Darkship Renegades

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Darkship Renegades

 

 

Sarah A. Hoyt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome To Eden

 

Out of the Frying Pan

I was a princess from Earth and he was a rogue spaceman from a mythical world.  He saved my life three times.  I rescued him from a fate worse than death. We fell madly in love.

We married and lived happily ever after.

Ever after comes with an expiration date these days.  We’d been married less than year when Kit got shot in the head.

It started with our return from Earth.  No.  Wait, what it really started with was my meeting Kit, in the powertrees which are biological solar collectors in Earth orbit.  They were put up way back when bio-engineered rulers governed the Earth.  And ever since the turmoils sent the bio-engineered rulers – you probably know them as Mules so called because, of course, they couldn’t reproduce – fleeing the Earth in a ship called Je Reviens, the powertrees have been haunted by legends of darkship thieves.

Which is all anyone ever thought the darkship thieves were.  After all, even if the mules really had left in an interstellar ship, and of course, there are doubts that the ship ever existed, why would they come back to harvest powerpods from the powertrees – the biological solar energy collectors in Earth orbit?  And why would no one else see them but powerpod collectors?

I found out the legend was less legendary than advertised when a mutiny aboard Daddy Dearest’s space cruiser sent me fleeing in a lifeboat into the powertrees.  Where I met Kit who rescued me and took me to his homeworld, Eden.

Eden is where all the bioed servants of the mules stayed behind, instead of going to the stars with their masters.  They had perhaps had enough of being ruled by Mules, which considering what the mules did to the Earth I couldn’t really blame them for, but they also couldn’t live on Earth, since this was the time of the turmoils and anyone with even a hint of bio-improvement would get killed in a horrible way.

So, they’d stayed behind in Eden, which is an asteroid they hollowed inside.  Its naturally erratic orbit hides it from Earth detection.  But it still needs power.  And for its power it depends on darkships, which are ships built to be non reflective and pretty much undetectable, provided they harvest while the powertrees are in Earth shadow.

Each of the darkships is piloted by a Cat – no, they are wholly human, but they are bioengineered so their eyes resemble those of cats, and also so that they had very fast reflexes – and a Navigator whose memory, mechanical skill and sense of direction were bio-enhanced to make him or her ideal to help steer darkships which cannot have any of its data in a form Earth might capture if it captures a darkship.

Which until recently was very much an unfounded fear.  No darkship had ever been captured…  Until the Good Men of Earth realized that I must have been taken up by a darkship and started an all out search for me.

By then I was Kit’s Navigator, and married to him, a combination that’s not mandatory but has grown to be expected.  His cat-like eyes, his reflexes, had ceased to seem alien.  And when I was radiation burned in an attempt to capture me, he chose to surrender to Earth to save me, instead of following procedure and killing both of us, and destroying the ship, leaving Earth nothing but a burned out hull.

It had paid off for us, we’d come back out of Earth alive and I’d been healed of the radiation burn.

The problem was the return to Eden.  I had no idea how Eden would react to news that not only had we failed to self-destruct, but we’d chosen to land on Earth and seek treatment.  It was probably useless to try to get forgiveness for this by explaining we’d left a good portion of the Earth in flames behind us, and probably a revolution brewing.

Eden had been colonized by refugees of a persecuted people, by people who never, ever ever again would trust any authority.  I’m not saying that Eden was paranoid, because worlds can’t be paranoid.  But if Eden had been an individual, he’d live in a compound with motion-sensor-triggered burners at every entrance and would fingerprint his own children twice a day to make sure no one had slipped ringers in on him.

So, three months after we left Earth, we hailed Eden on approach.

Kit has said you could land on the surface of the asteroid that contained Eden and never guess that there was a thriving civilization inside.  I don’t know if that’s true.  Never tried it. I don’t like to take his word for it.  He could be wrong.  But I did know we could not land IN Eden unless they let us.  Well, not intact.  Kit had once threatened to ram his ship into the asteroid, and from the reaction, this was possible even if it would kill us.  It was impossible to get into the landing tunnels – whose covers didn’t even show to radar – without someone inside letting us in.  Whoever said knock and it shall be opened had Eden in mind.

