by William Levy
Sequel to published novel, retitled Starcrossed. More problems beset interstellar lovers.
|The first book was retitled STARCROSSED, and published by Blackwyrm Publishing, available at most bookstores or online. It's gotten good reviews so far. The publisher wants the sequel asap, and I could use some honest feedback. Here's the first tenth. Thanks.
Contents copyright February 2010 by William Levy, all rights reserved. No reproduction of the content, in whole or in part, in any format permitted without prior permission. Any resemblance to any persons living, dead, or fictional is purely coincidental and not the intention of the author. Some of the incidents described are partially based on personal experiences, without prejudicial reference to specific people and places. It’s not the intent of the author to encourage individuals to engage in dangerous activities.
Paum: Body and Sold
By William Levy
Fifteen years ago.
Sixty light years from Earth.
Despite the season’s heat, the morning had yet to conjure much warmth. Col and Paum shivered as they reluctantly stripped in the sheltered garden of their home.
From a distance, they'd could easily be mistaken for Earth children; light brown, slender, and delicate. Though a sharper eye would pick out the tails and pointed ears, not to mention the soft gleam of fine downy fur.
Eventually the two tan-pelted catmorph children stood nude in a grim-faced circle of older Preen women.
A gnarled old woman carefully prodded the discarded clothes with a crude staff, pushing them into a pile against the house. Another stepped forward, gestured at Paum.
“Come here, child.” The tone wasn't unkindly.
The barely four year old girl sniffed, rubbed her face with a fist and started forward.
Col interrupted. “Elder, please; me first.”
As murmurs rippled through the group, the barely prepubescent Preen explained.
“If I’m infected, then we know right away what to do if she’s infected or not, and she’ll be spared waiting in fear. If I’m not, then she won’t have to worry either way.”
One of the women frowned. “But if she is and you aren’t..?”
“That won’t be a problem!” Col said harshly. “I’ll be there to care for her.” Young hands clenched, flexed, then relaxed as she took a deep breath, continuing more politely.
“Please, if you would, Graced Esoo?”
The silver-pelted Esoo nodded. “Of course. Raise your arms and tail?” she said professionally.
As Col complied, the crackle of the burning house behind them grew steadily louder.
By the time the fire crew finished, bare brick and stone was all that remained of their home. Several arguments had broken out with the neighbors on the leeward side, but the threat of Green Death was enough to calm most objections.
And the neighbors on the other side had been burned out last week, with nobody moving in yet, although it was rumored the street council had already allocated it to a young couple.
Paum stood in the middle of the rubble, gazing dully at the ruins while her sister poked around trying to locate anything useful.
“T’chah! Nothing! I swear that gang of vandals are thieves, no matter what they say!” Col spat. Her tan fur was streaked with charcoal, and the crude jerkin she’d been given was filthy. But she held up a handful of cutlery.
“This was all I could find.” She walked over to the doorway, squinted at the sky. “Gonna rain tonight. We’d better find firewood and maybe a few tubers quick or we’ll be sorry come dark.”
Her little sister hurried to catch up, clutching her hand as they braved the edge of the forest armed only with a couple of scorched dinner knives.
“Not fair!” Paum pouted, tiny fingers clumsily tying sweetgrass strands around the few long straight sticks they’d managed to acquire that day. She paused to suck at a developing blister. “Don’t like this!”
Looking up from the other edge of the lean-too they were building, Col sighed. “You want to go back? To him?”
The smaller catmorph’s face screwed up in disgust. Thoughts of the distant cousin who’d shown up to claim both the house and them flitted through her mind, along with the discomfort they’d felt at his aggressive stance.
“Adan’s a stinky fat tail!” Paum declared, hesitantly adding “He... kept asking mean... Da... Ma...”
Col dropped the board, hurrying to hug her sister as the little catmorph fought back tears.
“Tsh, tsh, it’s okay...” The slightly bigger Preen rocked the younger, stroking her head and burying sobs in their embrace. “I miss them too. But it’ll be okay, you’ll see. We can do this.”
“Huh?” Col was confused.
“Why do we have to, why did Ma and Da and Tavi..?” Paum whimpered. “So bad, not right...”
Her sister sighed. “Sometimes that’s just the way things are, little one. The past can’t change; all the wishing in the world won’t do that. But we can honor them by making the future ours.”
