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Monday, July 28, 2014

Return to Idylla

Find the rest of Amy here.


No one noticed her arrival on Idylla, either; unlike the last time she’d visited Cam, her trip from the dirtside tram terminal to the Brenner estate passed uneventfully. A quick stop in the comfort rooms in the terminal stripped Ellie Taymor away and restored Amy Jones to her usual, unremarkable self. There was no need to call on her father’s name, and Amy passed the short trip by napping, her head resting against the tram’s vibrating window.

Teddy greeted her at the gatehouse with delight and let her through onto the grounds, warning her that the mansion was already playing host to several visitors. Amy put her curiosity on hold — Cam, and anyone else waiting up at the house, was unlikely to expire of impatience at this point even if they were awaiting her arrival — and sat and chatted with Teddy for some time. It transpired he was a lonely old man who had outlived his wife and two children, and when Amy began the walk up the hill to the mansion it was with a sense of guilt at leaving Teddy alone yet again.

Amy often forgot that the house, legally, belonged to her. She hadn’t lived in it in years; for all intents and purposes it was Cam’s. For all his flightiness, he’d always been more of a homebody than she had; the carefully cultivated gardens in front of the house, for instance, had Cam all over them. She’d never been the domestic type; her contribution to the house before she’d vanished for good had been the introduction of an even more stringent surveillance system than the one her father had implemented.

The house was silent for a whole thirty seconds after Amy pushed open the front doors. Then a young voice shrieked, “Uncle Cam! Uncle Cam! Someone’s breached our defences!” and Amy felt something thwack against her thigh. She looked down and saw paint spreading across the leg of her trousers. Paintball.

A small head poked into the hall about halfway down and quickly withdrew. Muffled conversation ensued, followed by Cam entering the hall with his paint gun raised in submission and a sheepish expression on his face.

Amy considered her brother. “Paintball,” she said finally, without further qualification.

“I’ve a small child to entertain,” Cam said. He glanced behind him. “Molly, my darling, we’ve called a ceasefire. Do come out and meet my sister.”

The small head reappeared around the doorframe, and this time Amy observed the dark hair and deep, shadowed eyes. As Molly Grayson stepped into the hall, Amy took stock of the child’s condition: thin, but clearly gaining weight; small for her age, which Amy reckoned must be around seven; fierce eyes; a marked resemblance to her father. She crept closer, the boldness with which she had greeted Amy’s entrance gone; instead she clung to Cam’s trousers and peered around at Amy with wide — and frightened — eyes.

“Hello,” Amy said. She’d never been good with children, and invariable either insulted older children by treating them far below their comprehension, or confused tiny children by speaking above their understanding. She thought for a moment. “I’m a friend of your father’s.”

Molly looked up at Cam. He smiled down at her and ruffled her hair.

“Molly, this is my big sister — ” Cam hesitated, clearly uncertain how to introduce Amy, but finally said, “ — Amy. She’s worked with your dad before. And she’s my best friend.” He grinned at his sister. “Anni, this is Molly Grayson.”

Amy and Molly exchanged an assessing gaze.

“How long has she been here?” Amy asked finally, breaking eye contact with the child.

“A week,” Cam said. “Or thereabouts.”

“I’d have thought Grayson would have stayed with her.”

Cam shrugged and put a protective hand on Molly’s shoulder. “He stayed until we were sure she wasn’t sick, and then he left again. Said he had to go get you.” His right eyebrow quirked upwards.

“Bollocks,” Amy said. “I figured they’d be too busy.”

“I did wonder why you’d abruptly appeared without warning,” Cam said. “Molly, my love, I think Maddie promised to make us hot chocolate once we’d finished defeating the Commission. Why don’t you see if it’s ready?”

Molly abandoned her gun with alacrity and disappeared around the corner. Cam returned his attention to his sister and, upon seeing her amused expression, shrugged.

“I’d never have imagined you a natural parent,” Amy said. She reached out and scraped an unidentifiable substance from the expensive fabric of Cam’s shirt. “Complete with mysterious stains.”

Cam shrugged. “She’s a sweet kid. And she’s lonely.”

“And you need a playmate.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Do I need to go find Grayson?” She wasn’t looking forward to the prospect. As much as she enjoyed flying, the last thing she wanted to do was hop, skip, and jump through bureaucratic red tape between spaceports again in search of Molly’s errant father.

