A Compact Model
This part originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.
210th of 2029 (036-98): The bridge of Raledenet
We sat waiting. Even I could feel Sakuya trembling next to me. I was staring at the agent, “I assure you, kaptan, I mean no harm to you or your ami. I just want Lord Trace.”
“You know they’ll execute him, kill him.” I could hear Siish’s contempt.
“Not my decision or concern, kaptan, just doing my job.”
Sakuya tried to get closer to me, he was terrified. I slowly lowered one arm. Agent Vu said nothing. I put it around Sakuya and drew him to me. Vu looked at me but again said nothing.
Jane looked at him. “You’re Sesheryn; you should be ashamed, you know32.”
He focused on her. “Just my job, Wa.” I could hear a slight hint of something, regret; guilt maybe. “I’ll be gone as soon as my colleagues return with your dokhtor, unharmed, I assure you.”
I saw her out of the corner of my eye; I heard her voice, sweet and melodic “I think, Vu Lul, you might want to put the gun down.”
Agent Vu smiled as he turned slightly, one eye on his prisoners, one on Isabella, the snub carbine pointed straight at him. He noticed her pistol. The delicate weapon drew his attention to what he thought one of her more attractive features. “So glad you could come. I was so looking forward to seeing you again, Manish Wa.”
What the hell was going on? There was so much to take in. We were all dead, of course. If Vu didn’t kill us, Isabella certainly would when she fired. She was standing there, pointing a c5 at a trained killer, and she’d stuck her pistol there! I’d have to run over the safety rules with her again. I wondered how she got it to stay there. It’s not like The Mother had been overly generous with her in that regard, perhaps a tiny bit on the frugal side in fact. And that voice, like some giggling schoolgirl. She was flirting with him! And then there was the whole ‘Manish Wa’ thing, not only had they obviously met, but he called her ‘Manish Wa’. ‘Confused’ didn’t quite cover it.
Isabella smiled sweetly. “I am so sorry I’m late, Vu Lul, unavoidably detained. I’m afraid your ‘friends’ will be unable to join us.” Her voice never lost its pleasant tone, but the way she said ‘friends’ left nobody in any doubt as to her opinions of them.
“It’s quite alright, Manish Wa, I’m sorry too. But it would appear we’re facing a conundrum.”
She returned his smile, “So it would, Vu Lul.”
“I could start shooting, Manish Wa, with great regret, of course.”
Isabella didn’t flinch. “If your finger so much as twitches, I’ll blow your head off. With great regret, of course, Vu Lul.” Her mouth formed a mischievous grin. “I’m told I’m quite lethal with this.”
Agent Vu considered her, her voice was nothing but sweet and innocent, but her hands were unwavering and the look in her eyes, grim determination. She had the drop on him. He slowly lowered his gun and placed it on the floor. “It would seem I am at your mercy, Manish Wa.”
I sat there mouth wide; she done it! He’d blinked. Ariaryn stood, walked over and retrieved Vu’s SMG and pistol. He covered Vu and indicated he should sit, hands on head. It was only when Vu was sitting that he spoke to Isabella: “Could you please put that down, very, very gently.”
Isabella carefully placed the carbine on the ground. Agent Vu looked puzzled. “I thought she was lethal with that?”
I chuckled; yes, she was; there was absolutely no way of knowing where the bullets would end up: lethal to anyone around her.
212th of 2029 (038-98): Askiafant War Memorial
Paperwork. Nobody likes paperwork and a dead body can generate a lot of paperwork. A whole day’s worth of forms, interviews, reports and investigations. Naturally, no blame attached to any of us, especially Isabella, just innocent victims defending ourselves. It probably helped that the dead body turned out to be a criminal fugitive. But still we had to do the paperwork.
I wanted to talk with Isabella. Nobody seemed to know where she was; she’d left Sakuya with Jane and Ariaryn. The poor boy was utterly beside himself now, scared to be alone, terrified the Imperium would come for him again. Still, that would have to wait, I wanted to talk with Isabella. Not only did I have a lot of questions, it’s never easy to kill somebody, especially for the first time. Siish told me where she’d be: Askiafant, at the memorial. I’d asked what the hell she was doing there. He’d said ‘hiding’.
It took over an hour to get from Daramm Up to Askiafant, a small town near the Manish estates. That, at least, made sense; this would have been where she’d spent the war. I stood before the transparent dome, a cold granite monolith before it carved with one sesherin for each of the dead33, one hundred and ninety three in all. I said a prayer and entered. There had been a school here, once; now, it was a twisted and charred ruin, preserved to remember those who died. To remind us of the price we paid. She was just standing there. I waited a moment then coughed. She turned. “Siish said you’d be here.”
“I come here, sometimes, to think.”
“Did you know any of them?”
She sounded a little annoyed. “I knew most of them. They were my friends.”
I looked down, a little ashamed. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay; I’m sorry, too.”