The younger Preen gave a last sniff, tightened her lips, then pulled away. Sitting next to the pile of sweetgrass, she bent to her task with fierce determination.
Col smiled a moment’s pride before turning back to fit a scavenged board against the stockade wall.
Two years ago.
Orbit of Neptune
“You don't have to go.”
The slender teen grinned up at the station councilor. “Hey, not like I'm that busy on the weekends anyway. And it's pretty much the same sack of school doodle I'm already carrying, right?”
“Smart-ass.” Carter reached over from his work station and cuffed her playfully. “That attitude will endear you to the instructors right off the bat.”
Samantha leaned on her com console and pretended to snivel. “At least, at least I'll get away from this all too cruel discipline I must endure, day in and day out!” Finished with a dramatic flourish of the back of her hand to her forehead.
Laughter filled the small control room of the Theseus Station. Samantha had been an unplanned pregnancy for one of the twenty member crew, proving that even the most modern birth control wasn't totally efficient. And given the cost of transshipping the mother and child, replacing the highly trained mother, not to mention the emotional bonds that had swiftly formed...
Suffice it to say, she'd spent the last fourteen years with twenty highly educated, caring parents.
Her only complaint had been a lack of playmates her own age...
Recently, the physician had done a deep gene scan to check for any future medical problems. To everyone's surprise, Samantha had turned out to be a Pact. Which meant she qualified for a UN paid scholarship to the Academy.
Fifty years earlier, studies isolated a variant in the human race. These individuals were produced by the race itself as a kind of antibody, an emergency weapon to handle a crisis and ensure humanity’s survival.
Since the dawn of time, they were the ones who held up a cave roof long enough for the tribe to escape, stopped a bear with only their hands, or outfought a gang of bandits at a pass. Seemingly normal, sometimes a little bigger and stronger, during stress they became apocryphal, demonstrating levels of speed and strength inexplicable by simple adrenaline, and during a crisis quite unconcerned about their own welfare.
After it was learned how to identify them without a triggering event, a popular science fiction author tagged them after one of his creations in an interview, and through mispronunciation they became known as Pact. Various governments, corporations, and other groups competed fiercely for control of this potential new weapon. The U.N. eventually stepped in, declaring them a resource for humanity, beyond national interests. Following the perhaps inevitable bloody nationalistic reactions, the international authority emerged stronger, and managed to establish a training center and gradually a guild to draw on the immense potential of carefully trained Pacts.
She was composing her answer to the Pact Academy on a hand com while covering her shift on the monitors. One of the most boring tasks on the Neptune orbiting platform, it meant playing human back up for the damn-near-infallible-triple-redundant computer-driven sensor net saturating the station and its immediate area. Which, unless the twice yearly ship was about to arrive, traditionally signaled casual indulgence in multitasking, if for no other reason than to stay awake.
“Seriously, I think it'll be good for you.” Tanda said softly. Her almond eyes had an unusual sheen, and she blinked several times before turning back to her weather probe console. “Yes, good...”
“Yeah.” The sandy-brown haired teen bit her lip as uncertainty fluttered. Not for the first time, she pondered what it'd be like to leave, go someplace completely new. And meet strangers, lots of them, in person!
Samantha had met new people; visitors to the station, even staff changes, while rare, weren't unheard of.
'But so many..!'
Her thought was interrupted by first one flashing red light, then another.
She frowned. “Carter, isn't this the meteor defense..?”
A dozen more leds flared in various colors as the station shuddered. Alarms rang, and Samantha's hands danced over the board as she tried to interpret the data.
“What's happening?” Carter asked hoarsely, trying to look over her shoulder, as the intercom sizzled with voices.
“I'm not...” Samantha's voice cracked, then she got a grip on herself. “It looked like small meteors, but the profile's wrong; too fast, the angle of approach isn't the usual one, and the lasers don't affect them much. And...” she fought the rising panic. “The first cluster...”
“First?” Tanda blanched.
“More...” was all she managed before the station jumped and the lights went out.
A hiss of cool air brushed the hair away from Samantha's face. The instinctive wave of her hand brought a yelp of pain as her right arm failed to move properly. The teen felt dizzy, took a couple of slow, deep breaths, and tried to make out her surroundings.
Dim emergency light, but she was still in the control area. Carter and Tandia were still in their seats, so...
“No!” She couldn't help the tiny moan of despair.
Neither of the adults was moving, and Tandia's head, it was twisted all wrong..!
