Playing With Matches
This part appeared in the August 2014 issue.
181st of 2029 (007-98): Verasaryn
Raledenet had arrived in system yesterday. We had been directed to proceed to Verasaryn for debriefing. Intelligence picked up Sakuya as soon as we landed; he looked so miserable. He’d had a picture of his family; Isabella had convinced him to give to her for ‘safe keeping’. He’d been reluctant, but she’d been very insistent. We were heading to debriefing; nobody was looking forwards to that, explaining just what went wrong. We spent the trip in silence, very different from our last journey to meet Kirsov. I hated visiting Verasaryn, the very air was thick and oppressive. We touched down outside the Guard’s headquarters1, an ugly squat complex of buildings designed hundreds of years ago. Ariaryn and I struggled to catch our breath, even the others were having difficulties2; how did people breath this soup? Isabella produced two respirators and insisted that both Ariaryn and I put them on. “You’ve both just been shot, so put the bloody things on.”
I was glad of the excuse not to breathe the air but Ariaryn was reluctant “I trained here, all Guards do, I’m used to it.” I could see him tottering, though.
“You got shot through the lung, you idiot, so put it on.” She thrust the respirator towards him, he grumbled again but put it on.
We approached the main entrance; no airlock. It seemed the Guards take their acclimatisation seriously. The young Serganet at the checkpoint looked twice at Ariaryn but said nothing. Kirsov’s office was on the second floor; no lifts either. I’m sure Ariaryn was smiling at our distress forcing our reluctant limbs up the stairs, one point three Gs is no fun on the legs. Kirsov’s trusty Seror was waiting for us; she smiled as we entered. “He’s expecting you.” The office was as plain and unremarkable as the one on Daramm. He was sitting reviewing our reports.
“Ah, good to see you.” He looked at Ariaryn and suppressed a chuckle. “Dokhtor’s orders, I assume, Serganet?”
Ariaryn looked embarrassed “Yes, sir.” There it was again, sir, it sounded just plain odd.
He grinned sympathetically. “Listen to her, Serganet; better to recover and be ready, remember. No shame in it; I’ve spent my time on breathing gear too.” Ariaryn relaxed a little at this. He indicated we should sit. “So, what went wrong?”
Siish answered “It’s in the report, Geenor.”
“Yes, but I’d like to hear your take on it.”
Siish looked him straight in the eyes “If I had put the blame anywhere, I’d go with just dumb luck. I’d guess Trace’s bodyguard stumbled on the case by accident; we were just lucky she didn’t inform the authorities.”
Kirsov nodded, “My take, too, but we’ll know more once Trace is interrogated properly.” He noticed me shudder at this. “You have something to add, Komant?”
“He’s just a civilian, Geenor, I just don’t think he knows anything.”
“He knows enough for the Imperium to want him back, I’d expect. And that bug he made,” he pulled up Siish’s report, “hardly nothing.” I knew when to shut up so stared at the floor and said nothing but I could feel Kirsov looking at me for a moment. “Anyway, I’m satisfied it was an unavoidable mess and you handled yourselves well in it. If you’re interested, I may have other work for you.” He took a datachip from a draw and placed it on the desk “If you’re interested, let me know.”
Siish picked up the chip. “Raledenet is due for its annual maintenance; we’ll need to arrange that.”
Kirsov rocked back. “Well, funny you should mention that. I think you’ll find a booking already made at Daramm Up3 for you, quite untraceable and unofficial, you understand. Call it extra recompense. Oh, and on that,” he passed over a credit chip, “That should cover what you’ve done so far.”
Siish looked at the credit chip. Nobody had actually considered that they’d get paid. “We’ll get back to you, Geenor, but I think a break is in order.” He picked up the chip.
Kirsov grinned, “Naturally, Siish, enjoy yourselves; you’ve earned it.”
Jane was the first to bring up the credit chip once we left “So, dear Kaptan, how rich are we?”
He sniggered, “I hardly thought of you as the mercenary type, Jane. But reasonably. With what we made on the trip, we have about twelve million keedits in the kitty.”
Ariaryn whistled. “That’s a lot of money, more than I’ve ever seen in one place.”
I looked at him. “Ariaryn, dear, there were fifty million in that case we just gave back to them.”
183rd of 2029 (009-98): Touchdown on Daramm
Daramm and Verasaryn were reasonably well placed, less than two days between them at one G. I missed the speed and agility of my raider. I’d found myself thinking of Shadt and Sarah a lot lately. They’d been planning a life together. I missed my crew, hell, I missed them all, Midori, Greg, Petra, the list just went on. I’d resolved to go see Ora and Oloku while we were on Daramm; Siish had said they’d got a nice safe posting. Ora had made Komanda; she had a position in some hush-hush communications centre on Mrai4 and Oloku lectured on martial arts at the academy. I had to laugh at that, a Yoshet now, teaching wet-behind-the-ears Kadts how to defend themselves. There were a lot of people I had to catch up with, in truth. But I wasn’t looking forwards to it; I'd been through it all after repatriation. Everyone being so careful and nice, treating me like I was made of glass. The more they struggled to treat me like I was normal, the more obvious it became that I wasn’t, any more.
Everyone was splitting up after we docked; they all had people to see. Jane, her family and Greg’s; Ariaryn, his in Yarnar; Siish was expected at the Manish estates. Naturally we’d see each other while we were here; there was the Rurur Garintylil5 ceremonies, we’d have to attend those. I thought of the battle. Hard to imagine, it had only been five years ago, seemed like so much longer. I gently nudged Raledenet into the docking bay and powered her down. Two weeks, my first vacation in four years.
I saw Isabella again as we were disembarking “So, where are you staying?”
“Well, I’ve got an apartment in Antiavash6; I was planning on staying there. I have to call in on the Manish’s, but other than that I’m pretty much a woman of leisure.” Her laugh was sad, she didn’t have many friends outside of us. “I imagine you’ll be staying with your family.”
I forced a smile. “Probably, at least awhile. Thought I might try to get away, though. Maybe some time in the Lants7; get back to nature, you know.”
She looked at me knowingly and grinned. “Tell you what, why not come join me in Antiavash, after you’ve seen your family. Keep me company. Two women on our own, could even have some fun.”
I agreed, as much for myself as her.
- The Protector’s Guards had their headquarters on Verasaryn. Its lower population density and smaller hydrosphere provided much greater scope for training grounds than Daramm.
- The atmosphere of Verasaryn is over 50% denser than that of Daramm; most Luriani find it hard to breathe near sea level.
- Daramm Upport. The orbital portion of the main starport.
- Daramm’s inner moon.
- Literally, Rurur Memorial Day. Falls on the 188th of each year.
- The vast majority of Daramm’s population live in huge city tower complexes anchored in Daramm’s many shallow seas. Antiavash arcology was home to almost two million people at the time.
- A remote nature reserve famed for its rugged beauty.