“He said he’d be back in within the week.” Cam snickered. “I don’t think he was planning on waiting around long for you.”

Amy quelled his humour with a glare. “Presumably because he’s well aware that I’m perfectly capable of fending for myself.” She sighed. “I saw Dad.”

Cam’s head came up. “And?”

“And…he was Dad.” Amy frowned, and then for the sake of honesty added, “Well, he was…odd.”

“Odd?” Cam blinked in surprise. “That’s not how most people would describe Dad.” He leaned against the wall, his outward appearance projecting complete nonchalance. Amy knew better.

“No.”

Cam waited, but as his sister didn’t appear any more forthcoming he jabbed her in the ribs, revelled in her squeak, and said, “What do you mean, he was odd? What did he do?”

Amy hesitated. “It’s weird. I’d swear he was trying to — to help me.”

This pronouncement was greeted with silence. Cam thought about the possibility of Seamus Brenner helping either of his children and, despite tending to feel slightly kinder towards his father than his sister, found the idea more than laughable.

“Dad doesn’t help us,” he said flatly.

“No, I know that,” Amy said hastily. “It’s just…it’s like he went out of his way to help me get what I wanted. What I needed.” She stared blindly past Cam, and then added, “And he said that he keeps tabs on us. That he always knows when you’re in trouble.”

“Well, shit.”

Amy snorted and then sobered. “He also said he loves us.”

“Bullshit.”

“And that that love means Naisbitt has power over him.”

Cam straightened up. “What, so he’s trying to liken his actions to those of — ” He cast around in his mind for an example and came up with one close to home. “ — Grayson? Prompted by the love of his children?” He laughed. “I don’t believe it.”

“Neither do I,” Amy said, but her voice was less certain than she’d have liked. “Neither do I.”

Previous: Kiterat

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Fencing

Find the rest of Cecy & Jack here.


For the first time, Cecy had seen pity in his eyes; though he had not spoken much during her conversation with Jack, he had watched her.

Feeling restless, Cecy forbore from pulling her undoubtedly crumpled charcoal drawings from beneath the cushions and instead pushed herself to her feet. Jack’s visit had taken up most of the hour of the day usually devoted to her fencing lesson, but she thought that she might just catch Mr Alsorn before he left.

Harry Alsorn came every morning at eleven to work with Cecy on her fencing, a hobby she had picked up when she was fourteen when Edward was still well enough to fence; at the time he’d thought it was amusing and let her share his fencing master, but as Cecy had grown older she’d had to persuade him to let her keep it up. After his death she’d retained Alsorn’s services for herself, though he’d protested at the time it was highly unusual and extremely improper. Cecy had eventually had to promise that a maid would sit in on every session, to assuage his anxieties; over time, he’d failed to notice when the maid had stopped appearing. If he made a fuss, Cecy would bring the maid right back, but it seemed ridiculous to insist on her presence. Alsorn might have still been slim, but he was fifty if he was a day and possessed of a tiresomely correct nature; Cecy knew he would never behave inappropriately, and to top it all off they always left the doors on both sides of the hall open so that anyone passing by could see in. Not that anyone ever did, since everyone knew about Miss Cecy’s queer starts and no one wanted to embarrass her, or themselves, by seeing her not properly dressed. Not that Cecy cared. Her mother had voiced mild protests in the beginning, but when Cecy had argued that fencing reminded her of Edward — he used to practice with her, before he became too sick — the Baroness backed down and let Cecy do as she wished. So Alsorn came every day, and if Cecy felt well enough then they worked together, and if not, well, he was paid for his time anyway. Cecy found it easier than trying to predict the days she might actually feel like doing something, as her fatigue could be vexingly unpredictable and she hated to waste a morning if she felt well enough to do something.

Alsorn was just preparing to leave, to Cecy’s delight, and he agreed to stay for an additional hour as she was feeling sufficiently well to run through a few passes. Without waiting for him to change his mind, Cecy darted into the chamber she’d hijacked as her changing room and re-emerged wearing a pair of breeches and a heavy shirt that she’d taken out of Edward’s things. Alsorn had never been especially happy about her fencing attire, but as Edward himself had pointed out, she could hardly be expected to fence in a dress. Though on occasion she did, since in the normal course of things she did wear a dress, and not that she thought that she’d ever be putting a sword to practical use but on the off-chance she rather thought it would be useful to know what to do with her skirts.