As her eyes grew used to the light, she saw several burn holes in the control consoles.
“Ah!” She jumped, then jerked from the pain in her arm. “Carter? Are you okay? What's going on?”
“Don't... know... Almost got hit.” His voice was broken with strain. “Comps... sealed... bulk... station shook...”
“What's wrong?” Samantha was almost hysterical. “Why is Tandia, I don't, uh, uh...”
“Get grip!” Carter half shouted, then lay there panting as Samantha fought the shakes.
“Okay...” She finally said, with only a trace of quaver. “What do we need to do?”
She made it across the tiny room, avoiding looking at Tandia as much as she could. Every room on the station had a small emergency medical supply box, and the entire crew was trained in first aid. Following Carter's instructions, she located a pain killer, loaded the syringe, and fired it into his hip.
Samantha gasped when she saw his shoulders. The arms were barely hanging there, or so it seemed to the emotional teen. The councilor grimaced at her as the drug took effect.
“Pieces of bulkhead, when the projectile hit.” He explained haltingly as she awkwardly bound his upper torso with bandages from the kit. “Enough, take care of yourself!”
It was a relief to have orders, purpose, a direction. She almost felt comforted as she ran the micro scan over her arm, picked out small splinters of metal and plastic, doused it with disinfectant and a numbing agent, then wrapped her upper arm clumsily with gauze and bandages.
Then she caught sight of Tandia again...
Controlling a sob, she asked, “What about..?”
“Open the com links.” He replied gruffly. “Lets find out why nobody's checked on us.”
Working slowly with her left hand, Samantha eventually managed to get the comm console to respond.
Creaking noise overlaid with scenes of rampant destruction was all she found. The familiar reduced to worse than horror, loved ones scattered motionless amid chaos. The teen switched view to view, faster, frantically searching for some sign of hope.
Finally she found two figures moving slowly in the rubble of the flight deck.
“I found someone!” She yelled in relief. “It's Uncle Andy and Jess!”
“Are they alright? See if you can get their attention.”
“Okay.” She toggled an open line when suddenly Andy pointed.
Samantha gaped as an odd mechanical creature scrambled up to them.
She'd never seen or heard of anything like it.
Rendered in dull silver, a meter across, an upside down crab shell with various sized multi-jointed legs draped over the sides. Another smaller dish sprouted from the center, out of which a cluster of long jointed tubes ending in inverted teardrops waved randomly. There were no apparent viewers or scanning ports.
Andy and Jess stood very still.
“What, what's happening?” Carter demanded.
“There's some kind of robot, like nothing I've read about, and it came right up to them, and...”
One of the long tubes slowly elongated further, then suddenly whipped around, cutting Andy neatly in half.
Samantha screamed as Jess turned to run.
“It, it killed him!” She sobbed, beating on the screen as Jess dodged and ran. “Go, Uncle Jess, go, go..!”
Red light winked out as flame burst from Jess' back, and he fell out of sight into a pile of trash. The teen sobbed uncontrollably as smoke drifted from the garbage and the robot hovered over Andy.
Carter finally spoke firmly. “Samantha. Sammie?”
She raised red rimmed eyes. “Yeah..?”
“Listen to me, sweetheart. I want you to run and hide, for as long as it takes to be safe.” He paused. “But first, I need you to launch the emergency drones.”
“I won't be able to hide with you.” Carter continued grimly. “Whoever they are, they'll suspect a living hand was responsible for a launch at this point. There's too many systems down. So somebody has to be here to take...”
“There's more of them.” Samantha said, suddenly calm. “They're dissecting Uncle Andy. I think they're aliens, Uncle Carter.”
Her good hand danced across the comm console.
“I added picture files and a note about that, as well as my scan of the fake meteors.” She smiled. “Launched.”
It may have been Carter's imagination, but was that something on the outer bulkheads?
“Samantha! Go now!”
“This is an invasion, isn't it? Like one of those weird movies Aunt Ghani likes?”
Carter was silent.
“Do you remember my thirteenth birthday?” She continued calmly. “Not a child anymore, a teenager. And you insisted on giving me all the passwords.”
The councilor sighed. “You earned them. A very grown-up girl. We're all very proud of you.”
Samantha stood. “I'm going to the secondary control center.”
“No, you can't, you have to...”
She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “I don't think they're leaving, and I don't think I can hide forever.” She answered firmly, handing him a com link. “And I don't want them to have my home. Our home.”
