Thursday, August 31, 2017

31: Contrebande

Bha’ar brought the wagon into the barn.  She dismounted in a controlled fall, Hova noticed.  She limped out into the lamp lit evening crowd of the dusty dockside street.  Once they would have been porters and mariners and debardeurs and compatables and masters and merchants engaged in the loading and unloading of the boats and skiffs that plied back and forth from the capitol to the rest of the empire.  The beating heart of trade which went on day and night, now beat but listlessly, and that only in the daylight.  Now there were just putains of one variety or another, parasites all feeding off one another.  Some submitting willingly, some not so much.  Hova watched them now, grading them, measuring them, looking for the one which might be showing any interest in the comings and goings of a peddler and her wagon.  

Most nights Bha’ar would start a conversation with some passerby which she would then take to the inn.  It established alibis.  It made her a fixture in the community.  Above suspicion.  This night with everyone in nervous spirits over the activity at the Post de légion, the conversation started itself when someone commented on her limp.  Hova watched her pantomime the incident from his balcony across the street, making a great show of it, drawing a bit of a crowd.  Someone suggested she needed a drink to calm her nerves and nearly every layabout and gossip followed them up to the inn.  Well done.  Less eyes around the barn.  Less ears to overhear.  Hova sipped his expresso and watched them all go up the hill and out of sight.  

He went inside, downstairs he found Laperte in the kitchen and dropped off his cup.  “We will be having guests tonight.”

“How many?”

“Three long term, but I assume there will be a soirée,” he opened the door to the basement.

“Three?  Man?  Woman?  Both?”

He shrugged, “The bird was not specific.”  Meaning the note brought by Bha’ar’s jackal-buzzard before she arrived.  Laperte made a noise of disgust for him to hear and then quite a few more just for herself, like she always did.  They had been married long enough now that he no longer tried to assuage her irritation.  Better to let it burn itself out.  He descended the steps making no light.  Opened the crate, moved the rugs and opened the secret door which dropped into the tunnel.  Hova walked the length of the tunnel, listened at its ceiling for a long moment to determine if anyone was in the barn.  Hearing nothing, he removed the bars and opened the overhead doors and there was the bottom of Bha’ar’s wagon.  He unlocked the smuggling hatch and backed out of the way.  There was a pause and then a slim, small shadow dropped down into the tunnel.  He could not be sure in the darkness, but still he thought the shadow looked right at him, sizing him up.  That would be paranoid.  No one could see in this darkness without the equipment which the Legion kept for itself.  The shadow reached back up into the wagon and carefully lowered a bag of some sort.  Finally an even smaller shadow dropped lightly down.  Hova waited.  No one else came out.  He maneuvered around them and looked inside the wagon.  It was empty.  He closed the hatch and then the tunnel door, replacing the bars.

At last he uncovered his lantern, just a little, so they could all see each other.  A woman and a child looked back at him.  “I thought,” he said, “there was to be three.”

The woman uncovered what Hova had mistaken as a bag.  Hova cursed as loudly as he dared. The Question, ‘What the hell happened to him?’ nearly popped out of his mouth, but his cardinal rule was: Ask No Questions.  The less he and Laperte knew, the less involved they could get.  The less they involved they were, the safer.  The woman spoke, “One’s guide needs medical attention.”  

“Oui, oui, of course,” always best to promise anything to keep the contrebande calm and quiet.  He covered the lantern again and led them back through the tunnel, up into his basement, replacing the rugs and lid of the crate.  Then up the stairs and into the house’s little kitchen.  “Femme,” they used no names in front of the contrebande, “heat water!”  An extravagant request, water was only used for two things in Aedlin.  Drinking and washing wounds.  He cleared the table, “lay your injured here.”  The woman brought the wounded man over and Hova was startled by how easily she carried him.  There was more here than surfaces would suggest.

Laperte went to work, washing and exposing more and more wounds, muttering with each new discovery, first in the clinical way she learned as a nurse years ago, under the last emperor, then in shock at the extent, finally in anger as it became clear these were not accidental.  When she had set whatever bones she felt confident to set, salved the burns, stitched the deep cuts, peered into every orifice for the hidden damage, bandaged the lot, had them move him to a couch by the fire, and smothered him in blankets she dropped into a chair exhausted.  

“Izzy gunna die?” the child asked.  It was the first time either of them had spoke.

“He needs blood.  He needs scans.  He needs hospital,” Laperte told them.  “Who -“  

Hova cleared his throat and cut her off.  “Perhaps you are hungry?  I know I am.”  Laperte made no move.  Her eyes said much.  “You have worked very hard, dear.  Please sit, I will get it.”  He brought out some left over pork, rice and vegetables with a half loaf of day old bread and a bit of milk. “You have seen food before, non?”  He asked the child when he set a plate in front of her.

“Izdis alla f’r me?”  

“Oui.  Just don’t eat my hand!”  

“Will the child be necessary for your soirée?” Laperte asked him watching the girl eat.


“When she is done eating, I will make her a pallet in the baby’s room.”

