One more to go, and that I will post tomorrow.
The village was a small one, and from what little Rahan could see before he was whisked inside one of the smaller cottages right at the egde, completely dedicated to making clothes out of rags. If you didn’t count the small plots of vegetables around each cottage he could see no fields, no animals except a couple of goats, a few cats and a handful of small dogs – of the type usually used for catching small vermin – and no larger machines. What he did see was people starting to sort out the rags they had come with, a couple of women and one man sewing on simple sewing machines inside some of the buildings with open doors – it had been a very warm day – and some kids stitching by hand while sitting around a table set next to one cottage.
“We will stay here until your ship is ready. There are several meadows within short walking distance from here, when the ship is ready we will go to the one which co-ordinates have been given to your captain,” Lida said.
“How can you be sure he does get that letter?”
“Somebody will visit the ship in person. He will either be a temp or if not, he may have to leave that job and disappear afterwards, but with any luck that won’t raise any suspicions, at least the cleaning crews tend to rotate there fairly fast. So, he will report afterwards. You said the ship did have something like a mail slot next to the main hatch?”
“I think so, it’s never been used in any of the ships I’ve been in but I remember being told about it, and the AI keeps an eye on the surroundings of the ship the whole time,” Rahan said. “Sorry about all the trouble I’m causing you guys…”
Lida didn’t look at him. “No problem. Since I got you into this mess in the first place…”
She seemed a bit uneasy, and Rahan’s suspicions surfaced again. There seemed to be something more going on than what she had told him. Only he could think of no reason why there would be.
The next few days were very quiet. Rahan was allowed out alone but only to get to the outhouse or to wash, for exercise he was taken for a short walk by one of the men late in the evenings. He didn’t see much of Lida, she seemed to be busy with something in one of the other cottages. And the men who kept him company were more jail guards than company – all of his attempts to make at least some small talk, like hey, it looks like today will again be hot, were met either with silence or with monosyllables.
The only conversation they had initiated had been when they had told him where the outhouse was, and where he could wash himself a bit, a basin outside the cottage. In monosyllables, evenly shared by the two of them.
As he got increasingly bored he also got more worried. About himself, about Ryn, about Lida – she had roots here, so even if she would be able to leave the planet she might not be able to leave the troubles he had with the local authorities, like he and Ryn could.
Ryn slipped out of the ship when the first cam watching the area had flown over it, something that would have been a lot harder, and required extensive help from the ship’s AI and the other resources they had onboard in most ports he knew since they usually had hell of a lot better surveillance. But this was a poor world, the port had only some fixed and a handful of flying cams, and a few pairs of boots on the ground (and they seemed to spend considerable part of their time in those parts of the port where they could sit down). And the times between the flying cams were easily long enough for him to get out and get to the jumble of abandoned and deteriorating warehouses – once perhaps meant to house the goods of some export /import business which had not succeeded – which was supposed to hide the entrance to the drainage tunnel.
Unfortunately the AI had so far been unable to break through to the control programs of the cams. It could access their feed, and so knew what they saw, but it could not feed any of them false data or turn it off.
He found the storm drain exactly where it was supposed to be.
Getting inside required some amount of gymnastics, but he was easily limber enough to be able to slip underneath the partly collapsed wooden roof and then through the narrow opening of the forgotten drain. The grating was missing, and seemed to have been gone for a long time.
The tunnel was mostly dry, if smelling moldy and housing the remains of several small animals and other trash. Ryn checked the time, then moved on towards the point of exit, where he hunkered down to wait for several minutes.
It was getting lighter now. The sun would rise before he was supposed to be at the rendezvous point.
The rest of his trip was uneventful. He didn’t meet anybody, and the few people he saw in the distance didn’t seem to notice him.
He reached the designated yard a few minutes early, entered it through the narrow space between two of the buildings which was the only way to it from the back alley, and again hunkered down, behind a couple of trash bins, to wait.