A few steps and she was out the door, dogging it shut behind her before he could object.
Three steps down the hallway, and Samantha stumbled, bounced lightly against the gray-green bulkhead. She smothered a small cry of pain, marching forward with determination.
Turning the corner, the young girl nearly squeaked in fear as she saw one of the metallic things crawling in her direction. Spinning on one heel, she sprinted the other direction along the 'T' intersection, away from both it and the main control room.
'Gotta lead it away from Uncle Carter!' she thought frantically.
Several bursts of flame erupted from the bulkheads as she belatedly remembered to dodge back and forth.
Circling around the docking area, she'd almost lost her pursuer when suddenly another appeared, crawling out from a side passage right ahead.
Without pausing, she pulled her legs together in a small skip, then bent deep and jumped, diving over the low-slung metallic threat.
A burst of flame exploded right under her, as her erstwhile pursuit provided a moments' distraction. She rolled awkwardly but was gone in a flash, around another corner and out of sight.
Samantha was running so hard she almost missed the hatchway to the alternate control room. Huffing for air, she keyed the clearance code on the pad. The thick door hissed open slowly, the lights flickering on.
Behind her, the teenager could hear claws scrabbling as she hurled herself inside and slammed the door, flipping the emergency manual lock in place.
Locating the com station, Samantha brought it online, then tapped the line for direct access, leaned over, and spoke into the microphone.
“Nimue, Nimue, Nimue! Who let the sun-dogs out?”
The com link crackled, and Samantha's breath caught in her throat. She hadn't thought to check whether the orbital platform's back-ups had fully restored all of the computer functions!
Seconds ticked by, then...
Back in the main control room, Carter was almost crying as he repeated her words.
“Nimue, Nimue, Nimue. Who let the sun-dogs out?”
A hissing, burning on the locked door almost drowned her out as she tuned the com link to Carter.
“I love you all.”
Twin magnetic bottles on the fusion reactor shut off, releasing an enormous quantity of plasma and a tiny bit of anti-plasma in the same all-too-small area.
It took a week for the message probes to reach UN authorities.
The surprisingly bright, short-lived twinkle took far less time to appear in the sky.
“She’ll kill us all!”
Paum couldn’t help cringing as the alien figure gestured dramatically at her. His sterile white suit creaked as he moved, and the incomprehensible bright orange markings gave him a demonic air.
She looked to Barrett, in a separate enclosure on the other side of the pale white room, surrounded by four guards in soft brown Pact uniforms. His expression of barely contained anger shifted to an encouraging smile as he noticed her gaze. The Preen did her best to return it.
Her sister Col, seated in yet another box but right next to hers, stared down her delicate muzzle in silent disdain at the... What was he called again?
The Prosecuting Examiner.
It wasn’t a good day.
The week itself had started poorly in the little civilian home tucked in a remote corner of the River City Military Base.
Grey, cold and cloudy all week, a nasty dampness in the air that hung in even as it refused to commit to an honest winter rain or snow. Still too awful to go outside for anything but necessities. And dully enervating when you did.
Even the weekly trip to the PX was a misery, more so when you consider two cold, wet pelts.
Barrett shoved the door from the garage with his shoulder, holding handfuls of nylon sacks high as two poncho-clad catmorphs ducked past into the kitchen with bundles.
“Another week of that damned shuttle and I'm going out to make a down payment on a new van.” The red-headed Pact grumbled. “Insurance payout or no insurance payout...”
His previous vehicle had been destroyed while escaping from a vampire terrorist attack. Along with his entire house and furniture. Something the insurance companies were dragging their collective feet over acknowledging the existence of. Which was the main reason why Barrett and company had taken the grateful Base authority's offer of civilian on-site housing.
The three doffed rain-wear, then hustled about the small kitchen, storing groceries.
“Carla said she'd found a good dye for me to try.” Paum commented as she stretched, pushing a box of oatmeal onto an upper shelf.
“I don't trust her.” Col grumbled. “Her pelt is strange.”
“Those are tattoos.” Barrett explained. “Traditional markings, like... ah... that one of yours. A little more extensive, more decorative usually. But she's very knowledgeable about skin and hair dyes.”
“About changing them anyway. I'm never sure if I'm speaking to her or a litter mate!”
“You should get to know her better. Come back to the exercise classes.” The younger Preen wheedled. “They really are interesting...”