Usually Cecy was careful about how hard she worked; fencing looked graceful, but it was harder than it looked and though she usually left a session with her face lightly covered in sweat. Alsorn wasn’t much bigger than she was, but he was considerably stronger, and Cecy knew he was mindful of her lesser strength when they fenced. But today she was in such an odd mood that she shook off Alsorn’s warnings and pushed harder than she should have done; by the time she left the hall she had sweat dripping down her back and the beginnings of a migraine pressing against her eyes.

She spent the afternoon lying flat on her back on her bed; her maid, Marie, replaced the cold cloths across her eyes and rubbed her throbbing temples until Cecy wanted to scream. Baroness Sanderson came in before dressing for dinner and chatted with her daughter; she had developed a habit of doing this when Cecy wasn’t well, mostly because she felt so helpless otherwise. Amelia Sanderson often thought that there must have been something wrong with her, as her husband, the late Baron, had been quite a strong man until that episode with his heart and yet she’d managed to produce two sickly children out of three. Not that she didn’t love all of her children dearly, she thought as she smoothed Cecy’s hair away from her face, but none of her friends had ever had children who had suffered as much as hers, and she just couldn’t understand it.

“Mr Alsorn came to see me after your lesson,” Amelia said finally. “He said you seemed…distressed today.” That wasn’t quite what Alsorn had said, but then he had also gone off in a rush of Italian that she hadn’t understood, so she rather thought that “distressed” would suit. “Is there anything wrong?”

Cecy let out a little sigh. “No,” she said. “Not really.”

Her mother hesitated. “Are you sure? You’re usually so good about — ” She stopped. Sometimes Cecy was tetchy about her health, and Amelia could never predict when that might be. “I just worry about you,” she said.

Cecy put aside the cloth over her eyes and pushed herself up so she was leaning against her pillows. “I know,” she said. “I appreciate it.” She twisted the cloth in her hands and then said, “Why did you have to invite the Ellises? And the Randolphs?”

Amelia looked at her daughter in surprise. “I thought you liked them.”

“Emily and Alice are bearable,” Cecy said. “But Henrietta and her little sister are both awful, and Miranda is just plain cruel.” She looked down at her hands, worrying the cloth, and consciously stilled them. “I know you’re hoping Gordie might find a wife, but I really don’t think you’ve picked the best of the lot… Naturally they have impeccably good breeding, but — ”

“Oh, Cecy,” Amelia said, “you know you shouldn’t use language like that.”

Cecy shrugged. “Sorry.”

Amelia sighed. “I thought as the Misses Ellis and Randolph are around your age that they might be good company for you whilst they’re here. I didn’t realise — I ought to have asked if there was anyone you’d have liked me to invite.” She studied Cecy’s face. “Is there? Is that what’s troubling you, darling?”

“You and I both know that I don’t have any friends,” Cecy said. “Not really, anyway.”

“Oh, Cecy,” Amelia said. “I know it hasn’t been easy. I so would have liked to take you to London for the Season, you know. You’d have made so many friends there.”

“Well, no use crying over things that we can’t change,” Cecy said cheerfully.

“I remain unconvinced,” her mother replied.

“Oh well. How long is Jack Trentham staying?”

“Goodness, I’ve no idea,” Amelia said, startled by the change in topic. “A few weeks, I believe. Why do you ask?” She looked more closely at her daughter. “Is that what’s troubling you?”

“No,” Cecy said grumpily. “No, it’s not.”

“Hmm,” was Amelia’s only comment. She rose and twitched her skirts smooth. “I must dress for supper,” she said. “Will you be joining us? Or are you still too unwell?”

Cecy considered her state. She was tired, lethargic, but knew she ought to eat. And if she was honest she wanted to see Jack again. To apologise for her behaviour earlier. Yes. She firmly ignored the little voice in her head that said she wanted to see him for another reason, and instead looked up at her mother and said, “No. I think I’ll come down.”

Previous: Anxieties

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cory

Find the rest of Jo here.


Daka nods, his face blending into the growing dark except where the fire highlights his nose, his eyebrow, his chin.

