Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 06
On their half an hour’s walk to safety at Khalid’s rented safe house, they saw horror aplenty, from gang rapes, to lynchings to apartment building’s being burned with their inhabitant still inside. Twice Khalid had to show his trilingual pass from the Imam and twice he and the woman were allowed to pass. Three times she’d had to squeeze his arm to prevent him from intervening.
“What does that thing say?” Alix had asked, after the second such stop.
“I’ll tell you later,” he’d replied.
“You’ll want to shower,” Khalid said, pointing Alix in the right direction. The apartment was dark, but enough light filtered through the windows for her to see where he meant. Looking her up and down, he added, “I’ll find you some of my clothes. We’re close enough in size, if you’re willing to make a few compromises… I suggest you hurry with the shower; the water heater is electric and it will probably be some days before power is restored, if it ever is.”
“I will want to shower,” she agreed, “but first I need to take a shit. That boy wasn’t the first one to mount me.”
“We need to find you a doctor. There’s no need to inform the Police, since justice has already been done, but you might have….”
“Caught a venereal disease?”
He nodded, a little ashamed of his sex.
“There are two possibilities. I have or I haven’t. If I haven’t, there is no problem. If I have there are also two possibilities. It is either curable or incurable. If it is curable there’s plenty of time. If it’s not, it hardly matters when I see a doctor.”
“You are – and I say this in a spirit of deep admiration – one cold and hard and very tough bitch.”
“All my life,” she replied, “all my life.”
While Alix was in the bathroom, he felt his way to a flashlight he kept in the kitchen, under the sink. Once he had that on, we went to his own bedroom and rummaged through the closet for some clothes that would fit her.
Well, that will cover her at least; fit will depend on a lot of rolling of legs and sleeves and a lot of cinching of her belt. He thought about offering her some of his own underwear but decided, under the circumstances, that she’d probably feel better in her own skin, alone, under the too big clothing.
He thought for a moment he heard sobbing through the door to the bathroom. Understandable, if so, but better not to mention it.
Once he heard the toilet flush and then the shower running, Khalid went to the spare bedroom, the one he used as an office of sorts. In that room he kept a small computer with a very large battery capacity. A wire ran from it, out the window, and up to a satellite dish mounted on the roof. He turned the computer on, signed in, and checked messages and then the news.
There was only one message, sitting encoded in a draft folder that served as a message drop. Once he decoded it from a book sitting in a bookcase affixed to the wall, he read that he was to stay put in Sachsen and await further orders. Fuck.
The GlobalNet news gave him more useful information. It seemed that Balboa was willing to return all the Tauran prisoners of war, but only for a price. He read the price and whistled. I guess that how you pay for a war; you win and then present the bill to the enemy. But two million legionary drachma, roughly four million FSD, in silver and gold, per prisoner? That’s got to be unprecedented, at least on this scale. And we claim to have over two hundred thousand POWs in varying stages of health. That should pay for a good deal of the war, even all of it and then some, given how we fought it mostly on the cheap.
Shutting down the computer he gathered up the flashlight and the clothes he’d sorted out for her and went to the bedroom. There he dropped the clothing on the bed. From there he went back to the living room to wait. She was a Sachsen; long showers were inefficient and therefore out. And, if she took a little longer than most Sachsens?
Washing the memory away, I imagine, or at least trying to.
She came out wrapped in a towel. “I suppose it’s silly, since there’s not much of me you haven’t seen…”
“Not silly at all. I’ll sleep on the couch.” He flicked on the flashlight and pointed it at the bedroom door. “You can take the bed.”
“You are very kind. I have no…”
“Just get a good night’s sleep.”
Khalid was up with the sun. He was hesitant to even open the refrigerator, since the electricity wasn’t on and food would begin to decompose more or less rapidly once he open the door and let the heat in. Instead, he took a few rolls from the breadbox, some jam and marmalade from the pantry closet, and Hordalander butter that hadn’t needed refrigeration, anyway.
These he placed on the now well-lit kitchen table, along with a couple of plates, spread knives, and two room temperature beers. Then he went and knocked gently on the bedroom door. “Are you up for breakfast?”
“I could eat something,” came the answer muffled through the door. “Give me a moment to dress, please.”
“Sure; it’s no real hurry.”
When she emerged from the bedroom her eyes were red and puffy. Khalid affected not to notice. He led her to the kitchen and held a chair for her. Then he prised the tops off the beers and poured them into tall glasses, setting one down in front of her and the other on the opposite side of the small table.
“I checked the international news,” he said to her. “It seems that Balboa has defeated the Tauran Union…”
At the mention of that last Alix stopped buttering a half a roll and spat. “Filthy fucking TU; they’re at the root of all our problems.”
He shrugged. “Be that as it may, it looks like the armies of the TU are destroyed, killed or captured almost to a man. They’re offering to give them back for…well…a lot of money…or a lot of gold and silver, actually.”
“I suppose that was at the heart of this Moslem rebellion,” she said.
“That would be my guess,” he agreed, more than a little disingenuously.
“We have no troops anymore,” she said. “We had two and about a half divisions and sent them all to Balboa under the command of that damned frog.”
“You still have people fighting, I think.”
“We used to be a ‘nation in arms,’ with a huge slice of reservists ready to form up and fight at the call.” Alix sighed, wistfully. “A lot of them had legal weapons and a lot of them had inherited weapons secreted during and after the Great Global War by their grandfathers and great grandfathers. On the face of it, we’re nearly disarmed, with only one firearm for every four people. In fact, we have three times that many illegal arms hidden away.
“But conscription didn’t touch the cities so much; young men there preferred and alternative to military service and were given it by a weak government and vote chasing politicians. Most of our potential power remained out in the villages. We could have an army again, though it might be a little long in the tooth, if we had a cadre to rally around.”
“All dead or prisoners, I read,” said Khalid. “And how would you get them back anyway. Who knows who has control over Sachsen’s gold reserves.”
“Oh, that one’s easy,” she answered. “Whoever may have control over the gold reserves here, most of our gold is deep in a vault in First Landing, in the Federated States. It might be hard to assemble a quorum to vote on moving it, but if we could, then we could get it to the Balboans and get our troops back.”
“‘A quorum,’ you say. How many would that be?”
“I’m not sure,” she replied, shaking her head slightly. She let herself become lost in thought for a few minutes, then added, “Actually, I think it would work if we had a quorum of either the finance committee, or the minister of finance, Herr Olaf Kubier-Schmidt, acting alone. I think.”
“Excuse me,” Khalid said, rising. “I need to check my mail.”
He hurried to his office and fired up the small computer. Encoding a message he sent it to headquarters, back in Balboa. In less than fifteen minutes – A remarkable show of speed, really – the message came back. Decoded, it read:
“Help the woman to do whatever she needs to do to get us sent that gold. Nothing is more important at this point than that we get the gold so we can send back their army. I am directing four other operatives to your location. They will identify themselves by the phrase, ‘Saints Peter and Paul.’ Expect them within seventy-two hours. They may not all make it there. F”
He emerged from the office loading a magazine, round by round, for the same rifle he’d carried last night. “So where would we find the minister for the treasury?” he asked. “Assuming he’s still alive, I mean.”