Sample chapter 5

5 Nov

I’ve been thinking about the name for the novel. It’s a fairly simple adventure story. Strongest Ties fits, but is damn generic and does not tell much of the genre.

So, maybe I’ll stop trying to be clever and go old school: Escape on Rudanos?

If I’m going to use the name of the planet on the name of the novel the original idea for that, Madalait, might not be a good idea. This is supposed to be an adventure. Madalait… well, it kinda sounds more like a group of older ladies who gather together to knit once a week, or something, not anything which might bring in mind action, and danger, and an exiting and dangerous planet to get into trouble on.

So, I’ll dig out my mythology books and start looking for names. Rudianos is some Celtic god, and right now I no longer even remember what he is god of, but it sounded kind of… maybe rugged? Only a bit too long. So, lets drop the i. Rudanos.

I’ll use Madalait for some other planet, probably. That’s from Australian aboriginal mythology. Generally speaking mythology names might be good fit for planets which have no indigenous populace so the human colonists can pick and choose whatever they want since mythology names are rather a tradition, well, not that unlikely that would hold for quite a long time into the future too.

Chapter 5

Lida was having second thoughts.

She liked the offworlder. During the last days Rahan had been a perfect gentleman, unlike too many of the men she knew, in or out of the movement, and she liked that. He seemed kind, and smart, and he seemed to be rather smitten with her, which made her feel even more rotten about the way they were planning to use him. And even though he had professed no obvious liking for his shipmate she was getting the impression he felt responsibility, as a shipmate – that no matter what his personal feelings might be he would defend the Shemasharra as a matter of course.

And Rahan did seem to like the Shemasharra, as a group.

Even if they were not humans.

But she had no idea what to do about her feelings of doubt. Maybe, if she could have hinted something to Rahan, made him worry about the Ytjar, or the police, and stay inside their ship the rest of their forced stay, until the ship was repaired and they could leave… only she could think of no safe way to do that.

Do it wrong and her own might figure out that she had done it, and that might force her out of the movement, and she didn’t want that to happen. The movement… so maybe what they did, sometimes, was not quite… right, but what other means could they employ? There were no legal methods which worked.

And what they were doing was important. So very, very important.

And her friends were getting impatient. She would not be able to stretch this much longer before they would act, with her consent or without it.

Rahan would be all right. He’d never figure what had been going on, and would leave the planet. The Corps would come and investigate, probably, but they would not know who to interrogate, she’d stay in hiding when they were here – easy enough for her, with her family, vacation on some off the official maps luxury resort perhaps – and since they would not be able to use their Shemasharra here it would be just humans anyway. And humans could be fooled.

***

The walk through the city was mostly uneventful, if you didn’t count the revelations it gave to Rahan about the world he was on.

The girl had been right, the area around the port was not representative, not truly. Here, away from it, the differences between the haves and have-nots of this world were stark. For a while they walked through an area with walled houses and clean streets, and the flyers and ground vehicles in sight were new and shiny, if more old-fashioned looking models, and the people they saw were rather well dressed, their tunics, trousers and long skirts in most cases made of similar fabrics as those of Lida’s, with colors which imitated those of the cheaper ones more commonly worn by the people he had seen in the tourist district, but of better quality otherwise.

According to Lida those were mostly servants.

And then there were the few nobles.

The fabrics they wore didn’t even pretend to be cheap. Luxurious, deep colors, often decorated with expertly done hand stitched embroidery and both pearls and semi-precious jewels sewn straight into the fabric. Soft leather, expensive looking furs, about the only thing he didn’t catch sight of was silk (and a quick check on his com confirmed that real silk, indeed, was not something produced here, nobody had yet imported silk worms, nor any of the systems to make silk without them).

Those people were very well groomed too.

But once they got past that walled area the streets got narrower and the houses shabbier. There were some apartment houses around, but most looked like they might house two to three families. Gardens were common, but all of them seemed to be filled with vegetables, in spite of lots of peering Rahan managed to spot just one narrow flower bed, squeezed between a row of cabbages and a path with what looked like old tiles in one garden they passed. That house was a bit neater than most of the surrounding ones too.

Paint didn’t seem to in use here much. White, occasionally, probably made of chalk and almost universally either flaking off, or visibly only as some small remnants in some slightly more sheltered pieces of a wall. Mostly the houses seemed to be made of yellowish or gray tiles. The windows had glass, but most of it was greenish and uneven, with bubbles here and there, and divided into small panes. Doors were wood, and mostly looked very sturdy.

To protect the occupants from criminals?

Highly likely. This kind of places rarely had low crime stats.