I finish my rabbit, down a couple of blackberries, and yawn. “I’m going to get some sleep,” I say, wrapping the leftover rabbit and mushrooms in leaves and leaving them on top of a rock by the fire. “You too.”

Daka looks at me as I tamp down the fire until it’s just glowing embers and frowns. We talked on the road from Pendleton about always making sure one of us is awake and standing guard, but this is different. I reckon whoever’s in the woods will wait until they think we’re asleep and then aim to take the food I’ve left, and I plan to catch them. I got no interest in being perceived as weak by anybody.

“Oh,” Daka finally says, as I take off my boots and leave them by my blanket roll. “Right.”

I take two throwing knives out of my bandolier and set them on a rock by my head. I crawl into my blankets with my knife belt still around my waist, the start of a habit that I never really leave behind. I tuck one arm behind my head and stare up at the stars; the moon’s a slim crescent hanging low in the sky. Junction’s a dull glow beyond the trees. I’ve slept outside before, but it’s never seemed so dark or so full of noises; I twitch at every sound and finally have to focus most all of my attention on slowing my breathing down so I seem like I’m falling asleep. Across the banked fire I can hear Daka’s long, deep breaths, and I hope he hasn’t fallen asleep.

I’m in a funny half-asleep state, rolled partly on my right side with my head pillowed on my arm, when I hear something that sounds wrong. A footstep, way too close for comfort. I want to open my eyes, but I wait until I have a better idea of where the person is — right between me and Daka, standing by the leaf-wrapped rabbit. Only then do I open one eye, first to see a dark silhouette between me and the fire, and then Daka staring at me. The figure is moving real careful, trying to be quiet; it means that by the time I’m out of my blankets and have covered the distance between us, they’ve only just clocked that they’re in trouble. By the time they start to move, it’s too late; I tackle a really solid body and just about manage to bring it to the ground, bruising my chin and bashing my elbow in the process, and when they try to get back up I put a knife through the edge of their shirt into the dirt, sending them back down with a squeak. When I roll off and sit up, Daka points my gun at the guy and says “Stay.”

“Aw, gee, Daka,” I say, sitting back on my heels, “you don’t want to go and shoot anyone!”

Without waiting for an answer I find some branches to toss on the fire and stoke it until it’s spreading around enough light that we can see each other’s faces better. Then I turn back to our prisoner and take stock of the situation.

We’ve captured ourselves a stocky kid who looks about my age and who’s probably at least a few inches taller than me, with short dark hair that looks like it got lopped off by an inexpert barber. He’s got skin that’s a shade or so lighter than mine and eyes of an indeterminate colour; there’s not enough light for me to tell for sure. I caught enough of his shirt going down to tell you it was a real soft, thin flannel, and I probably put a hole in it. I reckon he’s not going to be happy about that when he figures it out.

“You wanna put down that gun?” he asks, pulling my knife out of the ground and examining the rent in his shirt. He carefully sets the knife down between us and stretches out his legs before leaning back on his hands. “I ain’t going anywhere.”

Daka looks at me. I look at our prisoner consideringly and then nod.

“So,” I say, hunkering down in front of the guy and picking up my knife, “you want to tell me what you’re doing hanging around our camp?” I rest my elbows on my knees and twirl the knife between my fingers, trying to look threatening.

He snorts. “Piss off, girlie.”

Daka cuffs him round the back of the head. “Mind your tone.”

I laugh, lose my balance, and fall backwards hard on my ass. “Ow,” I say. “Okay,” I say, sitting back up, crossing my legs beneath me, and resting my knife on my knee, “you probably figured out we’re not as tough as we’d like to pretend. I don’t you’re that tough either, frankly, so why don’t you tell me your name?”

He hesitates, then says grudgingly, “Cory.”

“Well, hi, Cory,” I say. “It’s real nice to meet you. I’m Jo, and this here’s Daka.” I motion to Daka, notice he’s still got the gun on our new friend Cory, and send him a death glare. “Put that gun away, Daka,” I say. Daka looks dubious but does what I say. I look back at Cory. “You want to tell me what you’re doing lurking around our camp and stealing our food?”

He doesn’t say anything, but his eyes flick past me into the woods.

Previous: Road to Junction 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Road to Junction

Find the rest of Jo here.


