s bed. “You saved my life, Theorist.”

Seg shifted and turned to the side, groaning and raising another chime from the med system. “You were hurt protecting mine, Manatu.”

“I’ll be quiet, you can get back to work,” Manatu said as if he hadn’t heard anything.

“I …” Seg looked around and realized that he had knocked the digifilm to the floor. He started to reach for it, but a sharp spasm stopped him. Sweat beaded on his forehead and the med system chimed angrily. “Karg it. Can you get that for me?”

As Manatu leaned forward, an idea occurred to Seg. A solution. “There’s something else you can do for me. They’ve restricted my comms and there’s someone I need brought here. Quietly.”

Ama pressed her back against the dusty metal wall and sank to her haunches. Her second eyelids, the filmy layer that protected Kenda eyes from the salt and cold of the water, were half up—an indication of serious illness or injury. She raised her right hand to her left shoulder and touched the self-made bandage that wrapped her wound. Even that slight contact set her teeth together, air hissing between them.

You don’t want to know what it looks like under there.

Seg would come for her, for all of them. She might have doubted him in the past, but that had all changed at the temple and the Secat. And a day and a half wasn’t that long, was it? No, not long at all.

“Tired of our company already?”

She looked up to see Viren’s cocksure grin and, with some effort, returned a grin of her own.

“Just enjoying a moment of peace.”

He crouched beside her in the quiet alcove and moved a hand toward her bandaged shoulder. Ama recoiled instinctively; Viren looked her in the eyes and they shared a wordless exchange.

She was not the only wounded person in their lot and shortly after arrival in their new home she had pulled the auto-med sleeve from her arm to share with her Kenda brothers. Her assumption that there would be more of the machines waiting for them somewhere, or that Seg would send healers, had proved faulty.

Between the ceaseless throb of the wound and the voices that haunted her sleep, she was finding it increasingly difficult to assume the mantle of authority that Seg had placed on her. But the men needed her—they were confused, angry at their abandonment.

“If he’s not here by lights out, little Captain, I’m putting that magic sleeve back on you,” Viren said.

Ama opened her mouth to protest but the look Viren gave her silenced any opposition. He pulled something from his pocket. “But if the suffering gets to be too much, if you decide to end it all, then eat this.” He tore the filmy cover off a rectangular bar—one of a stock they had found in a bin labeled
—and pressed it into her hand, nodding solemnly. “No one will think the less of you. I only hope your death is quick.”

At the sight of the commonly-loathed food bar, a laugh burst from Ama’s mouth, shaking her body and the aching shoulder. She stifled it as quickly as she could.

“Charming place he’s brought us to, this fellow of yours.” Viren dropped onto his hindquarters and turned himself so that his back was against the wall, beside her. “Reminds me of a lovely night I spent near Malvid, locked up in correction.”

“Well, I didn’t expect the cloud temple, but this—” She shook her head and raised her hand to indicate the building.

At first, she had thought the drivers had made a mistake when they stopped in front of the building. Everything she had seen of Seg’s world up to this point had been clean, orderly, and well tended. Lifeless and drab, also, but that was preference and not condition. This place, at the very edge of the city (so close to that otherworldly shield overhead that she swore she could feel its vibration), looked as if it were close to falling in on itself.

The inside of the huge, cavernous building was as neglected as the face. Some scattered parts, machinery, and stacks of large crates remained from whatever industry had operated there. Seeing the platforms, walkways, and pulleys high above, Ama could imagine great quantities of goods being loaded and unloaded. Bins had been left in the center of it all and clearly marked
in Seg’s language. She was thankful for her chatterer because without the translation none of them would have guessed that the wrapped bars, metal canisters of liquid, or tubes of green paste were edible. Even so, none of the men would eat the green paste; some commented that it smelled as if it had been eaten once already.

There were bunks that looked flimsy and uncomfortable. The water taps and sonic cleansers had been a source of some controversy. Despite Ama’s explanation that water was strictly rationed on this world, it was a concept so far outside of the Kenda’s understanding that they nearly used up the rationed amount in a few scant hours. None had set foot inside the cleansing room, even after Ama had demonstrated, on one arm, how the wands painlessly vibrated dirt and oil from the skin.

BOOK: Warp World
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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