Col snorted. “Useless sweat in a roomful of dharm?” She stalked out of the kitchen, tail curled in disgust.
Barrett looked questioningly at Paum's shocked expression. “Um, dharm?”
She blushed under the thin fuzz of her cheeks. “It's, uh, women who, they prefer, I mean, they only, other...” The catmorph grew angry. “After all those bad stories when... She shouldn't!”
Running after her sister, she exploded into a swift stream in Preen, too fast for Barrett to keep up with even if he'd been totally versed in their native tongue.
The older catmorph's reply, even couched in Preen, was clear enough.
“Why? Do we have any family pride left?”
Col had been dropping more and more less and less subtle hints about long term relationship plans for months, and this looked like the opening of another one of those evenings where an experienced male just ducks and covers.
Unfortunately, Barrett wasn’t experienced. Not to mention that most of the daggers being slung were in an off-world language he was still learning.
Suffice to say, it escalated rapidly.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of; I'm the beloved mate of a katarn!”
Katarn was the Preen term for great hero; It was the word they used to refer to Pacts.
“You lay with a rutting alien wizard-beast with no sense of proper ritual! Even his own lack any commitment or ceremony.”
“That's not true!” Paum gripped the back of the couch and shouted at her sister. “They have many different ways of pledging...”
“Then why haven't you done so?” Col's eyes narrowed to slits. “Before witnesses, a simple t'garth would do, I'm sure one as respected as he can find some elders to stand for him in public.”
“I told you before why we can't.” Barrett interjected. “It's a delicate time. My people haven't finished deciding...”
“Whether we belong in cages, bedrooms, or both!” Col spat. “And if they decide a cage, you wouldn't want it said you lie with animals!”
“No, I just don't want...”
The Pact stopped when he noticed the younger cat-morph staring wide-eyed at him.
Stifling a sob, she ran to the bedroom and slammed the door.
Barrett followed, trying the knob, but it was locked. Inside, he could hear soft crying. Tempted to rip the door off its hinges, instead he rested his head against it quietly.
Returning to the main room, he flopped down into the couch, and glared at the older cat-morph.
After a moment, the Pact slouched and closed his eyes. “I know sometimes it's hard to understand, but I'm trying to do what's best for both of you in this world. That means getting you accepted without reservation by as many people as possible, not just shoving what I want in everybody's face without giving a damn. Thinking about other people first, no matter what. Not something you spend a lot of time doing, but...”
Coll stomped off, slamming the door to her room.
The redheaded man sighed again, pulled off his socks, and curled up on the curved couch.
“Teena, Teena, Teena, nighttime, main room only.” He growled, muscling a pair of pillows into an only moderately displeasing configuration.
“Okay, goodnight!” Athena, the household computer replied brightly.
Dawn found Col restlessly fuming in her room, Paum tossing and turning in bed pondering the best way to make up with her lover, and Barrett on the couch awoken stiff and cranky by Athena.
It was just as well the Medical Corp sent an advance notice before arriving in person, even if it was only a few minutes.
“What do they want?” asked Paum, nervously eying the white-suited guards seated opposite in the troop carrier.
“I think they’re here to find out if we’re going to make people sick.” Barrett did his best to appear calm. No sense in worrying the two Preen. Yet.
Inside, he was calculating rapidly. The Medical Corp guard’s reaction when Barrett flatly refused to allow the prisoners to be transported separately was wary confusion. That at least showed things weren’t as predetermined as they could be.
Obtaining another, larger truck also delayed the procession a few extra minutes, giving time for...
A familiar black car was parked near the front of the large military office building the Medical Corp had commandeered on the River City Base, and a lanky individual with a thick portfolio case waved cheerfully as they disembarked.
“You wouldn’t believe how few people they notified about this little shindig.” Smythe commented, casually brushing past several armed guards as if they were manikins.
Barrett nodded. “Doesn’t surprise me. Our coms stopped working for some reason. Good to see you made it.”
A more persistent guard attempted to push between them. “Sir, you can’t, this is a restricted...”
“Can’t? Can’t?” Smythe’s eyebrow arched. “My favorite least favorite word, especially when applied to me.”
His empty free hand waved back and forth, then was abruptly filled with a single sheet of paper. The lawyer presented it to the startled guard with a flourish.
“Let me see that!” An officer joined the growing cluster. She snatched the paper.
“By all means.” Smythe said mildly. “I've always tried to encourage literacy.”