We called on the link.  Kit reached for my hand and squeezed it, hard, while his other hand pressed the com link button. “Cat Christopher Bartolomeu Sinistra and Nav Athena Hera Sinistra, piloting the  Cathouse on behalf of the Energy Board.  I request permission to land.”

 

My heart beat somewhere between my esophagus and my mouth.  And don’t tell me that’s a physiological impossibility.  I know what I felt.  Given just a little more nervousness, my heart would have jumped out of my mouth and flopped around the instrument panel like a landed fish.

There was a silence from the other side, long enough for my heart to almost stop. I took a deep breath, two and told myself that if Eden didn’t want us, we’d go back to Earth, or perhaps to Ultima or Proxima Thule, Eden’s two water-mining colonies.

Not only was I bluffing, I knew I was bluffing.  To make it elsewhere we’d need food and fuel and a world that rejected us wouldn’t be likely to hand over rations and powerpods.  All that kept me from shaking was the impression of Kit’s mind, warm and amused.

We could mind-talk, an ability bio engineered into pilot and navigator couples in his world and engineered into me for a completely different purpose.  Most often it was much like talking in voice, only we could do it privately or over a great distance.  In extreme circumstances, we could connect at a deep deep level, but that wasn’t sustainable.  It didn’t help preserve sanity not knowing which body went with your mind.  But sometimes, like now, there was just the impression of feelings.  And the feelings Kit was giving off were reassurance and amusement.  Which meant he was lying.

But it would be a pity to waste his effort, so I managed a half smile in his general direction, as the voice of Eden’s Dock Control crackled over the link: “The  Cathouse is more than six weeks late.  It has been entered in the roll of losses.  Cat Christopher Sinistra and Nav Athena Sinistra are dead.”

I registered the little shock I always felt at hearing Kit called by my surname.  It was Eden’s custom, though not mandatory, to have the husband take the wife’s name.

“Not really,” I cut in.  I felt almost boneless with relief.  I hate bureaucracy as much as anyone else, but not nearly as much as I hate exploding.  That they were talking instead of burning us out of the sky was a very good sign.  “Only late.”

“You cannot be late.  You only had fuel for a four month trip.  Three weeks later you’d be out of reserves and dead.  You–”

“We were down on Earth,” I said .

The silence didn’t last long, but it gave the impression of being a very large silence.  The type of silence that could envelop and swallow a whole fleet of darkships.  Then the answer came, sounding like a clap of thunder announcing the beginning of a storm.  “What?” the Controller asked.  “You were where?”

Kit cleared his throat.  I could see him reflected in the almost completely dark screens in front of him: his eyes bioengineered for piloting in total darkness looked like cat eyes, glimmering green and very wide open, in worry.  His calico-colored hair seemed vivid and garish against his suddenly colorless skin.  It was an accidental mutation caused by the same virus that had given him the cat-like eyes, super-human coordination and speed of movement.  Without the modifications to his eyes and hair, Kit would have been a redhead, so his skin was normally that shade of pale that can turn unhealthy-looking at the slightest disturbance.  Now he looked white and grey, like spoiled milk.  Even if he continued to lie at me with an amused and calm mind-projection and his voice sounded firm and clear, his face gave him away, “Nav Sinistra had radiation poisoning and we stopped on Earth for regen treatment.”

“You stopped on Earth for treatment?”

I swallowed hard, to prevent having to grope for my heart somewhere on the control board.          “Well, it wasn’t that simple, but yes,” Kit said.  “I’ll be glad to tell you the whole story after we land.”

“You’d better, Cat.”  He pronounced Kit’s professional title as an insult.  The term “pilot” had long since become “cat” in Eden. “ And you’d better make it convincing. This is most irregular.”

“Controller,” I said, thinking it was time to add another consideration to his decision.  “We must land.  Kit’s family is expecting us.”  Kit’s birth family, the DeNovos, were socially powerful in Eden.  His sister Kath would have been a force to be reckoned with in any size society.  It was a good thing she’d been born in Eden.  If she had been on Earth, she’d probably now be sole supreme ruler of the whole world, a feat slightly more difficult to achieve on Eden which had no rulers of any sort, much less supreme ones.