The time he had been told came, and went. Now the street next to where he was waiting was filled with people, a slowly moving mass of them. He could see a good slice of the street from where he was, while remaining out of sight himself. He didn’t leave. The back alley was still as empty as ever, so he should be able to go through there unnoticed even now. And perhaps they had been detained. He didn’t want to risk leaving Rahan behind.
So he waited.
Until a young boy turned and walked into the yard, then stopped right next to one of the bins.
And started talking.
“If there is somebody here – I was told I should not look for you, just come here and say the message I was given, loud and clear – so, if you can hear me, the person you are waiting for can’t walk very well, and he’s been left waiting in the fourth alley towards the park from here, and you should pick him up from there. His helpers were forced to leave without being able to take him all the way to this spot. That’s all.”
And he turned and left.
The boy had been slightly nervous, but nothing out of the ordinary. Ryn’s guess was the kid had been randomly chosen from the crowd on the street, and paid to bring the messenge.
He didn’t like this.
But he was not yet alarmed enough to leave. Rahan really might be in that alley. He would not leave without knowing.
Ryn eyed the walls of the building standing between him and the direction he should go. It was multistory but he could climb that.
What he could not use was the back alley he had come this far. In the direction he had come from had been some inactive fixed cams, easy enough to avoid, but it had seemed to have several active cams in the direction he needed to go now.
“Ship. Search the data for the area I’m in. Any flying surveillance?”
“Yes. There are several.”
“And the alley I used. The direction towards the park?”
“Active cams. Several. You can’t use it without being seen.”
That made both climbing and using the roofs and using the back alley unadvisable.
He would attract attention on the street. He had on contacts on his eyes, they seemed dark brown right now, and he was dressed in way which mimicked the local outfits, but that would not help much. The street probably still was the best alternative. He would stand out, but he would stand out hell of a lot more alone in the back alley, not to mention if he were caught on the wall or on the roof by one those cams. And he could not go through the building. That would require breaking a window or two, and the building was occupied.
And while it was unlikely any of the peons would call the police just because they saw him on the street, they would almost certainly call them if any of the residents saw him inside that apartment building.
So the police would find out he had been here, and possibly that he had met somebody. But if Rahan was there they would probably be able to get back to the ship before they were found. Rahan would have had the sense to ask for a good disguise.
Ryn hoped so anyway.
He stood up and got out of the yard.
Later he was not quite sure how he had known. Perhaps a look by some passerby, a look not directed at him but to somebody behind him. Or maybe a whiff of a very nervous person somewhere close.
He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew.
Only it was just a little bit too late by then, even for somebody with his reflexes. And while a single, or even two or three stunner charges would have left him at least somewhat functional… these people had done their homework. Several separate ones hit him simultaneously.
He was feeling thoroughly embarrassed as he hit the ground. The feeling did not last long. Several shapes converged around him and he felt the prick of a needle on his neck. And there they had also done their homework. His remaining vestiges of consciousness started to fade fast.
And he still could not figure out why.
Rahan was sure the conversation was something he was not supposed to hear, only Lida, who sounded worked up, was rather loud.
Another trip to the outhouse, and now Rahan sometimes went when he didn’t need to, just so he could get out even if just for a few minutes. It was very late at night, most people in the village were already sleeping and the man watching him had been immersed in a game on his com, and when Rahan had told him that he needed to go had just checked something on it and then waved him out. Before at least one of them had usually come and waited just outside the back door.
Rahan assumed the check which they had done every time before letting him out, or taking him for those walks, had concerned something like satellite schedules, he knew that there were several which most likely did surveillance for the government from orbit.
This time he had actually needed to use the outhouse, and he was done and about to go out when he heard Lida’s voice. She seemed to be standing somewhere near in the garden of the next cottage, and when he slowly slipped out and sneaked a bit closer while staying behind some mulberry bushes her words came clearer.
She seemed to be talking to thin air so Rahan assumed a com conversation.
