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Authors: Kristene Perron,Joshua Simpson

Warp World (9 page)

BOOK: Warp World
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“Theorist!” The metal door creaked on its hinges. Shan swayed behind it. “Get your crazy ass in here right kargin’ now!”

Seg stepped into the room. The light inside was scarcely brighter than the orange night-cycle lights in the passageways outside.

The Raider’s Quarter was a different world from the pristine confines of the Guild Compound, and the subterranean off-duty residences even more so. Above ground, scarred and burly men and women roamed the streets clutching bottles or exhaling clouds of fragrant smoke; below, rows of muted wallscreens broadcast newsfeeds and vis-ents throughout the maze of stone corridors. During the day, the corridors would have been packed with bodies, and Seg—whose face had frequently appeared before him on the newsfeeds—would not have passed through so unnoticed.

Fismar’s room was located on the upper levels of the complex, which made it extravagant by undercity standards and reasonably comfortable for the four occupants it now held. But it was just that: a room. A threadbare curtain functioned as a privacy screen for the toilet
and cleanser folded into the wall.
The complex likely had a communal preparatory, judging from the smells that permeated the corridors.

Fismar lay on the fold-out couch, bottle in hand. His other hand traced lines on the tattooed back of a passed-out rental caj who lay prone on the floor. The graft in her neck pulsed a soft blue light, indicating that her health status was still within margins, but the empty bottle next to her spoke to the likely cause of her torpor. Fismar sat up abruptly and slapped the seat of the couch; fibrous stuffing spilled out of a tear next to his leg.

“Come on, sit down! Have a drink,” Fismar said. “Raider tradition and you’re an honorary raider now.”

“Honorary digi kargin’ raider!” Shan’s words slurred together as she stumbled into a seat. She wore a flight suit, undone to the waist and tied there. On top, she sported a stained, gray shirt. “Drink! To the dead!” She downed a swig of the bottle she held, then leaned forward and scooped a long, slender stick of amba from a package on the floor, nearly spilling from her seat as she did.

As Seg sat, Fismar pressed the bottle into his hands. “Drown the dead. Theirs, ours, don’t make no difference.”

Shan pointed the amba stick at Fis, one eye closed, the other in a mean squint. “Watch your tongue. We don’t drink to filthy Outers. Better when they’re dead. Specially that …” She raised the amba stick and waved it around, drawing smoke scribbles in the air. “… that big one with the big mouth.”

Fismar shook his head but didn’t argue. He looked back at Seg. “You gonna drink it or stare at it?”

Seg poured down a hearty swallow that kicked itself back out in a violent cough almost as quickly as it went in. He sputtered and wiped his face as Shan laughed.

“That’s not the stuff you’re probably used to back at the Compound,” Fismar said. “We drink it a bit rougher out here.”

“I can tell.” To be truthful, he hadn’t done much drinking at all, in the Guild Compound or otherwise.

Fismar straightened up and nudged the unconscious caj out of the way to clear himself and Seg some leg room. She lay on her back now, moaning, lost in some drunken dream.

“Heard you got out of the medfac; figured you’d be awake tonight,” Fismar said. “You saw more’n most digis ever do.”

Seg took another more cautious drink and managed to hold down the fiery liquor. He shrugged. Fismar eyed him for a moment, then continued.

“Storm knows we saw more’n most do, all of us out there at the Temple. Ain’t normal to get cut off and trapped like that. Fast in, fast out, don’t give ’em time to react. That’s the raider rule.” He pulled the bottle from Seg’s hand and took a hearty drink.

“They repaired you well,” Seg said.

“Wasn’t anything. Hurt myself worse’n that on the Whack Course.”

Even with modern medical technology, most People would not have been so dismissive of a partial paralysis. Treatment success rates varied, though it seemed to have worked in Fismar’s case.

“I mean, what’s a bit more metal, right?” Fismar said. He handed the bottle back to Seg. “So I’ve been thinking about things. ’Bout what I’ve got here, and what you seem to have going.”