Another silence and the Dock Controller’s voice sounded dour as it came back,  “Navigator Sinistra, if you delayed your collection run for personal reasons, you have to know that the Energy Board will fine you for the delay in supply, and all the boards will want to interview you for potential breaches of security.  Also–”

“I know, Controller.  Now, could you give us a dock number, please?  Before I go crazy and just give my Cat instructions to dash at Eden in the area of the landing control station.  We earthworms are so temperamental”

Kit chuckled aloud, then stopped with an intake of breath.  His mental impression wavered a little allowing me to see some fear beneath the amusement.

“Dock fifty five, but I want you to know that I shall have armed hushers ready and that you will be examined for any evidence of undue influence and that–”

I flicked the comlink off.  A sleeve-like structure extruded from Eden and Kit piloted us into it, then leaned back as dock remote controls took over the navigation.  His foot skimmed along the floor next to him, flicking up the lever that turned off our artificial gravity now that we were covered by Eden’s.  Not that keeping it on would give us double the gs, but one could interfere with the other and cause some really interesting localized gravity effects.

It wasn’t until our ship settled into one of the landing bays, that Kit released the seatbelt that crisscrossed his chest, and, without letting go of my hand, got up and said, “You know, you really shouldn’t have taunted the controller.”

I got up in turn.  I knew.  One of the first rules I’d been taught was never to pick on people.  The second was probably to always be gracious.

I’d been born the only daughter Good Man Milton Alexander Sinistra, one of fifty men who controlled the near-endless land and resources of Earth.  My parents, my nannies, the heads of various boarding schools, the commanders of various military academies, and the psychological medtechs that ran several rest homes, sanatoriums and mental institutions upon which Daddy Dearest had wished me, had all told me I had an aggression problem and must control my impulses.

If I had followed their instructions I wouldn’t be alive now.  And neither would Kit.  Something Kit knew very well, which was why he put his arm around me and smiled as he shook his head.

We walked like that through two air locks, then waited while the last door cycled open, letting us see that we were in one of the cavernous, circular bays that admitted ships to Eden.  An out of use bay, because there were no power pod unloading machines nearby.  Instead, a large group of young men, all armed, stood in front of our ship’s door all aiming their burners directly at us.

To the left side and a little behind the young men stood two older men, a dark haired one and a blond one.

The dark haired one was the dock controller.  He wore the grey uniform of the position, and he had that harassed, frustrated look of someone who was sure he’d been born to better things, but who found himself confined to an inglorious desk job.

The blond was something else altogether different.  To begin with he didn’t wear any uniform, but a well cut black suit consisting of something much like an Elizabethan doublet and leg-outlining pants, tailored to make the wearer look good, whether he did so when naked or not.  The fabric shimmered with the dull shine of real silk and conveyed an unavoidable sense of wealth and sensuousness.  The face, above the suit, was sharp and vaguely threatening.  He looked like a young Julius Caesar or at least a Julius Caesar from a world where people didn’t lose their hair unless they chose to.

It was the blond man who spoke. His words had far more force than if they’d been spoken by a mere bureaucrat.  “Cat Christopher Bartolomeu Sinistra,” he said, each syllable dropped in place like an essential part of exacting machinery.  “You are under arrest for treason against Eden.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

 

“What?” Kit said.  The guns in the hands of the young men holding them swung to point more accurately at him.

The man did not repeat himself. He smiled, urbanely.  “If you’d please step down.”

Kit didn’t move, except to brace himself, his feet slightly further apart, his shoulders pulled back, as if he expected a physical impact.  “You can’t arrest me,” he said.  His voice sounded more puzzled than outraged.  “I’m a free citizen of Eden.”

Eden, in addition to being paranoid, hated authority.  It had no rules and no laws.  Most of the things that police handled back on earth were handled on Eden by custom, tradition and public opinion, or by a short blast from a burner.  If they’d shot Kit – not that I wanted them to – it wouldn’t have been surprising.  Arresting him, on the other hand, should have been impossible.