It’s mid-morning by the time we clear the Pendleton gates; about half an hour later we reach the first fork in the road. Granite is straight on, west along Route F towards the coast; we need to follow the old 99 north towards Junction. We’ve gone a bit out of our way, having to pretend we’re going towards Granite, so we go north on an old side-road that eventually meets up with old 99.

Used to be that Pendleton — the city what was there before Pendleton grew up — was bigger than Junction, but that was a long time ago, before the war. Most of the city that was there before — Eugene, maybe — got levelled in the war and Pendleton got built on top, originally as a base for the military, then later the city grew up just to the west. Junction wasn’t such a big target and mostly survived intact; after the war it spread out from the existing city, so now it’s the biggest city mid-Commonwealth.

The Junction-Pendleton road is more heavily trafficked than the one between Granite and Pendleton; with Junction the biggest city this part of the country and Pendleton an army base, I’m not surprised when we’re passed repeatedly by military vehicles and convoys. Doesn’t keep my stomach dropping to my toes and my heart leaping into my mouth every time one comes into sight, though. No one looks at me and Daka twice, since we keep to the side of the road when the vehicles go by and don’t get in anyone’s way.

About an hour and a half out of Pendleton, just after the turn north, I pack away my bomber jacket and sling my knife bandolier across my shoulder. My long knives get belted around my waist. Daka wants me to carry the gun, but I’m still not real comfortable with it, and anyway I can explain away the knives by declaring myself a travelling knife player, with the juggling skills to prove it. The gun is more problematic, because I’m sure as hell not a good enough shot to claim to be a sharpshooter. So the gun stays at the bottom of Daka’s pack. Daka keeps his flick knife in his trouser pocket and wears his hunting knife at his belt, but you’d have to be pretty stupid to mess with him.

Having traced the route on the map, I know it’s about seventeen miles all told to get to Junction; at the rate me and Daka travel, it’ll take us something like six hours, so I figure we’ll kip outside the city and investigate the trains in the morning. I don’t like the idea of trying to hop a train when we’re both tired; I’ve got a bad feeling we’ll end up on the wrong train. Heading south towards Sanfran is better than getting caught, but it’ll add days, if not weeks, to our trip north. The more I think about it, the more I reckon that hopping more than one train isn’t a great idea — the more trains we hitch on, the more chance we got of getting caught, and I don’t like that one bit.

This late in the summer, the land between Pendleton and Junction is dry and brown; the tarmac of old 99 is covered over by a thin layer of dust that swirls up around the hovers as they pass and resettles back down in new patterns. Me and Daka leave footprints in the dirt alongside the road that are swept away as soon as a breeze picks up. It’s turning into a real hot day with not a cloud in the sky, and I’m grateful for the trees that crowd up against the tarmac since they offer at least a little shade. We pass a creek about midday, dried up to barely more than a trickle, and we follow it off-road a little ways where it’s a little less dusty. We fill our canteens, drain them, and fill them again. Pendleton doesn’t lack for resources, and Granite’s smack between two rivers; the walk between the two is mostly forest and fields, with plenty of water and shade, so never in my life have I been as worried about water as I am now. Owen’s drilled it into my head that we need to take care to get water wherever we can. I reckoned he was exaggerating things to make a point, but having gone hours seeing little more than dust and dirt, I’m starting to think maybe he wasn’t exaggerating after all.

We sit by the creek with our backs up against tree trunks and eat the lunch Owen packed for us. I save half of my chocolate brownie for later; I love chocolate and don’t know the next time I’ll get any. Owen also found ration bars for us; they’re a funny grey-brown colour, weirdly chewy, and tasteless, but they’re also designed to keep you functioning when you don’t have time — or the resources — to deal with real food, so they’ll come in handy if Daka and I find ourselves in any kind of food trouble. I’m not looking forward to that day.

We’re not in any real hurry to get going again, seeing as we’ve nowhere to be tonight, so once we’re finished with lunch we lounge around for awhile. Daka naps while I keep watch, and then I try to nap once he wakes up. No luck — I’ve never been real good at napping, so instead I tell Daka to go back to sleep and watch the ants climbing up and down the tree in front of me.