“Meaning?” Seg asked as he took another drink. He felt pleasantly lightheaded, and the liquor wasn’t so bad on the third drink.

“Meaning my unit just got word that it’s dissolving today. Part of a larger charter, but the losses were unrecoverable and, well, most of us weren’t considered unexpendable assets to begin with, y’see.”

Seg saw very well. His meager credit prior to the raid had prevented him from renting a gunship and raiders that were not at the bottom of the list. What his father would have called
gutter scrapers
.

He raised the bottle and drank deeply; the heat was spreading through his body now, dulling the edges of that unnamable anxiety.

Fismar snatched the bottle from his hand. “Whoa. Pace yourself. Need you upright so we can talk this out. Okay, you’ve got troops. You brought ’em over with weapons because you’re going to use ’em as troops. That’s obvious.” He punctuated his words with another drink, then passed the bottle to Shan. “So you need somebody to make them into proper raiders.”

“What the karg?” Shan jolted upright in her chair, shouting. “Outers as raiders? You gone Storm driven, Fis?” She held the bottle aloft as if she might hurl it at him.

Fismar leaned forward, his voice barely rising above a conversational tone. “Compose, RP2 Welkin.”

Shan’s reaction was instant and instinctive. Her hand lowered, her mouth closed, but her eyes continued to burn at Fis. “Isn’t right.”

Fismar had switched from drunken joviality to military formality in the blink of an eye. Then, as Seg watched, he sat back and the cold mask on his face dissolved into its previous friendly expression.

“I’ll give you some free advice,” Fismar continued, addressing Seg. “You need junior leadership to make this effective. Anything that runs from the top down gets killed out there. So you need to pick out the smart ones, form squads, and train them up proper. Well, you need
me
to pick leaders, form squads, and train them up proper. And that loudmouth, the big one with the big nose and the cocky attitude? He’s a natural ringleader. You need to get him on your side.” He sat back and lowered his voice. “Or kill him before he poisons it all.”

“Kill,” Shan said. “Definitely kill. No, wait, karg him with a broom handle, send him to the ponds, then kill him.” She nodded, satisfied with her suggestion.

Seg gently pried the bottle away from Fismar. “You’re volunteering for the job?”

“I am.”

Seg took another drink as he considered this. Fismar was a natural leader and, as demonstrated at both the Temple and the Secat, a natural warrior.

“This will be … unortho.”

“Theorist, I live for unortho. What have we done with ourselves for karging centuries now? Hide in the damn cities, building walls and shields and sneaking out to steal what we need from everyone else. I’m tired of it. Whole damn life it’s been about getting by. We need to … I don’t know … take land again, build, make something. Go back out there.” He waved his hand at the walls. “I don’t even know where
there
is, but it’s not here, underground. I know my history and the deeper you try and bury people, the uglier it is when they finally claw their way out. You know what I like about going extrans? I got room to breathe.”

Seg’s mouth fell open, then closed abruptly.
He understands
. The alcohol was making him feel warm, unfettered. He waved his hand aimlessly, the bottle threatening to slip from his loosening fingers. Fismar pulled it away before he could drop it. “We’re trapped in here,” Seg gestured to indicate the World outside the walls, “all of us.”

Shan held the smoldering end of the amba stick under her nose and took a deep sniff. Her eyes glazed over as she looked from Fismar to Seg, and back to Fismar.

“Wait.” She opened her mouth several times as if to speak, but her thoughts were obviously getting more difficult to hold in place. “You’re serious,” she said at last. “You’re both serious about this?”

Both men looked at her with solemn expressions. Seg spoke first. “Yes. Yes we are.”

Fismar lifted the bottle. “Here’s to being left alive. To all the brothers and sisters, hey?” He took a drink and finished off the majority of the remaining liquor. He passed the nearly-empty bottle back to Seg. “Takes a bit more for me. To put the worms to sleep, see?”

“I understand,” Seg said, as if he really did.