But I grew up with Daddy Dearest.  I knew one never argued with a loaded burner.

I clenched my hands.  I’d get out of this alive.  Or at least I’d try to make sure that Kit would.

“Ah,” the blond man said, and managed to convey the sort of smiling concession that a person makes, on the way to doing exactly what he always wanted to do.   “Indeed.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say you are taken in custody by the Energy Board, pending the resolution of charges of treason, wilful endangerment of Eden’s technologies and location, and leading your ward into similar crimes.”  He man smiled.  There were teeth in that smile.  The better to eat you with.

“My ward?” Kit said.  “Do you mean Thena?”

When I’d first arrived in Eden, a stowaway in Kit’s ship, the only way the Energy board would allow me in was for Kit to become my guardian.  Because in Eden, the only way to control or punish an individual was to make them pay blood money or reparation for violations of public peace and safety.  Since blood geld obligations often extended to family and close associates, this meant that your nearest and dearest watched you and made sure you didn’t get in trouble.

But back then I had no nearest or dearest in Eden – or, at the time, anywhere, really – I could only be controlled by making Kit and Kit’s family responsible for me.

Now that I was married to him, and had the same relatives, surely I was no longer his ward?  Only we’d never got around to cancelling the document.  Which meant they could now use my action to make Kit’s punishment more severe.  Perhaps severe enough to kill him if I overreacted.  Which meant, I couldn’t react.  At all.  I could barely breathe.  Kit and I had saved each other from near death more than once.  I couldn’t imagine life without him.

The blond man didn’t even bother to answer the question, just inclined his head and cast me a look.  I held myself so immobile my muscles hurt.

I kept quiet, too.  If there had been only one gun pointed at me, I could have tried to make a grab for it.  I’m genetically enhanced.  When needed, I can move faster and more accurately than any natural human.  One gun I could evade.  I could overpower the bearer before he knew what hit him.

But forty armed men and some of them Cats by engineering?  No.  I could only take out one or two before the rest of them brought me down or worse, brought Kit down.

Besides, the forty young men holding the guns looked different from Eden’s normal hushers.  Hushers were an all volunteer force and most of Eden’s young men served a few months or a year in it.  Kit, himself, had at fourteen or fifteen.  Most of them viewed it as a not to exacting social activity, which got rewarded with social approval for their willingness to defend Eden from an invasion that never came.  Normally they looked like children at play.

Not these hushers.

Straggly and young, dressed in what could be called a uniform only because everyone wore blue, though there was no uniformity in cut or design, wearing all manner of hairstyles and adornment, they still managed to look like a military force.

It was obvious they would shoot at the least pretext.  Or the least excuse.  I looked into their gazes and realized they wanted to kill us, and I wondered what had been going on in Eden in our absence to change the young in that way.

I tightened my fists till my nails bit into my palms. I couldn’t get any mind-words from Kit, only a sense of wariness.

“If you believe I’m a traitor–” he told the blond man and stopped.

The blond man smiled wolfishly.  “Indeed.  We should have eliminated you.  But we had to decide quickly.  Your com contact was a surprise.  We thought you dead.  We certainly didn’t imagine you’d landed on Earth.  We’ve not had the time to look through all possible implications of your actions and, frankly, your being who you are complicates things.  You have relatives amid our most respected and prominent citizens, who might take offense and make trouble, if we had shot you out of orbit.”

“But–” Kit started.

“So we’ll decide it now,” the blond man said.  “And execute you with due formality, if it’s warranted.  So no one can doubt it’s proper.”

Kit opened his mouth.  Closed it.  Mentally, he told me, Don’t question anything I do.

I wondered what he meant to do.  I trusted him implicitly.  Kit knew the customs of the land, and was good at strategy.  I prepared to follow his lead.  With his speed and reflexes he could overpower any number of his accusers.

And he said, “I ’m surrendering to the authority of the Energy Board,” Kit said.

I had heard wrong.  Either that or there was some deep planning involved.  Kit didn’t surrender to the authority of anyone.  Then I thought I saw it.  He’d get out of the ship, approach Blondie and, as the man let down his guard, take his burner.  Then Kit could point the burner at Blondie’s head, hold him hostage and demand a fair hearing.