“No, I’m not alright with that.”
Alright with what? Could this conversation by any chance concern him?
“It’s done, then? You have him?”
Again, a silence as she listened to the answer. Rahan strained his ears.
“Yes, we will be ready. When will you get here?”
“Two days from now? Okay. Okay.”
This was frustrating. She was most probably talking about something he wouldn’t even want to know about, but his curiosity kept him rooted to the spot.
“Yes, we have been in contact with the buyer. His ship will get in the system a couple of days from now.”
“That was not what we agreed to. Just that other, not both.”
“What do mean he insists?”
Both? What buyer? There didn’t seem to be much anybody might want to buy from here. Unless it was something like old Earth artifacts some of her friends had stolen as a way to finance their operations… the local nobles seemed like the kind of people who very well might have some family heirlooms of that type.
No. She had sounded as if she was talking about a man. Or two men. Somebody had ‘him’? Whom?
“Yes, that is my last word on this. Do not even think about doing anything behind my back. You need me and my contacts.”
Right after that Lida cursed and stormed towards her cottage.
Rahan walked back to his.
His guard was at the door when he got there.
“Sorry it took that long. I am a bit constipated, I’m afraid.”
The man grunted and stepped aside to let him in, then slammed the door closed and went back to his game.
Rahan sat on his cot, leaned against the wall and worried.
Sometime well after the midnight he was woken by… something. He sat up on his cot and listened.
For the first time here he seemed to be alone in the cottage. The door was closed.
And there were sounds from the outside. A distant scream cut short. Guns?
Rahan got up, put his boots on – he had been sleeping in his clothes, which were still the cheap peon ones, but had been given his boots back – and went to the door.
He looked out.
Something was definitely going on. One of the first things he did hear was the short, sharp crack, like a very diminished version of thunder, of an energy weapon – which would probably be an expensive import on this planet, expensive to buy, expensive to maintain, but something bad shooters often liked since you didn’t have to hit a specific spot with it, you could cut with the beam, something a lot easier to accomplish albeit dangerous to people and things around the intended target. But some people didn’t care about that.
Then something which seemed to fit this place much better, a staccato burst from what sounded like a traditional submachine gun.
The whining sound of a flyer made him glance upwards, just in time to see the dark shape of a large one fly over some of the nearest cottages and land somewhere behind them.
And then he saw something else, a small group of moving shadows, just barely visible against the slightly lighter dark of the open field between him and the edge of the forest. Sneaking towards the forest.
He stepped out and went after them.
“Don’t shoot now or anything, I’m Rahan,” the shadow running after them said when two of them stopped and pointed their guns towards him.
Lida wasn’t quite what to feel. Rahan had just become a difficult dilemma for her. Even more than he had been before. She had rather hoped they could just… forget him here.
“Yes, it’s him,” she said. One of the men close to her asked “who?” in a quiet voice and she spoke again, marginally louder this time. “That’s the guy we brought from the city, the one who helped me when the Ytjar tried to arrest me. Let him come.”
Rahan said “Gee, thanks,” in a rather dry voice and took a couple of running steps to catch up with her as they continued towards the hidden flyers.
“So what’s going on?” was his next question.
“I’ll tell you in the flyer. We need to be quiet now.”
“Flyer?” he asked, but then kept his mouth shut the rest of the way.
The two stolen flyers had remained hidden, fortunately the Ytjar ships had come from a different direction and had done no sweep around the area before going in for their raid. Their tactics often tended towards sloppy… She hoped the people in the village would be okay, at least that no harm beyond the normal would happen to them. The peons did not really have all that much to say when the nobles asked them to do something, and when they had turned some of the cottages in the village into a temporary operations center the person who had, somewhat forcibly, rented them had done it by the power of a very well forged identification card. None of the peons there knew anything. Or at least should not have known anything – but maybe some of them had suspected something, that was one plausible reason for the Ytjar raid.