Shan watched the two men for a minute, then pointed the amba stick at Seg. “You gonna pay him?”

Seg let the bottle slide to the floor. “That would be customary. I doubt he is expecting simply quarters and meals.”

After another thought-gathering pause Shan said, “You need me, too. Shit, can’t have—” She screwed up her face as if she had just bitten into something sour. “—raiders and no way to transport them.”

A sarcastic reply lay on Seg’s lips. His limited experience with Shan hadn’t exactly endeared her to him—professionally or personally. She had been in the co-pilot seat of his rented gunship when it crashed. Then, she had managed a successful landing at the Secat, only to completely miss the incoming enemy airship and spend the battle incapacitated.

But she had stood with them at the Temple and that counted for something.

“I don’t need a rider pilot at this time,” he said. Simple and concise. He congratulated himself on the precision of his diction. He hadn’t slurred. Had he?

“But you
will
need a pilot, and that
will
me be. You owe me.”

Seg bristled at that, but felt Fismar’s hand on his shoulder.

“I will keep you in mind.”


I will keep you in mind
,” Shan said, mocking. “Like I kept
you
in mind when RFC Hatterin ran up one side of me and down the other demanding to know what the karg I was up to when I joined in your little mutiny over there? Kept you in mind and kept my mouth shut. And now I’m pulled from the pool. I’ll be flying Stormwatch until I’m too old to pull the stick or until they figure out what I did and ship me off to the ponds.”

The liquor had shut down the part of Seg’s brain that usually responded to such tirades.

“You gave the order,” Fismar said to Seg. “That makes the outcome yours.”

“I’ll find a place for you,” he told Shan, the kind of pithy but vague statement he ordinarily abhorred. He didn’t specify where the place would be. The guild employed its own rider service; there might be some low-level spot he could plug her into.

“Kargin’ right you will.” Shan took another whiff of amba and closed her eyes, muttering to herself.

“Now that we’ve got that done,” Fismar said, “let’s talk about this mob of yours that needs to be made into troops.”

“Theorist Eraranat! Theorist Eraranat! A word please!”

The voice rattled inside Seg’s head as if someone was beating a metal spoon against a pot. He turned slowly. Morning light was beginning to bleed through the shield and into the Raider’s Quarter, which did nothing to improve either the aesthetics of the street or the state of his head.

The source of the voice was an attractive woman, red-haired and fashionably dressed, or dressed, at least, in what he assumed was current fashion. She stood out like a flower on a dung heap and this incongruity sent a warning through Seg’s bleary pain.

“What?” he asked, biting off the word.

The woman produced a viscam recorder. “If I could have a moment to talk to you about the battle at the temple, Theorist.” 

Media. Somebody had seen him come in and knew that a tip in the right place could earn them some scrip. He was half hungover, half intoxicated, but loose. And now that he had assessed the threat level, he was strangely relaxed. 

“Go ahead.”

With the exception of carefully escorted tours, the Guild was notoriously closed, even restricting newschatterers from their facilities. His easy compliance must have surprised her, but she covered it well. With her free hand, she adjusted loose strands of hair in an artful motion that suggested she was perfectly suited to this line of work.

“What was it like standing alone against thousands of hostile outers?” She raised the viscam.

Seg’s brow furrowed. What was it like?

“I wasn’t exactly alone. But … it was …”

What? Hopeless? Insane? Miserable?

“… glorious.” The word slipped out in a tone that could be read as any number of emotions. What Seg felt, however, was surprise.

“You’ve risen out of obscurity to fame, Theorist, literally overnight. The first successful multi-strike in over fifty years, a massive harvest from your very first raid, and a tale of personal heroism, as well. A valiant stand in the face of the enemy. What are you planning to do next?”

His face lost all of its previous openness. “I don’t discuss my plans, Mer …?”

“Nallin Sastor.” When Seg didn’t respond, she added, “World News Service.”

“Mer Sastor.” He bowed and turned on his heel. “You’ve wasted enough of my time.”

BOOK: Warp World
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