I could visualize all this, as Kit came down from the ship, hands in view, held some distance from his body.  It was hard stepping down from the ship like that, because the steps – two – were just a little too long for any normal legs.

Before Kit could recover, Blondie lifted his hand.

It must have been a prearranged signal.  Four young men with Cat eyes detached from the ranks of Hushers and jumped Kit.

They did it so fast – what Kit called Cat speed – that to me it looked like they disappeared, only to materialize again, holding Kit down on the ground and handcuffing him behind his back.

I had the impression of movement, too fast for the eye to fully capture, an impression of Kit falling under the impact of four bodies, of his head hitting the floor.  His exclamation of surprise, pain and rage hung in the air, as though the sound hadn’t had time to dissipate in the echoes of the vast room.

And then all hell broke loose.   Something tugged at me, as if the feeling between Kit and I were a taut rope, binding us heart to heart.

I never thought about it.  Never made a decision to attack anyone.  Never even made a decision to move. Yet as soon as Kit hit the floor, I was flying through the air.

My father, in his attempts to subdue me, or perhaps to give me an outlet for that pent up aggression that worried everyone so much, had enrolled me in various academies which taught self defense or martial arts.  When I escaped Daddy’s authority I’d learned: hand to hand dirty fighting.

But for my money, the most useful fighting moves I ever learned came from a ballet camp in Switzerland to which dad had sent me, apparently under the delusion that dance would tame the savage beast.

I caught myself mid-air, leaping, in graceful ballet-style, over Kit and his huddled captors and straight at the blond man.  The tip of my extended foot hit him mid-chest, and took him down as I landed, I grabbed the burner from his hand before he could react.  I pointed it at his head.

Confusion reigned.  In the middle of my beautiful leap, several hushers fired at me, and various others tried to follow me down with burner fire to my destination, only stopping short when they realized that killing me would risk killing their leader also.

None hit me.

Like Kit I had been bioengineered for speed, and while I wasn’t quite as fast as he was –while I couldn’t give the impression of moving so fast I disappeared from one place and materialized in the other — I could and did move too fast for normal human eyes. And Blondie had taken the only four cats in the group – the only four people who were faster than I –  and used them to neutralize Kit.

But that many burners going off in an enclosed space will hit something.  I could smell acrid smoke.

I didn’t look to see where it was coming from.  Hushers ran.  I heard fabric beating against hard surfaces, and feet stomping and fire retardant spraying.  I didn’t turn.

I stared down at Blondie’s eyes and saw fear and confusion.  Whatever he had planned, I’d just made his plan go horribly awry.  My late, unlamented father would have told him that I did that to plans.

“Nav Sinistra–” he started.

“Stop,” I said.  And no, I didn’t care if he was right by the book.  He didn’t get to hurt Kit.  Right be damned.  Kit was mine to love and protect, the same way I was his.  Besides, no one absolutely sure of his legal ground would have hurried to grab Kit without warning.   I resisted a temptation to hit Blondie on the side of the head with my  burner.

“Stop.  I don’t want to hear it.”  I barely looked up, keeping most of my attention trained on Blondie, but managing to convey that I was speaking to the four young Cats also. “You, let Cat Sinistra go.  Now.  Now, or I’ll shoot this man.”  I pressed the burner harder against Blondie’s temple as I straddled him, keeping him still.

“Dear lady,” my captive said.  His gaze was calm, his voice composed.  “You don’t mean that.  You can’t mean that.  I know the amount of money your husband owes for the repairs to the ship you damaged last year.  If you shoot me, you’ll never be out of debt for the blood geld.”

He’d just told the young Cats both that he was not afraid and that I was unlikely to shoot.  The dirty rotten scoundrel.  I’d bet he cheated at chess.

“I swallowed hard.  Right,” I said.  “How about I shoot your feet off, then?  Then your ankles.  Then your knees.  I’ll set the burner on high so it cauterizes.  No risk of dying and you can regen it.  But you won’t get anywhere near a medtech until you let my husband go.”