Of course it was also possible they had come here for some completely unrelated reason. The peons were not so cowed they would not break every law they could when they thought they might be able to get away with it. At times even when there was no gain to be had by doing it. Most of them enjoyed defying and causing trouble for the high classes, and most of all for the hated police and even more hated Ytjar.
They filed inside the two flyers, Rahan following her closely enough to get inside the same one with her, and they lifted without turning on the lights or any electronics which might alert the enemy. Nevertheless she was slightly surprised that they seemed to be getting away without being found out. That reinforced her guess that the raid had not been because the Ytjar suspected insurrectionist activities in the village, but for some other reason. The Ytjar could be ruthlessly efficient when they wanted but had a tendency not to take the ordinary peons all that seriously and as a result often behaved rather carelessly when dealing with them. Their rather cavalier looking approach here indicated they had been after some of the peons, not members of her movement, many of whom were very well trained, and included several members of the noble class.
For over an hour both pilots kept their flyer just above the treetops, going even lower whenever there was room for that, but at that point they figured it would be safe to lift a bit higher and start hauling ass.
Rahan had remained quiet, not pestering her. Waiting for her to explain.
She didn’t want to. She didn’t like lying to friends, and she had began to think of him as a friend. Not a close one, perhaps, but still a friend. And now – even if she told him no untruths she’d still be lying unless she told him everything.
But she didn’t know if would be able to tell him the truth. What she suspected was the truth. The thing she was fighting for meant too much to her.
She hoped they could have left without him noticing. Sure, he would have been arrested, he was known to have some sort of contact with a member of the insurrectionist movement and had beaten up three Ytjar agents. All which would have merited a lengthy prison stay, at the very least, for a local, for a local that length depending heavily on the offender’s family’s influence and financial resources. Possibly hell of a lot worse. For a local. But Rahan was an offworlder, and not just any offworlder at that but a member of the Watcher Corps, a pretty powerful organization by any measures. The Ytjar would probably not have dared to really hurt him, nor tried to make him disappear since the Corps would presumably come asking questions sooner or later.
And he didn’t really know anything that mattered. He knew her, but so did the Ytjar, and in spite of that she was still fairly safe since when it came to those important parts – family influence and money – hers had plenty enough that all they could do to her was to jail her for a little while. So it wouldn’t have meant any additional risks to her or hers if he had been caught…
Her problem was she was beginning to suspect that even thought getting captured by the Ytjar would have been risky for the offworlder he might still have had better chances with them.
Or scrap that.
By now she was pretty sure he would have had better chances with them.
Rahan quietly observed Lida for a long time.
She was nervous. She hid it well, but while the signs were subtle and it was dark he still saw the larger ones, in just the way she moved now. His family had spend enough time trying to teach him how to notice that kind of body language cues.
She had plenty enough obvious reasons to be nervous under the circumstances, but what made him worried was the way she was avoiding him. She didn’t make eye contact, didn’t try to talk to him, not even giving him similar short reassurances she gave to two of her friends who seemed a bit more worked up than the others.
He needed to start getting some hints as to what was going on here.
He got up and went to sit next to the girl.
For a moment Lida refused to look at him, but when she finally did she seemed composed.
“I guess you want to know what is happening?”
“That was an Ytjar raid. I don’t think they knew we were there, though, not before landing anyway. Most likely that was a drug raid. The peons grow some, a rather common practice among them.”
“And where are we going now?”
“Another stronghold we have in these woods. An old, abandoned fortress. These parts used to be rather well populated once, but we had some wars… well anyway, it was a long time ago, and there are no permanent residents around now, but there are several fairly well preserved stone castles and such here. Many enough that even though people like us, ones hiding from the government for whatever reason, are known to use them hiding here is generally relatively safe, as long as you stay out of sight when any of the satellites pass.”
“What kind of equipment do those satellites have?”
“Mostly just visual. A few should be able to detect heat signatures, but not through those structures.”