When Daka wakes up again, we pack up and stuff our rubbish down inside our bags. We’ll find somewhere to get rid of it in Junction. The ration bars come with compostable wrappers, so when we get to that point we can just bury them and be done with it. Before we leave, I dunk a bandana into the creek, wring it out, and tie it over my hair before settling my hat back on my head. Daka does the same, though he strips off his shirt and soaks it first. He catches my look and laughs.

“It’ll dry in ten minutes once we’re back on the road,” he says.

He’s right. It’s even hotter now; the tarmac radiates heat, as do the passing convoys, and pretty soon Daka’s shirt and our bandanas are bone dry. That doesn’t last real long, though; we’re both sweating something awful. There’s a trickle of sweat between my shoulder blades, dripping down to gather at the small of my back; I’m used to the heat, but I’m not used to walking for hours in it, and I hate the feeling. Daka doesn’t fare much better than me; his face is shiny with sweat and there are big damp spots on his shirt. It’s too hot for conversation, so we just walk in silence along old 99 for hours. I’m grateful for my alliskin boots; they’re maybe not the most breathable material, so my feet are real hot, but they don’t rub and I don’t have even a hint of a blister even after hours of walking.

It’s about seven when we hit the outskirts of Junction. Old 99 stretches straight ahead and I can just see the gates to the city in the distance, shimmering in the heat. We strike away from the road, west, following the curve of the edge of the city, until we find a sheltered copse of trees to pitch camp. Daka leaves me to figure out building a fire and by the time I’ve worked it out he’s back with a brace of rabbits. I circle the camp and find a few wild mushrooms and some blackberries while he skins the rabbits.

It’s just getting dark when I hear something crack in the woods. I lower my knife, which has a chunk of rabbit speared on it, and nudge Daka. He looks up and I nod towards the trees. We sit quietly for a few minutes, but don’t hear anything, so go back to eating. About twenty minutes later, I hear the noise again.

“Someone’s in the woods,” I say to Daka, real quiet.

Previous: Leaving Pendleton
Next: Cory

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Leaving Pendleton

Find the rest of Jo here.


Early the next morning, I repack my bag, pull on my alliskin boots, and settle my hat on my head. There’s a bit of a nip in the air; summer’s on its way out, though the days are still hot enough. It’s cool enough this morning, though, that I’ve pulled out the jacket Owen gave me as a going away present. It’s an old-style men’s bomber jacket that Owen said was his great-granddad’s — worn brown leather, rabbit fur-lined collar and cuffs, front pockets. It’s not like anything else I’ve ever owned, but I like it. It makes me feel like I can do anything, which quite frankly is something I can use a lot of right now.

My knives are all tucked into the top of my bag; once we’re a few miles out of Pendleton I’ll dig them out, but I don’t want Uncle Larett to see them and start asking questions I’m not ready to answer.

There’s a tap on my door, and when I look up Owen’s leaning against the doorframe, a small bag in his hand.

“Looks good on you,” he says, nodding at the jacket.

I look down at it and smooth the fur on the right cuff. “It’s a little big, but I like it,” I say. “Thanks.”

“Here.” Owen pushes away from the door and hands me the bag he’s holding. “It’s the money to pay your life taxes.” He glances at the hall behind him and adds, “It should keep you going for awhile. Just don’t spend it all in one place.”

“Thanks,” I say again, and then realise he’s holding out a slim packet of papers. “What’s this?”

“Travel papers,” he says. “I sorted out a range of papers for you — you should be able to get in and out of the capital and any of the bigger cities or towns without any problems. What I couldn’t get you were travel permissions for any gov transport. You’re stuck hoofing it or stealing rides.”

“What are the odds we’ll get caught if we catch a ride?” I ask, flicking through the pages.

He grimaces. “Depends on the transport. If you can swing it, the train out of Junction will take you north towards the capital, around Portland. Otherwise you’re looking at days of travel and you’ll have to get through Portland.”

“How hard is it going to be to get on that train?” I ask, shoving the money and the papers down the side of my bag.

“Hard to say,” Owen says. “It’s the main north-south route through this part of the Commonwealth. There’s usually a lot of military and gov activity so it’ll probably be tougher than hopping one of the more local transports.”

“Okay,” I say and swing my bag up over my shoulders. “We’ll see how it looks when we get there, then.”