I set my foot on his trachea.  I could tell from his look that he knew very well I could crush it with just a little downward pressure.  Then I pointed my burner at his feet.  His eyes showed worry, but he didn’t give an inch.  “Dear lady,” he said, still in that soft tone.  “What will you do then?  Go back into space in the  Cathouse?  Surely there are easier ways to commit suicide.”

And I realized we weren’t on Earth.  Fine, I knew that.  But I hadn’t realized how the differences between the two worlds and their populations changed my calculations.  Was it possible to run and hide in Eden?  Sure it was.  For a while.  But unlike on Earth, you could not hide forever.

Earth is much vaster and has a much larger population.  People can move from one place to the other unremarked.  No one would even care about their pasts in some places.

But on Eden there were a limited number of families and everyone seemed at times to be an amateur genealogist.

And then there was the limited physical space.  You couldn’t move THAT far away.

Kit and I couldn’t just run and hide.

We couldn’t assume different names and claim to be from elsewhere altogether.  After a while our isolation would stick out. Besides, both of us were famous: Kit because of his first wife’s death, myself for being the only Earther to come to Eden in three hundred years.  Someone would spot us within a week.  I could feel my jaw setting into what dad called my mulish look – possibly because the old bastard had a sense of humor.  “Fine,” I said.  “Let my husband go, and replenish the ship, so we can leave.”

Where we’d go, I didn’t have the slightest idea.  Earth, probably.  Now there was a planet you could get lost in.

Blondie looked chagrined and sighed, “Do as she says,” he said.  But weirdly, there was an odd gleam of smug triumph in his eyes.

“No,” Kit said, sitting up. “No.”  And then hurriedly, “I submit to the judgement of Eden.”

He must have hit his head much harder than I thought.  I started to open my mouth to say so, but he was in my mind.  Drop it, Thena, he mind-spoke, perfectly clear and far more forcefully than normal.

I closed my mouth, but managed the mental protest, But–

You’re playing into their hands, he said.   Here they have to keep up appearances. They can’t murder us.  If they get us to take off, they can shoot us out of the sky.  They’ll be protecting Eden from suspected spies.  No one will protest.

You mean to let them arrest you? I asked, in disbelief. I can’t let them–

No.  I’ll allow them to detain me.  They can’t arrest me.  They don’t have governmental powers.  They don’t have legal powers.  They don’t even have traditional powers to do this.  I don’t like this any more than you do, Thena, but trust me.  My way is the best course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tyrannical Authority

 

“I want him to die screaming,” I said.  It wasn’t for the first time.

Katherine – Kath – DeNovo gave me a sideways glance, but didn’t comment, because she knew I wasn’t referring to her little brother, but to Blondie.

Kath had picked me up, in her family flyer, which smelled of candy and had dolls and toy flyers hidden in the crevices of the seats.  Right now something was poking at my backside.  I suspected it was the outstretched, burner wielding hand of a plastic figurine.  I had no clue how many children Kath had, and I suspected that Kit was hazy on it.

In a culture where most gestation took place in bio wombs, which one could pay professionals to tend, I sometimes suspected the parents themselves forgot exactly how many children they had.  I knew Kath’s eldest, a Cat named Waldron, had just got married and started doing powerpod runs.  But I suspected a couple of the toddlers that ran around the compound where Kit’s whole family lived – benevolently watched over by his father, Jean – were also hers.

Kath looked nothing like Kit.  This made sense, when you realized he’d been adopted in utero and was no biological relation.  Of course, they both had  Cat eyes, hers in dark blue.  She now lowered her eyelids, half-way as she drove unerringly through the confusion of traffic in Eden center, where flyers crisscrossed at all altitudes and in every possible path.

I confess that when I’d first come to Eden, I was horrified that they had no traffic regulations at all, no beacons tracking altitude, no enforcement of any kind.  Of course, how could they have those when they didn’t have anything resembling authority?  But still, I expected that they’d have accidents every three seconds.  I’d swear that we barely escaped being smashed into about ten times on any run through Center.  But it turned out accidents were very rare.  Kit said it was because other people were actively trying not to hit us or be hit by us.