“And will any of them see us now, on the way there?”
“Yes. That’s why the route is going to be rather roundabout. Right now we are headed straight away from where we intend to go.” She smiled, a slight curving of the lips he just barely saw. “There aren’t many. And we have their timetables.”
“Should you be telling it to me, then?”
She shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. That is one advantage which we are not going to have much longer in any case. They will start changing the schedules for them next week. And it will take a while after that before we can calculate the new ones. It’s one of those things both of us know, the one thing they don’t know is how we keep getting the information of when they make those changes. And I’m not going to tell you that.”
Rahan noticed that she was, once again, avoiding looking at his face.
“And the plan for me?”
Did she flinch, just a little?
“Should still be on. We just need to find a new landing place for the ship. The place we are going to now has a courtyard, but it’s probably not quite wide enough.”
He leaned back and spend a few moments looking at the pilot.
And the dashboard. There was a gaping hole where the flyer’s com unit should have been.
The pilot was actually flying the thing?
Possibly a stolen vehicle. Or not, even if they had gotten it completely legally the com would still have been a problem. They normally did the actual flying, but they also had the safety programs, and weren’t easy to reprogram into something which could not be traced while it would still be able to function as the autopilot. But some models of flyers could be flown even without one, ones where the the engine had a separate unit for its functions. If the pilot was good. Seat of the pants flying was not a common skill.
Rahan was decent. For a human pretty good, actually, if just decent compared to most of the Shemasharra.
If he decided to…
Was he now thinking in those terms?
He didn’t quite trust Lida. And he had not exactly warmed to the other members of this group. But he was a problem to them, and a risk, so even if they acted rude that didn’t necessarily mean they were his enemies.
“Do you think you could tell me a little bit more about your… movement?”
Lida looked out of the window. The flyer was still mostly without lights, but the night was not completely dark. The moons were in the sky and near full, both of them, and while they were small they still cast enough illumination that one could see the broad features of the landscape.
Not much to see out there though. Just an endless vista of treetops.
“I guess. No details, but what the Ytjar probably know anyway.”
“So, how long has your movement existed? And does it have a name?”
That elicited a genuine smile. “No, it’s just ‘The Movement’.” Rahan could hear the capitals in the word and grinned back. “Although, well I guess you might want to use our language name. That’s ‘Maasvat’. It’s not very old… as far as I know it came into existence, originally, maybe a bit under ten years ago.
From what he had looked at before landing Rahan knew that the local year was rather close to the standard one, so he didn’t ask her to clarify that.
“I got involved about two years ago. At first I just helped with the schools, and paid for one of the autodocs…”
That meant she had to be quite rich. Or her parents were. Or both.
“… But then… first there was that thing with Becca, and then the Ytjar found ‘my’ autodoc and it was confiscated, and… well…”
“You got angry?”
“Can you tell me anything about how it’s run? You know the leaders? If you can tell that without compromising them if somebody finds out what I know, that is.”
“I know the local branch leader. I’m not sure about the actual heads, or even whether we have such per se.”
Rahan got the impression she was lying.
“Anyway, that’s about all I’m willing to say.”
“Do you trust that branch leader?”
“Of course,” she said, but didn’t look at him. “Why do you ask? You think…”
“You know the risks with this kind of thing. Or at least you should.”
And now he was sure she was playing. The girl was too smart to be that naive.
“Well, the usual. There has been more than few ‘movements’ which started as an attempt to address, or at least as a reaction to very real grievances, or as a try to change an oppressive regime to something better, but which got hijacked by criminals of some sort, or by people whose main objective was not to do good but to fulfill their own power fantasies. Or who just liked violence. Or the founders were like that even in the beginning, and the whole thing was always just a sham. Lofty rhetoric, bad results.” He shrugged.
She turned to stare out of the window. “I have seen no hints of anything like that.”
Rahan didn’t believe her.
He had been worried before. Now he was getting scared.