Come The Revolution – Snippet 08

The question was whether our decision had compromised Gaisaana-la’s loyalty, a notion which had never occurred to me or anyone else until right that moment. And if it had compromised it, what did that mean in material terms?

“Atrium still calm?” I asked ah-Quan. He hesitated before answering, studying the video feed through his viewer glasses.

“Still calm, but more Varoki than before. Not moving, just waiting for something.”

I glanced at Borro who had overheard the exchange. He pulled his gauss pistol from his shoulder holster and checked the charge level and flechette magazine.

“They aren’t going to let you take that into the council chambers,” I said.

“That assumes we actually get there,” he answered.

ah-Quan un-holstered his own gauss pistol, which looked about twice the size of Borro’s, and checked it as well. I hadn’t brought a side arm, and as I sat there I wondered why.

The autopod decelerated smoothly to a stop and I could see the main atrium through the clear transit tube even before the doors slid open. The atrium was at least a hundred meters tall, lined with open vine-draped balconies from each of the levels above and below us. The tube station deposited us four levels up from the broad plaza. The plaza’s floor was an elaborate terra cotta mosaic surrounding a tall fountain, topped by a metallic abstract sculpture, a sparkling, whispering irregular column of polished metal and cascading water which climbed at least fifty meters up the center of the atrium. But the beauty was marred, by the hundreds — no, thousands — of Varoki lining all of the balcony railings in the atrium, all the way up to the top, unmoving, silently staring at us.

You know what’s scarier than a couple thousand angry people? A couple thousand silent, motionless people — scarier and infinitely more creepy. I was about to get everyone back into the autopod when I saw a familiar Varoki striding down the broad corridor stretching south toward the riverside wing of the tower, none other than my old pal from the cocktail party, Elaamu Gaant, best-selling author of inspirational, motivational, and self-improvement tracts, and self-proclaimed mastermind behind the Edict for the Preservation of Familial Assets.

“Well well,” I said, “look who’s here. I didn’t see you on the guest list for this sit-down, Mister Gaant.”

“Possibly an oversight,” he said. “Ah, and this would be the Honorable e-Lotonaa. It is a pleasure to meet you, sir,” he said turning to The’On, bowing slightly and raising his open hands to shoulder height, the old Varoki equivalent of a handshake. The’On returned the gesture without the bow. More and more Varoki had adopted the Human habit of actually shaking hands, but lately there’d been a growing backlash against borrowed Human customs. Gaant was clearly a traditionalist.

“I have heard of your speeches and recordings, Mister Gaant,” The’On said. “I understand they are quite popular. Allow me to introduce Madame Gaisaana-la, who will speak for Tweeza’s guardian, Madame Marfoglia.”

Gaisaana-la bowed but did not offer her open hands. Gaant barely nodded in response. Was that the run-of-the-mill Varoki traditionalist dismissal of a female in a position of responsibility? Or was it an attempt to disguise a relationship or alliance? Or was that just my paranoia talking?

“Madame Marfoglia could not join us?” Gaant asked.

“Security concerns precluded it,” I answered. I glanced up and around at the thousands of quiet, staring faces in the atrium. “Pretty good call, I’m thinking.”

Gaant smiled and tilted his head to the side. “These people? Why would you fear them? They are residents of this arcology and have the right to travel anywhere in it. They do not create a disturbance and do nothing to threaten you. I think any fair observer would find your objection to them unreasonable.”

The smugness in his voice made up my mind.

“Okay, folks, back in the autopod,” I said, and turned to leave.

“Wait!” Gaant said. “Please. Lives may be saved by these talks. I am sorry if your own neighbors frighten you, but I have come to escort you personally to the talks. No harm will befall you while I am with you.”

“Yeah? And what about afterwards? What about getting out of this with our skins intact?”

Gaant spread his arms wide. “I will accompany you again, if it will make you happy. Really, Mister Naradnyo, you have no grounds to distrust me. At our last meeting I was more forthcoming to you concerning my intentions than you were to me.”

“Don’t pull that crap on me. We were both exactly as forthcoming as served our purposes.”

Gaant looked at me for a moment, maybe trying to assess my intentions, then he walked to the nearest railing, raised his head, and called out in a voice which filled the atrium. If nothing else, the guy had a good set of lungs.

“People of Prahaa-Riz, you know me. These people are my guests. I ask you to extend them the same courtesy you would me. Will you do this thing?”

“YES!” a thousand voices barked in unison like a thunderclap, a solid wall of sound I felt hit me like a tsunami, a wave of sound that made the water flowing down the sculpture spray out from the metal, echoed in the atrium, and made the hanging vines shiver. The hair rose on my arms and neck as a jolt of adrenaline surged through me. Beside me The’On‘s and Gaisaana-la’s ears flattened back and their skin turned pale. Borro’s ears and skin remained unaltered, as if he were a statue. That was the result of years of training and probably more violent encounters than I wanted to know about. Behind me, ah-Quan belched again.

Gaant turned back to us, the same soft smile on his face.

“You see? You have nothing to fear here. And I assure you, Sasha Naradnyo, you will find this meeting enormously interesting. Others in the meeting will be as surprised as you at the course it takes, and I think you will want to see their surprise with your own eyes.”

Something in the way he said that convinced me. He had set some sort of ambush here, but we weren’t the targets. The targets were the assholes who had been making my and Marr’s and Tweezaa’s life one drama after another for two solid years. Would I stick around and watch them brought down a peg? I nodded and we followed Gaant down the south corridor. After about twenty meters or so I heard murmured conversation behind me and turned to see ah-Quan handing his big gauss pistol and spare magazines over to Borro. I stopped until they caught up, then walked beside them and gave Borro a questioning look.

“You will look after The’On during the meeting,” he said.

Despite the gravity of the situation I couldn’t help but smile. I’d never heard Borro call The’On anything but his given name or formal title, never the nickname I’d given him. Borro saw my grin and bobbed his head to the side.

“Yes, that little slip will remain our secret, yes?”

“Where you gonna be?” I asked.

“We cannot take our weapons in, and three unarmed security guards will be no more use than two. There is no guarantee that weapons surrendered at the security station will be returned when and if needed. I will stay out here and observe. As a Varoki, I can blend into the crowd. If there is treachery, I will be free to act.”

“Yeah, good thinking,” I said. I looked back at the silent crowd which now filled the corridor, walking slowly after us. “So tell me — not that we’ve got much choice now — but is going into this meeting as stupid as I’m starting to think it is?”

“Oh, no,” he answered. “Much more so than that.”