Uncle Larett and Daka are outside waiting. Daka’s pack has my revolver and the cartridges tucked down at the bottom, surrounded by socks and talismans; he’s pushed his hat back on his head and has his thumbs hooked in the straps of his pack as he talks to Uncle Larett and looks a lot more the figure of an adventurer than me. Or at least looks a lot more imposing than me, seeing as he’s about a foot taller. Oh well. No use crying over things I can’t change.

Uncle Larett enfolds me in a hug. “I can take you, you know,” he says as he holds me at arm’s length. “The hover can cover the ground to Granite in less than an hour.”

“I’m looking forward to the walk,” I say. I smile and pat his arm. “I’ve got Daka to keep me safe, anyway.”

Behind me, Daka barely smothers a snort by turning it into a cough. Making a quick recover, he says, “Oh, yeah, I’ll keep her safe. Don’t worry.”

Uncle Larett doesn’t look entirely happy, but since I’ve made the trip between Granite and Pendleton before without any harm coming to me there’s not a lot he can say, so he kisses my forehead and lets me go. I say goodbye to Owen, and then Daka and I start down the long drive that will takes us back through Pendleton towards Granite.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The kindness of family

Find the rest of Jo here.


Before dinner, I go looking for Uncle Larett. I know he’s home, because I heard the front door open and shut earlier, but I also heard him and Owen talking so I let them be. I play a game of catch with Daka in the meantime; he complains that I throw too hard, which I decide to take as a compliment. When I tell him we’re leaving in the morning, he looks disappointed but not surprised.

“I was wondering how long it was going to be,” is all he says. “We’ve already been here months.”

I find Uncle Larett in his office, hunched over his desk with a file spread out in front of him. He has a funny preference for paper, from the books in the library to the files in his cabinet, despite the availability of non-paper tech. I think he likes the feel of it in his hands, like it’s a tangible thing, the turning of pages, that you can’t get with holo books or files. He has really nice handwriting, too, which almost nobody has anymore. If I write something, which I almost never do, it’s all spiky and cramped and pretty unreadable.

He’s writing something in the margins of the open file when I knock on the door, but looks up and sets aside the pen.

“Come in,” he says, pushing the papers away.

I come in a few steps, but linger by the door.

“What can I do for you, Jo?” he asks. He smiles, and for a minute he doesn’t look so tired.

“I came to tell you that I’m going to leave,” I say. “Soon. Tomorrow.”

He’s silent, so for a minute the only sound seems like it’s the pounding of my heartbeat echoing in my ears. “I see,” he says at last, steepling his fingers and resting them against his lips. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve enjoyed having you and Daka here.”

“It was nice to have somewhere to go,” I reply. “I really appreciate you letting us stay for so long.”

He leans forward, his eyes meeting mind, and says, “I wanted to talk to you about that, Jo. I’ve been doing some thinking the last few weeks, and I’m of a mind to file for adoption.”

It takes a minute for that to sink in. “Of me?” I stare at him. I hadn’t anticipated this. “But…I’m legally of age, Uncle Larett.”

“I know,” he says. “But I’m fond of you, Jo, and I don’t have children of my own. It’s been my plan for years to leave the house and the land to you. You might not realise, but I was always very fond of my brother, and I’d like to make sure that you’re okay and taken care of, for his sake.” He smiles. “And if I adopt you I can give you a little more protection from the ugliness of the world than you might find in Granite. You can come live here, with me. I could take you to the capital, you know, show you the sights…”

I’m stunned by his offer. And it’s really tempting — Uncle Larett can make it so that I’m never hungry or cold or worried about money ever again. I could sleep every night in a soft cushy bed and have a collection of pretty dresses to rival anything anyone in the capital wears. I could do anything I wanted with my time, be anyone I wanted to be.

But it would mean giving up the search for Dad and Kit.

And it would mean breaking my promise to Owen.

It would also mean putting Uncle Larett at real risk, as he was my only living relative.

“Gosh,” I say. “That’s real kind of you, Uncle Larett. Um…”

The smile stays on his face, but leaves his eyes. “You think it’s a terrible idea.”