So, I knew this, mentally.  But I couldn’t make my gut believe it.  Going through the chaos of Eden center felt like it should be lethal and I had trouble nerving myself to fly it.  But Kath and Kit could do it without even giving it full attention.

Kath seemed to be deep in thought, though not about driving, something that happened more or less automatically, as her hands tapped lightly on the controls as we dipped and soared.  I suppose once you drive a powerpod collection ship through the explosive coils of the power tree ring, driving through Eden is child’s play.  “I agree with you,” she said.  “On his dying screaming, but perhaps it is actually impossible to strangle a man with that part of his anatomy.” She gave me a sheepish look.  “I don’t think it has enough elasticity.”

I tried to smile, but it wouldn’t quite gel.  I made myself clasp my knees, instead of balling my hands into fists, but I suspected my fingers were leaving marks on my knees through the fabric of my pants.  “What is his name?” I asked.

“Who?  The president of the Energy Board?” she asked.

“Is that who Blondie is?”

A fleeting smile, while she brought us out of the traffic, and took one of the side streets.  No.  One of the side tunnels, only it didn’t look like it, because the tunnel was broad and showed neatly planted gardens and plots on either side of the road.  Each of the gardens and plots would hide an entrance tunnel.  Eden’s houses were always dug down or into the raw rock of the asteroid, from the tunnels that served as streets.  Made logical sense, in an environment where rain and leakage were no danger.

Above, the stone was masked by a convincing holographic rendition of a sky with fluffy clouds.  It turned out humans reacted better to that than to being enclosed in rock.  “I like Blondie as a name for him, though it might give the impression he’ll be easy to defeat.  He won’t.  There’s poured dimatough under the patrician good looks.”

“I gathered,” I said drily.

“His name is Fergus Castaneda,” Kath said.  “And his family have been members of the Energy Board for as long as Eden has been Eden, though usually in minor positions.  He’s the first Castaneda to be president of the board.”

I absorbed this.  It made a certain sense.  Perhaps his resemblance to Caesar wasn’t simply external.  When you ask why people do things and your only answer is “money” you miss that more people want power than money.  To many people, power is an aphrodisiac that money could never be.  In fact, to many, if not most people, money is a way to power, not the other way around.

“I still want him to die screaming,” I said, sullenly.

“But only after he screams a long, long time,” Kath agreed dreamily.  She drove down the street, turned into another street, which brought us to the profuse and spacious garden that covered the DeNovo compound.

This idea of gardens covering the entire plot, with the house underneath had puzzled me when I’d first come to Eden.  It shouldn’t have.  Underground houses have never quite taken on Earth for two reasons: first because humans prefer natural light if they can get it; and second because even with the most high tech materials, it was truly impossible to make anything underground completely proof to the inevitable leaks.  Construction on Earth was, ultimately, bound by the dictum that water flows downhill.

On Eden, water didn’t flow anywhere unless you paid for it to flow.  Everything was underground – or everything above ground, however you chose to look at it – since everyone lived inside an asteroid and sunlight could be piped in anywhere.  That mean that everyone lived at various levels.  There was no reason to have the house at street level.  So, most people didn’t.  They burrowed under the plot – real estate contracts were for cubic space, not linear – and left a garden or a pasture or an orchard above.

We opened the door artfully concealed by rose bushes and went down a staircase enclosed in walls with niches, where fragrant plants grew. Entering the DeNovo house involved going through a riot of smells, a symphony of perfume.  Most of the time, just coming home made me feel better.  Not this time.

Despite what Kit had said, about this being the safest alternative, it didn’t make it a safe alternative.  He’d never said he’d be perfectly fine.  That was because he couldn’t be sure, and my darling hated to lie.

It all felt wrong.  I loved the DeNovos who had taken me into their family as if it were perfectly normal for one’s son to bring home barely controlled human wrecking balls born and raised on Earth.  But they were Kit’s family before they were mine.  And he should be here with me, when I came back.  The fact he wasn’t, was at least partly my fault.