The officer’s eyes widened. “The Secretary General’s office? Impossible! He couldn’t...”
“He didn’t. But he should’ve been informed.” A trace of concern crossed the lawyer’s brow. “He thought so. As do a number of other... interested people. Don’t you agree?”
After staring at the document silently for another minute, the officer growled at the guards. “This man is Pact Barrett’s legal representative, as well as an official UN observer and provisional custodian of the two Preen.” She paused, then grudgingly. “He’s allowed to accompany them.”
Smythe fell in with the crowd, coming up behind Barrett on Paum’s side. She flashed him a smile as the redheaded Pact whispered over his shoulder.
“Nice. The Essgee?”
The lawyer grinned, spoke softly. “Among others. You’ve got a few fans out there, y’know. Not to mention a couple of players who wouldn’t mind bloodying some political noses, so to speak. Oh, and...” He lowered his voice further. “Minny sends her regards.”
This was a guarded reference to Minerva; formerly Barrett’s custom built house maintenance and security program, she’d developed AI capabilities. Barrett had rescued her from the wreckage of his previous house and set her free on the world net with the help of her now deceased programer. She earned server space by working quietly for the River City military base commander as an anti-hacker consultant.
And was more than a little protective of her benefactor. Although it was a good idea to keep this fact under the table, as much for her safety as anything else.
Barrett nodded in response. No simple net blockage could keep the agile Minerva from launching a full scale subversive publicity campaign, let alone a couple of quiet phone calls.
“Any idea what’s going down?”
Smythe frowned as they approached the door of the converted offices that served the Corp. “Not sure. Something political, a play for points maybe?”
Down a short corridor, and they were met by a group led by another officer. He conferred with the first then approached with an assistant who was carrying three sets of wire cuffs and a medical bag.
“If you will please hold out your hands..?” he began.
“What?” Barrett growled, and the Preen bristled angrily, but Smythe waved them down.
“This is my game, let me play!” The lawyer complained, digging into his case and whipping out a sheaf of papers. “Am I to assume you intend to physically restrain my client and wards for some unstated reason?”
Frowning, the officer replied. “Of course! They’re dangerous...”
“I’m so sorry you feel that way. Would you mind signing this statement detailing the recent actions they’ve taken which cause you to consider this a valid stance?”
“He’s a rogue mutant and they’re wild alien animals!” The officer sputtered. “Who knows what they’ll do..?”
Smythe turned to the other officer. “Would you mind signing this witness form detailing his racist, xenophobic, and defamatory statements for the court of inquiry?”
The older officer grabbed the paper and shouted. “You do and I’ll see you busted to corporal!” He turned to his assistant. “Enough of this crap, trank them all and dump the smart-ass out back!”
The aide hesitated as the younger officer stiffened. “Sir! We can't..!”
“Just a minute!”
Barrett tensed as a tall woman in the plain brown duty uniform of a Pact stepped out of the crowd near the door. Stalking over, she glared down at the older officer.
“I’m not happy with what I’m hearing. Give me a reason not to pull my team out of here right now, and these three with us.”
The senior officer gulped, tried to meet her steely gaze. “You wouldn’t dare. Your orders...”
“That wasn’t it.” She brushed back an errant strand of short brown hair, laid a finger on her ear com. “Three, two, one...”
“Alright!” He surrendered, turned away gritting his teeth. “Dawson! Dump the restraints and bag in Ordinance, then getcher ass back here double time!”
Turning back, he glared. “Well, let’s get going, everyone inside, if that’s alright now?” he asked with sarcastic politeness.
Milling confusion as the officers attempted to sort out who was seated where, meeting with little resistance.
Col stomped over to the low-walled gated open box she was directed to with silent dignity.
‘Never let the beasts sense your fear...’ She thought, even as the darker azure catmorph obliquely examined the room for weapons, escape routes, and defensible points.
“I don’t like this.” The lawyer muttered to Barrett. “No outside com feeds, only court cameras, controlled access, too damn much like a Star Chamber for my tastes. Watch your tongue.”
Paum’s identical box was next to Col’s in the center of the large pale cream room, although it was a toss up who was more upset when Barrett was motioned away to a box further on the side of the room.
Smythe stepped close, shook his head, mouthed 'Not now!' and the redheaded Pact backed down, pausing only to squeeze his love’s hands.
“Be calm, and remember I love you.”