Rahan was feeling the lack of the familiar weight of the gun on his hip acutely by now. Carrying often made him feel slightly self-conscious, as if he was pretending to be something he wasn’t, but he could not deny the comfort having a gun gave him. After having trained with them more than half his life now he knew he was good enough with one to not doubt his ability to use it well, and wisely. It was just the image which occasionally made him prefer not to carry, at least not openly, maybe because he had spend his earliest seven years of life in a culture where nobody did, and where even the entertainment, at least one directed to children, did its best to paint them as something quite… stupid? As a result a gun sometimes still made him feel as if he was trying to draw attention to himself. As if he was pretending to be somebody he was not.

But in places like this he would have preferred to have one anyway.

On the other hand, he had also received plenty of training how to deal with all kinds of threats and dangers while completely unarmed. A gun was a tool, a tool one should have with him if at all possible, but it was not supposed to be a crutch without which one could not walk.

He had his brain, and his training, and his well maintained body. Under the circumstances those would have to suffice.

And besides, not completely safe was one thing – was there any place you could declare as completely safe, anywhere? But surely Lida would not have suggested their trip if there was some real, immediate danger to be found here? Not when the danger would be as much to her as to him… and she seemed competent enough, not the type who would blithely waltz into a bear’s den, thinking that she was one of the charmed ones and that nothing could ever happen to her just because she maybe had the theoretical right to be there…

So there were potential risks. But probably not high likelihood ones.

But he couldn’t quite get rid of the slight itch around the base of his neck, as if the hairs there were trying to stand up. No matter how much he kept telling himself he was just being stupid.

***

The restaurant didn’t look like much from the outside. Not really from the inside either, once they had walked past the opened double doors. A big, undecorated room with white walls – and no flaking, here, for which Rahan was grateful – mismatched tables and chairs, most ugly but serviceable, as was the tableware.

The food, however, really was quite good.

They ate several courses, starting with some sort of pureed vegetable soup and some small pastries, then the main course, fish, unmistakably some salmon variety for both, with vegetables and what probably were some sort of potatoes, ending with blueberry – maybe, at least the juice stained their teeth and lips the same way as the blueberries he was familiar with did – cake and the same coffee substitute Rahan had tried in the cafes next to the starport, only the one served here tasted a lot better.

Lida was unusually quiet the whole time.

“Is something wrong,” Rahan finally asked.

She startled, then gave him a small smile. “Not really. It’s just… some memories.”

“Unpleasant ones?”

“No, pleasant. I used to come here with a friend. But…”

“Boyfriend?”

“No, a girl I grew up with. She died, about two years ago. A flyer accident. I have been here after that too, I don’t really know why I started to think of her this time. Sorry.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

She shook her head. “No problem. Are you finished?”

Rahan nodded, feeling slightly troubled. There was still something a bit off in her manner. He just couldn’t quite put his finger to it. “Yes. Do you want to leave?”

Maybe it really was just some sad memories. But…

“I guess… I need to use the ladies room. This won’t take long.”

Rahan nodded and smiled again, got up when she did and sat back, trying to catch the eye of the waiter when she left.

His neck hairs were still itching.

***

Lida left through the back door, not sure what she was going to do. She needed to clear her head. And she needed to decide. Now.

Call her friends? She had been dithering long enough. She had not told him anything yet. She did not want to tell him anything. Deceiving him no longer seemed like something she could do. Maybe just let her friend take him by force… she’d still be deceiving him but at least she wouldn’t have to outright lie to his face.

Maybe she could just run. Leave this whole mess. Go home.

The decision was taken out of her hands when she saw the three men clustered close to one end of the alley she was in. She recognized one of them. She had seen him once, as a member of a raiding party she had managed to hide from when they had burst in to one of their warehouses when she had been there making an inventory.

Unfortunately they also seemed to recognize her.

***

Something seemed to be happening. Rahan had paid and had been twiddling his thumbs waiting for Lida to come back when he saw one of the waiters hurry from the corridor leading to the toilets – at least he assumed it did, since that was the one Lida had taken – and close the door behind him, then go and whisper something to the man who he had assumed was in charge of the place, from the manner he had been keeping an eye on the room while sitting and reading in one of the back booths.

Both of the men stole a sideways glance at him.

Time to go. He did not know what was happening, and figured he had no pressing need to wait here to find out. Discretion being the best part of valor, and knowing when to leave usually the best way to keep your freedom and your skin intact.

Besides, unless Lida had suddenly developed severe case of diarrhea she should have been back already.

Rahan got up and headed towards the now closed door, hoping it was not locked.

***

The corridor was a short one, and the toilets really were there. There was also a third, closed door. When Rahan opened it he found himself facing a narrow back alley.

There were noises of struggle coming from one end. When he stepped out to look he saw a bunch of people moving there.