At the end of the entrance tunnel opened a small hall, which led into a much larger hall.  The DeNovo compound didn’t look like any normal house on Earth.  It was closer to a public park – with an even carpet of grass underneath, plants everywhere, and even the occasional statue.  Though they had sofas and chairs in other rooms, in the public areas people mostly flopped down to the grass floor, children and adults alike, reclining to eat or to work.  Little robots I called “turtles” roamed around picking any object left out of place and cleaning it or returning it to where it was supposed to be.

I was never sure that what was underfoot was really grass.  It felt like it: cool, soft and alive.  I was sure on the alive part, because Kit had once made a comment that any crumbs dropped or even skin cells sloughed off would get eaten by the floor covering.  But, unlike grass, the carpet didn’t seem to grow on dirt, but on some cushiony surface that gave and adapted under one’s weight.  And it never needed mowing.

This time, the entire DeNovo family, or at least all the adults, were crammed into the tiny front hall to receive me.  There was Kit’s eldest sister, Anne, old enough to be his mother, who was a navigator by bioengineering and profession.  Next to her was her husband, Bruno, a tall, olive-skinned man, with dark brown Cat eyes.

Then there was Kath’s Navigator Eber, a man so well grounded, so thoroughly calm and self-contained that people often wondered – sometimes even in Kath’s hearing – why she didn’t roll over him and completely silence him.  But she didn’t.  I’d known them now long enough to realize there was a fund of extreme stubbornness in Eber that was a perfect match for Kath’s more ebullient forcefulness.

Standing just behind him were Kit’s parents.  Jean – his name was pronounced Je-ahn in the ancient French way and routinely butchered by strangers – looked a lot like an older, male version of Kath, but was one of those people who always gave the impression of being quietly sure of themselves.  So quietly sure that they didn’t need to project outward, or make a big fuss out of anything.

Not implying that he was smug.  He wasn’t.  He was attentive to his surroundings and to his family and always sure of the course to follow.  I’d been shocked when Kit had first told me that Jean had raised most of the children on his own, while his wife did water runs to Proxima and Ultima Thule.  Most because I understood that early on they’d simply taken Anne on their runs for powerpods.  It was only after they had retired that Jean had decided to stay behind and make a stable home for the children and grandchildren while his wife preferred to make the long, lonely but lucrative runs for the Water Board, after her vision had aged enough to make powerpod collecting runs to earth orbit dangerous.

In retrospect, it was silly to be surprised that a man chose to or could be the care taker for his children.  The bio-wombs had freed men too, because when women could do whatever they wanted to, so could men. Most women still raised their children, but no stigma attached to the husband choosing to do it.

Tania, Kit’s mother, would have made an awful care-taking parent.  She loved her children, even Kit, the non-biological one.  But I suspected her attempts at keeping house and organizing family would have fallen apart between boredom with her task          and finding something more interesting to do.

That she looked subdued and worried right then was a bad sign.  That all the DeNovos were at home was another very bad sign.  In a household of Cats and Navs, who traveled for a living, this was a very rare occurrence, made more ominous as Waldron, Kath’s eldest, came from the inner room, bringing his wife, Jennie, with him.  If even the younger generation was home, something was wrong,  beyond what had just happened to Kit.

I stared around myself at a circle of eyes, half of them normal, the other half feline-looking.  They all shimmered with tears.

Suddenly Anne grabbed my arm and hugged me.  Next thing I knew I was being hugged by the entire family.

I started to explain that this was all my fault.  It would never have occurred to Kit to ask for Earth help, if I hadn’t got myself stupidly burned.  It would never have occurred to anyone in the Energy Board to arrest him if he hadn’t stopped on Earth to get me help.  So the trouble Kit was in was all my fault, and I hadn’t even managed to prevent his being arrested.

“Shush, now,” Jean said.  “That’s nonsense, and I suspect you know it as well as we do.  First of all, I think they have … other motives, and could have found another excuse, or done the thing in a way that would have been far more … permanent.  As is, they’ve practically played into our hands.  Judicial murder is the most difficult form of murder on Eden.  It has constraints, while other forms of murder don’t.”

I looked around at a circle of nodding people, and started to wonder if insanity ran in my family in law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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