Well, no, not exactly. Under different circumstances I’d’ve leapt on that offer before he had a chance to change his mind. “No, it’s not that,” I say. “It’s just that I left Granite kind of abruptly, and I owe a lot on my life taxes so I need to go back to pay those off, and I think if I’m gonna leave Granite permanently, you know, I think I should give everyone a proper goodbye so they know I’m leaving, and where to find me, right? And I’d like to say goodbye to my dome, I guess, if I’m never going to go back.”

“Oh, I see,” says Uncle Larett, looking relieved. “Of course. I’m sorry, that was remarkably insensitive of me. How much do you owe on your life taxes?”

I think about that for a minute. Mental math hasn’t ever been my strong point. Finally I name a figure that sounds reasonable and see Uncle Larett’s eyebrows lift a little in surprise. “Mom died right before my birthday,” I say, “so I kind of missed the official letter of notice that I had to start paying, and then I never got a job because I was dealing with all of the aftermath of Mom dying, and then I came here, so…” I trail off.

“How much money do you have?”

“Um. Almost none. Funeral costs ate pretty much all of Mom’s savings.”

His eyes narrow in thought. “How about I cover your back life taxes?” he says. “Once you move here we can find you some kind of work, if you’d like, but in the meantime we can get rid of that worry quick as you like.” He presses a button by the side of his desk and Owen appears almost immediately. “Can you make a run to the bank?” Uncle Larett asks. “Put enough to cover six months’ worth of life taxes on a credit stick and bring it back for Jo.”

“Granite doesn’t have the equipment to read a credit stick,” I interrupt. “We’re stuck on with hard currency.” I figure it'll be useful to have some ready money floating around.

Uncle Larett changes his order accordingly, and with a single glance at me Owen disappears again.

“That’s a lot more than I need to cover my life taxes,” I observe.

“You’ll have some money to spend,” he says, smiling. Standing, he adds, “Why don’t we go in for dinner?”

I follow him down the hall, feeling incredibly guilty. He looks happier throughout dinner than I’ve ever seen him, and I don’t like to think about how he’s going to feel when Daka and I don’t come back after a few days. He laughs and talks about the things we’ll do once I come to live with him for good, and part of me starts to wonder if the disappointment of me not coming back might kill him.

But for tonight I smile and eat and drink and laugh. I’ll destroy his illusions soon enough.

Previous: "Girl stuff"
Next: Leaving Pendleton

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kiterat

Find the rest of Amy here.


Once out of C-Prime’s atmosphere and into clear space, Amy automatically plotted a course towards Peleteth before realising with a sigh that she’d been through the spaceport too many times in the recent past. Kiterat would put her further from Idylla, but it had been over a year since she’d gone through it, and given her recent high-profile capture and visit to the capital, it seemed a good idea to lay low for a while. Normally she’d have dropped off the radar for the better part of a year, but with the current situation she was a bit short on options. Kiterat would have to do.

The flight to Kiterat was interminably dull. Amy found herself wishing for a solar storm, a Commie patrol — anything to ease the boredom. The Pelican’s database didn’t offer much in the way of entertainment; she’d already listened to Alfreadon’s famed Symphony No. 4 three times, and suffered through three whole chapters of Tellaris’s Something Borrowed before deleting the entire file from the computer.

At long last, Kiterat appeared on sensors; upon hearing just who was requesting to dock, the Kiterat officials nearly fell over themselves to ensure Amy’s docking experience went as smoothly as possible. She disembarked to discover a waiting escort; annoyed, she summarily dismissed them, and disappeared into the crowds.

Originally her plan had been to stay a few days on Kiterat before booking passage on an expensive liner for Annieka Brenner and then disappearing into steerage on one a freighter, but a message from Cam forced her to change her plans. Via the signal box, he sent that he’d heard chatter that indicated Idylla might not be safe much longer; he couldn’t confirm anything, but with Grayson and his kid on their way to him, Cam no longer felt secure in being able to keep them safe.


Amy booked a suite on a cruiseship bound for Elysia under her own name for three days hence, looped six hours of footage on her room, and that afternoon boarded a crowded freighter due to drop supplies at Idylla in four days. No one gave her a second glance; Ellie Taymor was quiet but polite, with brown hair and a plain face, a tendency to flinch when spoken to, and barely enough money to pay for her fare. Scarcely anyone noticed when she came aboard, and when she departed at the Idylla spaceport no one noticed she’d gone.

Previous: Pelican 
Next: Return to Idylla