The sun was setting, and the shadows were deep. It took him a moment before he could make out what was going on, but when the smallest of the four figures managed to land a good high kick on the jaw of one of the two men in front of her – the third was behind her, holding her arms – he figured he was looking at Lida and three assailants.

He didn’t stop to ponder what was going on. The girl was under an attack, and she needed help.

It didn’t take him more than a moment to reach them. One of the men turned to face him when they heard the sound of running feet coming towards them, a big wall of a brute who didn’t seem to be too much worried about the tall, slim and obviously very young man charging him.

That turned out to be a mistake. Rahan’s blow to his jaw landed him on his back on the dirty ground with no problems.

He had always liked things simple.

And he spent half of his time in high gravity environments, and did most of his training in them. The slimness was deceiving.

The man holding Lida threw her against the wall, where she crumbled down, stunned for the moment. The man she had kicked was still reeling, and Rahan didn’t think he’d have any major problems with the third man, but this time he had underestimated his opponent who turned out to be a lot more quick than most humans he had ever dealt with.

But still no even close to the Shemasharra he was used to sparring with. The man got in a couple of blows but Rahan sidestepped the third one, looking for an opening. They circled each other for a moment before his trained eye saw one, and he went in.

Only to receive a hard punch to his back.

The kicked man had recovered.

The punch itself didn’t bother him too much, but the fact that it dropped his com did.

Time to finish the fight.

***

Lida got up in time to see Rahan dispatch his two still standing opponents, one in front of him with a twofer to his solar plexus, the one behind him with a kick to his… sensitive spot.

She had thought he was bragging when he had mentioned he was a trained fighter. He didn’t look like one, or at least he didn’t fit her idea of one.

Seemed she had been wrong.

For a moment regret filled her. What she was about to do was not honorable. Especially not after this.

But the situation was out of her hands now. She needed to get to her friends, and he would not be able to get back to his ship – nor would he be quite safe there anymore, even if he reached it – after this.

There was nothing she could do now but stick to the original plan.

***

“We need to go.”

The girl’s voice was worried. Rahan checked the three men on the ground and saw they would not stay down long, then looked for his com and didn’t see it anywhere.

“I dropped my com. I need it.”

“I don’t see it. Can’t you access it without direct contact?”

“It has pretty long range, and it’s nearly indestructible, but I haven’t got the implants for it. So no.” He hadn’t liked the idea of something inside his skin – in his skull bones, actually – and had been dragging his feet about getting them for several years now.

Right now he was regretting his tardiness.

“So you can’t tell your ship…?”

“Not unless I find it.” Rahan said, starting to feel slightly panicky. He needed to contact Ryn. Now.

That was when he saw the grating of a rainwater drain right next to them. The slats were widely spaced, a com could have easily fit through them if it had hit them on the right angle.

Or exactly the wrong one.

In there? He knelt to look, but it was too dark down there to see anything.

“Rahan? We have to go. Now. Those men are coming to, but that’s not the main problem. They send an alarm, I saw one of them do it, and their reinforcements could be here any minute.

“And these are Ytjars. If they get hold of us we will probably just disappear.”

The near panic in Lida’s voice got Rahan up. He remembered reading about the Ytjar. Ending up in their hands would not be good. He knew he’d get people looking for him, but it would take days, maybe even weeks – depending how close either the closest Corps ship, or the closest Shemasharra clan ship was – before his reinforcements would get here.

Better not to get into that pickle.

Ryn would know what to do.

“Okay,” he said. “Which way should we run?”

***

The beeping of the alarm woke Ryn up from a nap.

Rahan’s com was no longer in direct contact with him.

The kid had not gotten the implants so he would not be able to communicate with the ship if he lost the com. On the other hand the fact that it was not close enough to sniff him no longer might not mean anything too bad – if one discounted the fact that if the kid had just taken it off his belt without at least leaving a short explanation as to why and when he’d put it back he was going to be getting one more negative mark on his record, and while his record was not too bad yet he had a couple too many on it already – so, perhaps he had only gotten into a heavy petting session with the girl and the com was right now sitting on the floor next to the couch or bed or whatever they might be on since it didn’t have to get more than a few yards away from him before it lost its ability to smell him.

He needed to take a look. If Rahan had taken it off himself he would have only himself to blame for the loss of privacy.

Ryn activated the sensors.

To be answered by the distant sounds of several echoing footsteps, and total darkness from the viewer.

High humidity levels. In fact the com seemed to be sitting in water, if not submerged.

The other diagnostics seemed to indicate something like an underground drainage system.

This was not good.

Ryn woke the ship AI and told it to hack into the police net. Both of them, including the one belonging to the Ytjar.

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