“Are you okay, Isabella?”
“Okay?” I think she knew what I meant.
“You killed somebody. That can be kind of hard.”
She laughed. “Not sure. I’d have thought I’d have felt something. I didn’t feel anything, really. I should have felt something. Have you ever?”
“Killed somebody? Yes.” It seemed far away, but in the raiders, sometimes ground parties were needed.
“How did you feel, the first time?”
“At the time, I didn’t have time to feel. But afterwards I cried; I guess guilty.” I looked at her, it didn’t seem to help. “If it helps any, he was a wanted criminal. A rapist, apparently.”
She sounded a little distant. “Yes, he was. I should have felt something.”
She stood awhile, lost in thought. “Isabella?”
She snapped back to the present. “Yes?”
She chuckled. “I seem to remember saying the Manish’s were good to me. Nashu once told Madam Sherin she should be proud to have me as a daughter. And she meant it.”
It was odd to hear somebody call Siish’s mother Nashu. “They adopted you?” Isabella nodded. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Would it have changed how you saw me?”
I was confused and perhaps a little annoyed; it seemed important information. “Yes, probably.”
She grinned slightly, “Then I was probably right not to tell you.”
There were other questions. “You and the agent?”
“He is rather cute you know.”
I was a little shocked. “You can not be serious!”
She laughed, “No, not really, just a little jealous.”
“Yes; you and Siish, Jane and Ariaryn, jealous. It’s nice to dream sometimes.”
I grinned, just a little. “You should’ve told us you’d met him, though; like Siish, it was important, really important.”
She sounded guilty. “Yes, I should have; I am very sorry.”
I took a breath. “It’s okay, sorry too.” Not the time for a fight. “You did come through in the end. Mind you, I think I’ll need to run over firearms safety again with you.”
She laughed, “Hey, it worked.”
“Isabella, you stuck a loaded gun down your top. You could have done yourself a nasty injury. Not like you’ve got a lot to spare there.”
A wicked grin spread over her face. “I'm not that bad, certainly never had any complaints. I’m just… compact.”
This place had an odd power to it. It made you think and remember, I guess that's the point of it. We stood there awhile. “Why didn’t you tell us, Isabella?”
“Tell you which?”
She turned to me. “What do you think of Sakuya?”
I was confused. “Eh? He’s nice; I like him; a bit geeky.”
She continued, “If you had to think of a word to describe him, what would it be?”
Still confused. “Petite.”
She chuckled, “Why petite?”
“I don’t know… Well, to start with, he is kind of slight, and he’s delicate, sensitive, charming in a boyish sort of way. Yeah, petite, little.”
“Do you know why they want him back?”
That one seemed obvious. “Because he shot somebody, they want to execute him?”
“No; they won’t execute him, he’s far too valuable; there’s an awful lot in that petite little boy. You remember on the shuttle, he mentioned a project?” I nodded; I remembered it. “He was working on jump four, Afira; close to cracking it, apparently. That’s why they want him back.”
I could see that might be important, but all the same… “Okay, so why couldn’t you tell us that?”
She had a knowing grin “A lot of people here want him to work on it. Willing to do just about anything to get him to.”
“Yes, but what’s that got to do with not telling us?”
Isabella looked around the ruined playground. “You know, I didn’t really stay because of Augustine. He was just the final push. I’d pretty much already decided. It was this place, these people that made me stay. They treated me like nothing special, just one of them, well eventually anyway. Best, probably only, chance of Sakuya having anything like a normal life is if he comes to us on his own, if people just treat him as nothing special.” She chuckled “Like me; as you said, you’d have treated me differently if you’d known who I am.”
It was the first time I’d ever heard Isabella say us like that. “Does Siish know this?”
She shook her head. “No, I only know because I’m his sponsor.”
“You still should have told us.”
Isabella reached over and took my hand. “I know.”
“So, is there anything else we might want to know?”
She offered, “I’m actually a Mmrigadeer with Versal intelligence.”
She said it with such a deadpan voice. I laughed, then I looked at her. “You’re not kidding, are you?”
She handed me an ID card. “Only way I could get a white five security clearance.34 I think of it as a courtesy rank.”
This place, a strange power, I should have been annoyed, but I was concerned. “It’s okay. So, I guess we need to get to work on things, then.”
Notes 1-31 appeared with previous parts of this story.
32. Most in the Protectorate regard the Sesheryn as, if not family, extremely close friends. It would be normal to feel betrayed in this situation.
33. The relationship between the Luriani and sesherin is extremely close. They perform many roles in Luriani mythology including guiding the dead to the afterlife.
34. Protectorate security clearances are coded by colour and level. Red covers domestic and criminal matters, blue covers foreign and diplomatic matters, green covers military. Beyond these are magenta (combining red and blue), cyan (combining red and green), yellow (combining blue and green) and finally white (combining all three). The level is a clearance from one to five.