Paum nuzzled his scarred knuckles. “I love you, too.”
They parted reluctantly, then the tense redhead walked to his box and sat, trying to relax.
Four people in the informal tan Pact uniforms took alert positions around Barrett’s box, including the tall woman.
“Thanks for earlier.” He tried to sound casual. “You already know I'm Barrett Angel. That's Paum, my love, and her sister, Col.”
“Major Schorr, Janet Schorr.” She admitted tersely.
“Wow, a major in charge of a squad? Not taking any chances with rank fights are they?” Barrett commented. “So, four of us assigned to this?”
“That’s a lot of Pacts for one problem.”
She smiled humorlessly. “You’re a lot of problem for one Pact.”
Barrett was one of the best.
He'd always been a mix of happiness and grief, both for the Pact Guild and whoever they worked with. Undeniable ability combined with out-of-the-box thinking that produced solutions saving lives.
The redheaded Pact had survived more assignments than any other Pact on the official records. In an arena where suicidal level danger was part of the job description, this made him something of a legend.
But in his desire to save lives he sometimes ignored politics.
Sending him on the first mission to another solar system had been both a recognition of his excellence, and wishful hoping by certain parties for him to finally encounter extreme danger he couldn't handle. As second in command on that interstellar discovery mission, he’d met Paum, a catlike (but still very human) native of the world the locals referred to as Pree. And despite numerous obstacles, they’d fallen in love, and fought the odds to stay together.
A quartette of late arrivals caught Barrett’s attention, if for no other reason than sheer spectacle. Clad in identical dress suits of muted maroon, the lead character was thin to the point of emaciation. Only the obviously padded shoulders of the coat gave this nervous-looking guy enough area to cast a shadow.
Bringing up the rear were two huge men who looked like medium weight class sumo wrestlers, one deep black, the other pale white. Despite the skin colors, they resembled unsmiling mirror images.
In the midst of this circus strutted a proud specimen. Tall, handsome, tanned, and fit, he turned a wide genial smile in every direction as he progressed into the room, nodding and murmuring to various people as his little sideshow maneuvered to the front of the courtroom and parked in seats in the crowd behind the far side of Paum’s box.
Smythe sauntered over to Barrett’s box.
“And what are you up to?” The tall female Pact asked as he approached.
“Just a little last minute attorney/client stuff.” The lawyer held his hands out to the sides at an angle. “See? Nary a sharpened subpoena in sight.”
Schorr studied him for a second. “Trust and lawyer are two words I rarely include in the same sentence.”
“I’m wounded!” Smythe said dramatically, turning to Barrett. “If you want, you’re welcome to listen in. The gentleman with the grape theme is none other than Lyndon Harris.” He continued quietly.
Barrett stiffened. “Can’t be good. He makes the lunatic fringe look mainstream. How’d he swing an invitation?”
The lawyer shrugged. “Money. Besides the business interests of NorthAm's loudest self-made man, there’s always big bucks in the entertainment value of upgrading psychopaths into a psycho-superhighway. And your recent little escapade certainly raised the stakes in the paranoid conspiracy business, on all sides. I’m just trying to figure out what angle...”
“If everyone would please take their seats? This hearing is called to order. Judge/doctor Morris, Judge/doctor Lare, and Judge/doctor Carol in attendance.”
Officers and other executive members of the Medical Corp in the courtroom wore not only sterile white uniforms with orange stripes, but more elaborate isolation headgear. It didn’t hide their identities completely, but did lend them an eerie air of facelessness.
The three judges/doctors sat in comfortable chairs at a table in the focus of the room. The Prosecuting Examiner, an average specimen, at least as far as could be determined through the containment suit, stood and passed out papers to each of them.
Smythe immediately raised his hand. “Your honors?”
“And you are?” The judge/doctor in the middle asked sharply.
“Counsel for the Defendants, as well as representing various interested parties.”
“I thought the Defendants were unrepresented.” The judge/doctor on the left tapped the papers. “Something about a communications' failure.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that, your honor.” Smythe said guilelessly. “I came as quickly as I could.”
“In any case, if those are filing documents, I was hoping I could get a peek at them.”
“You weren’t provided with a copy in advance?”
“Not at all, your honor.”
The central judge/doctor turned to the Prosecuting Examiner. “Give him one. Now.”
The Prosecuting Examiner took a deep breath. “I, ah, only brought four hard copies.”
The judge/doctors conferred softly for a moment.