“When she is done eating, I believe, will be when we are out of food in the house, unless she eats us!”  He meant it as a joke.  No one laughed.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

30: a Sensible Search

Fear.  One was a fool.  How could one harvester search such a hive in just a few nights.  If all the Effective Clutch was with One, it together would not be able to search this sprawling, multi-level hive in a moon cycle!  The scents and signatures all blended together and disappeared into the desert, blown away by the wind.  The Collective Hive was laid out in such a way as to aid a Harvester’s senses, the wind trapped, manipulated.  One could follow one’s sense of smell to the hatchery or to the Factors’ feeding chamber or to and entrance.  The scents weren’t jumbled, overlapped, confused as they were here.  One needed a plan.  One needed one’s clutchmates.  One needed information one did not have.  Knowledge of the meat animals’ hive and its workings.  One had no time.  One had no aid.  One was one.  One was inadequate.

The Kinslayer had avoided the hornet’s hive-camp.  One feared.  The Purpose required one alive, one must be successful.  Detection or injury by the hornets would doom the mission.  Harvesters stalked and drank hornet animals when necessary.  If the Need had been greater, more pressing, if prey wasn’t in such abundance, one would have overcome one’s fear.  

Interesting, the Kinslayer thought, One thought a lot now, which had been last night’s interesting thought, One was more vulnerable to fear and self-preservation when one’s crop was full.  One was in danger of indulging One’s fears.  One’s safety was not more important than the Purpose.  One could suppress fear when One was in the thrall of the Need.  The Kinslayer felt it had been remiss.  One would search the hornet animal’s camp!

Tomorrow.  Tonight the hornet camp was alert and a wailing fear sound emanated from it.  Hornets and their machines were swarming out into the meat animal city.  Perhaps there would be time to search it the next day.  No, but soon, the search would have to be stepped up, the Swarm could not be far off now.  One would have to search during the day as well.  The Kinslayer added fear of searching during the day to its growing list of dreads.  

Feed.  Drink.  Hunt, stalk, subdue.  Feeding soothed the Need.  It hushed the fear.  The Kinslayer crept from shadow to shadow, staying up out of eyesight.  The meat animals custom of building their chambers up and separate like small, stunted hive spires made staying above their sight line much easier.  Eaves and roofs hid the Kinslayer from view.  Meat animals seldom looked up, if one moved slowly; One had observed meat animal’s vision to be drawn to movement.  The Kinslayer decided to search the part of the meat hive as far from the hornet camp as possible.  One was only being sensible.  

One picked up a scent of a youngling and followed it to an open window.  It slept.  One could see its cool heat signature and hear its quiet breathing.  It mewled once when the tooth pierced skin but after was silent.  No alarm was cast.  The meat animals nearby were unaware.  The Kinslayer went to leave but a familiar scent caught its attention.  

It was not the One-who-traded-corpses but it was associated with it.  It was fresh!  It had been here this day.  Its scent was everywhere.  It slept here!  It was very possible it would return here tonight!  The Kinslayer thought hard.  It considered possibilities.  It found a hiding perch and settled in to wait.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

29: No way to do business

They stood directly in the road, the woman with her bundle and the child, and Bha’ar was not cruel enough to run them down, though she thought it the wiser course of action.  She pulled up on the reins and the mule and the wagon ground to a halt.  It became silent in the road.  Quiet enough to hear the alarm klaxon of the soldier camp and the buzz of its drones.

They came to the side of the wagon.  She looked down at them.  She saw the broken manacles and chains.  She saw the bloody lump of rags the woman carried was a horribly mangled person..or used to be.  She let out her breath in disgust and pulled a lever hid under her seat.  “Get in.”

“One requires a physician,” said the woman.

“Shut up, give me your headscarf and get in,” she ordered.  The woman hesitated but obeyed.  They finally climbed under the wagon where the trapdoor gave them entrance to a lined smugglers’ hold.  When they were inside, she closed the door and gave the reins a snap.  The mule motored to life again and the wagon crunched and bucked down the gravel road away from the soldier camp and into the outer rim of the Citadel’s town.  “Not a word,” Bha’ar told the jackal-buzzard beside her on the seat.  The bird just eyed her suspiciously and said nothing.  When it lifted off into the falling gloom of evening she knew there must be soldiers on the road ahead. 

One of their walking tanks, a machine similar to her mule yet three times the size, straddled the road around the next bend.  It’s cannon snout stayed aimed at her during her entire approach.  Men on the ground stopped her and ran sensors and sniffers over the wagon.  One of them showed particular interest to the underside.

“Open it,” the officer in charge ordered.  Bha’ar got down off the wagon and began her sales pitch, as she opened side doors on the wagon and all of the hard to get goods and baubles for significant others and verboten contraband soldiers lusted after on long deployments far from home popped and dangled and slid out.  The soldiers tried to stay professional but a certain level of distraction had been achieved.  When the one with the alerted sniffer focused on the floor of the wagon, Bha’ar opened a secret compartment and slipped the woman’s headscarf from her sleeve in among the jewelry, liquor and smut inside.  The soldier found the headscarf and showed it to the officer.  “Where’d you get this?”