“Sharing is the only answer, even if it bends the rules a trifle.” The center judge/doctor finally announced. “But this entire irregularity will be transcribed on your case file records.”
“Yes, your honor...” The Prosecuting Examiner’s shoulders slumped.
“Well?” The judge/doctor on the right asked in a thin voice.
“Um, your honor?”
“You wrote it, so you obviously know what's in them. Besides, you have your laptop to refer to in a pinch, or I'm sure he'll hand them back for a moment if needs be. Hurry up and hand him your copy so we can get on with this!” the judge/doctor snapped.
The P.E. complied with obvious reluctance.
“Thank very much.” Smythe did his best honestly earnest impression.
“As your honors will see from the provided documentation, the subjects in question were introduced into our environment through questionable means; without the least use of proper isolation or testing regimens.”
The Prosecuting Examiner was off on an angry tear. No sooner had he handed Smythe the file than he turned around and launched into his opening argument.
The Pact lawyer was torn between examining the papers and listening to his immediate opponent.
“Two alien organisms from a completely different ecology, a totally foreign biological system, harboring who knows how many unknown parasites, disease vectors, and vermin, let alone strange new microorganisms to which we have no natural defenses. And yet these creatures are allowed to wander freely, to mingle with the population, even after one of them infected hundreds of innocent soldiers with a communicable illness causing worse dementia than rabies!”
“Your honors,” He paused, then gestured dramatically at Paum. “She’ll kill us all!”
Paum couldn’t help cringing from the alien figure. His sterile white suit creaked as he moved, and the incomprehensible bright orange markings gave him a demonic air.
She looked to Barrett, in a separate enclosure on the other side of the pale white room, surrounded by the four guards in their soft brown Pact uniforms. His expression of barely contained anger shifted to an encouraging smile as he noticed her gaze. The Preen did her best to return it.
Col stared down her delicate muzzle in silent disdain at the Prosecuting Examiner. He spoke too fast, and the mask muffled his speech a little, but enough of what he said was clear. This beast considered them dangerous. ‘He has no idea.’ She thought angrily.
Meanwhile, Smythe ambled forward. The Prosecuting Examiner gave way with surly reluctance.
“Your honors,” The lawyer gave a half bow. “Perhaps my colleague has strayed farther than needed into speculative territory. In any case, both of our visitors, however reluctantly they may have arrived, were indeed subjected to batteries of tests, both voluntary and involuntary. In one case, nearly an entire year under the auspices of one of the most advanced, if unethical, laboratories on this continent. And, may I add, I would appreciate it if my esteemed colleague could bring himself to refer to my wards as intelligent beings, rather than pejoratively as creatures or specimens.”
“Objection!” The P.E. practically snarled. “NorthAm has yet to acknowledge the status of these... things.”
“Counter.” Smythe said smoothly. “The UN has provisionally granted ward status to both. Which can only be given to recognized intelligent beings. And UN rulings supersede local laws in the case of civil rights disputes. As per the Charter.”
“Your honors.” A reedy voice from the crowd interrupted.
The embattled lawyers turned as the middle judge/doctor asked curiously. “And you are?”
The thin member of the lavender clad quartet stood. “Arthur Marrow, your honor, representing Lyndon Harris IV and his ah... business interests.”
Barrett sat up, eyes narrowed. Three of the guarding Pacts tensed nervously, but their tall squad leader merely gave a small shake of her head.
The three judge/doctors were conferring, isolation helmets rubbing as they leaned in. Finally, they sat back, and the center one spoke.
“Apparently this wasn't unexpected. In fact, one of my colleagues has informed me that Mister Harris has petitioned for access to any hearings and proceedings in this venue for several months.”
“If I may ask, what is Mister Harris' interest in my clients?” Smythe asked quietly.
“You may, but in vain, because he has none.” answered Marrow smoothly. “But I believe I can save the court considerable time at this juncture, by pointing out the relevance of the business loss guarantee provision of the original UN World Charter.”
Everyone stared at the skinny lawyer, standing there, smiling confidently. You could almost hear the mental gears turning around the room. One of the judge/doctors tapped away at his com, showed it to the others.
“UN rulings cannot take precedence over local law when this would cause grievous financial harm to a local business...” Smythe recited slowly, scowling. “What financial harm could my client or wards do to him?”
“Not your wards.” Marrow held up a sheaf of papers. “His property.”