“A woman and a child stopped me on the road.  She traded this for food.  It’s good quality silk, hard to find here in Aedlin.  You like it?  You have a wife?  Girlfriend?  She would like it, yes?”

“Where are they now?”

“Who?  You’re wife and girlfriend?  How would I know?”

“The woman and the child!”

“Oh!”  She smacked her head and then looked back the way she came.  “They were on foot, heading downhill.  Probably in the cemetery by now,” she pointed to the stones and mausoleums still just barely visible in the fading light far, far from where she planned to go this night.

The officer spoke into his headset, telling his superiors what Bha’ar had said.  “Alright, get this thing out of here.”

“The scarf,” Bha’ar stood her ground.

“I’m keeping it.”

“That’s fine.  You pay for it, you keep it.”

“Get moving.”

“I will, when you give me something for the scarf.” 

The officer looked at one of his soldiers, “Mak, give her something for the scarf.”  Without a word, Mak took the butt of his rifle and drove it into Bha’ar’s belly, knocking her down and punching the wind out of her.  “There.  We’re square,” the officer said.  “Now get your worthless pile off of my road before I give you something for all of it.”  Bha’ar picked herself up, not having to feign pathetic weakness and closed the wagon back up.  It took a couple of attempts to get back up into the seat.  No one helped her.  They just stared until she righted herself and took the reins.

“No way to do business,” she muttered as a parting shot and got the mule and wagon moving again.  When the soldiers were out of sight, the bird returned and landed beside her.  “Thanks for the help, partner.”  The jackal-buzzard nudged the arm she held tightly to her stomach with its head.  “Hurts.  But I’ll live.  Thanks for asking.”  They passed no more checkpoints on their way to the wharves.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

28: Vault 6

Subject of Inquiry #1:

    Believes herself to be cooperative yet appears to have inability to understand line of questioning.
    It is not my belief that Subj #1 is impaired mentally.  Emotionally is a possibility. 
    Subj #1 displays tendencies consistent in language barrier yet appears to have perfect fluency.
    We know who Subj #1 is.  We know where she comes from.  We know where she’s been.  We
    even know what she’s been doing: Searching for a lost relative. 

    Among the Monotooths!!

    Why?  Was this relative abducted?  This line of questioning produces no leads.  Subj #1 doesn’t
    seem to know.  Or understand.  Subject #1 had given up search when we picked her up. 
    Mental state is broken, defeated, has given up.  Not assets for inquisition. 
    Transferred primary focus to…

Subject of Inquiry #2:
    Found within our own compound.  Trying to reach out to Subj #1. 
    Former companion.  Shipmate and only other known survivor of [omitted], lost with all hands     at Sea last year to apparent Fever outbreak.  Petty criminal and beggar now.
    Knows much more than he’s telling.  Has no language barrier or emotional damage. 
    So far, very resistant to succeeding stages of inquiry.
    Possible true believer symptoms.  High level of emotional attachment to Subj #1. 
    Perhaps if Subj #2 believed Subj #1 were threatened. 
    Do not believe Subj# 1 to be emotionally attached in same way to #2.

Major Nakba stood up and stretched.  Enough paperwork.  It was time to get personally involved again.  This was taking too much time.  Someone had deliberately poked the Monotooth nest.  He needed to know why.

“Dustin,” he called to his aide as he passed the lieutenant’s desk, “Have Subject One brought over from the box to Vault 6.  It’s time to try something different here.”  He himself went directly to Vault 6.  It was a pod meant to be used as an ammo dump, designed to contain explosions if the worst happened and keep out the unauthorized so it made a very convenient prison cell when empty.  Noises on the inside, stayed inside.  People put inside, stayed inside.  He rounded the corner of a barracks container and saw Vault 6.

The guard wasn’t at the door.  The door was open!  He ran the rest of the way but as soon as he saw it, he skidded to a stop.  The door wasn’t open.  It was ripped off its track.

The vault had been forced!  The vault had been forced?  What could do that?  One of the heavy recovery vehicles? 

A person appeared at the doorway.  A very small person carrying a bloody bundle of person nearly half again her size.  She saw him.

“Major.  One requests medical treatment for One’s Guide.”

How the hell??  Never mind!  Focus!  Promise her anything.  Keep her talking until the cavalry showed up.  Dustin will be sounding the alarm as soon as he gets to the box and sees she’s escaped.  “Of course.  Whatever you need.”

“One thanks the Major.”  She turned to go, a child came out of the vault behind her and they both started walking toward the gate.

“Whoa, whoa, where are you going?”

“One is going to seek medical attention for One’s Guide.”

“The Medipod is this way.”

“One does not trust medical attention administered by those who caused the damage.”

“We’ll take good care of him.  I promise.”

“One believes the Major is insincere but thanks the Major for the offer.  One will seek immediate attention in Aedlin.”  She turned to go again.

He moved to cut her off.  “I can’t let you leave.  You know that.”

She stopped walking and looked him in the eye.  “One regrets the Major’s decision and apologizes.”

The last thing Major Nakba thought he heard was the child’s muffled laughter.