Come The Revolution – Snippet 26

Chapter Sixteen

Four eventful and harrowing hours later, I found myself tied to a chair in a room and blindfolded, surrounded by Humans asking me questions — people I couldn’t see but, judging from the tone of their voices, pretty pissed off at me. Not sure if it was from the heat of the room or just the situation, but sweat soaked my shirt and stuck it to my chest and back. In one way I was glad I was tied up; it kept these people from seeing my hands shake. On the other hand, while I recognized the irony of finding myself tied to a chair, I didn’t appreciate it.

I’d thought I’d have a chance to chat up Nicolai Stal before he turned me over to the “Resistance,” maybe change this thinking about that, but no such luck. So now I was being tried by a revolutionary tribunal. No kidding, they really called it that: a revolutionary tribunal. It wasn’t just the resistance, but some outfit calling itself the Sookagrad Emergency Citizens Troika, and I was getting the idea it represented several community groups of one sort or another, and maybe they didn’t always get along. I’ll say one thing for them: I hadn’t been beaten up yet, just bound and blindfolded for a while.

There were three judges on the tribunal, but so far only two had spoken. Both of them spoke English with a standard accent, the sort news feeders and politicians speak, so they either weren’t from around here or they were pretty well educated. My money was on the second option. No one had introduced themselves so I tagged the two as Dragon Lady and R.G. — which stood for Reasonable Guy. I was starting to suspect Nicolai Stal might be the third judge, but he had kept his mouth shut so far.

“How can you deny you were an undercover operative for CSJ?” Dragon Lady asked. “You were publicly commended for it!”

“Yes, how do you explain the commendation?” R.G. asked. Part of their act was to alternate questions, maybe to keep me off balance.

I took a slow breath to steady my voice.

“A major from the provosts was grateful for me saving Tweezaa e-Traak from assassins, and for trying to save her brother, even though he ended up dead anyway.”

I paused to let the lump pass from my throat. I thought about Barraki, Tweezaa’s brother, a lot, but I tried not to think about him dying, his blood all over me.

“The major made up the bit about me being undercover,” I continued. “I was already in his reports for a bunch of criminal activities. Passing me off to his superiors as an informant was the only way to keep me out of a long-term detention facility.”

“He did this because you saved the wealthiest Varoki heiress in a generation,” R.G. said. “Why would he need to fabricate such a lie? Surely the CSJ would ignore a few petty crimes in light of a service such as that.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think e-Loyolaan, the guy running the provosts, is much of a rule-bender. Besides, that CSJ major didn’t do it because Barraki and Tweezaa were rich; he did it because he had a soft spot for kids in trouble, and he knew I did too, which is why he sent them to me.”

“A leatherhead CSJ officer with a sentimental regard for children?” Dragon Lady said. “Willing to risk his career to repay a debt to a Human? Save your fairy tales, Naradnyo.”

I’d been thinking over what Bela told me about the jockeying factions in Sookagrad, and I was mentally penciling in Dragon Lady as the resistance and Reasonable Guy as the citizen’s league. Of course, they could be playing against role deliberately, but I didn’t think so. Dragon Lady’s frustration and outrage didn’t sound like an act to me.

I looked around, even though I couldn’t see any of them, and I shrugged.

“Believe it, don’t believe it, that’s up to you. But those guys in black and red are people. They are relentless, nearly incorruptible, and usually merciless, and one way or another I think they’re always going to be our enemy, but they’re people. If you don’t understand that, you’ll never beat them.”

“You mean so we can understand their weaknesses?” R.G. asked.

“No, their virtues.”

“Listen to him!” Dragon Lady shouted. “He claims he never worked for CSJ and then lectures us about their virtues.”

There was something about this whole setup which didn’t make sense to me. If this was just the resistance I could see them considering offing me, but if there were other factions like the local citizens’ league involved, what was their angle?

“I’m telling you the truth,” I said, directing my voice toward where I thought R.G. was sitting, “but what if I’m not? What difference does it make? Since when is working for or with CSJ a crime? You guys call yourselves a revolutionary tribunal, right? Who are you revolting against? Everyone?”

“The business of undercover operative doesn’t matter,” Dragon Lady said, speaking to the rest of the judges, “except for what it tells you about his character. But Naradnyo single-handedly destroyed two Human resistance cells. He can’t deny that.”

She was right; it would be stupid to deny it. That was all part of the public record as well as being true, after a fashion. I licked my lips and tasted the salt from my sweat.

“Two years ago I killed the two top resistance people on Rakanka Orbital Highstation,” I answered. “I didn’t set out to do it but they were coming after Barraki and Tweezaa e-Traak, and were going to kill my wife and me in the bargain. Self-defense. Same with Kolya Markov’s gang, although talk about fairy tales! You call them a resistance cell? They were hoods. Only one in the whole bunch who could even spell ‘politics’ was Markov, and all it meant to him was a psychotic hatred of all things Varoki.”

“It must be easy to not hate the leatherheads when you live in the luxury their money buys,” Dragon Lady said.

“You want to hate the system? Go ahead. You want to hate Varoki who have screwed Humans over just because they could? There’s no shortage of them. But if killing a couple Varoki children actually makes sense to you as a revolutionary statement, it’s no wonder this half-assed mess you call a resistance movement has never accomplished anything.”

“Watch your mouth, Naradnyo!” she barked back.

I knew I was baiting her, but I figured I’d lost her vote before we even sat down here. I was working on the other two judges.

“You still didn’t answer my question,” I said. “Who are you revolting against?”

“This is your trial, Mister Naradnyo,” R.G. said. “We are giving you an opportunity to speak in your defense, but we will ask the questions.”

“It’s hard to defend myself when I don’t know the laws I’m being held accountable to. Is self-defense a capital crime? What am I accused of?”

“Crimes against Humanity,” Dragon Lady answered.

“Yeah, but which crimes?”

“In the struggle between leatherheads and Humans, you have chosen the leatherhead side,” she said, “and your hands are red with Human blood to prove it.”

A mutter of angry agreement filled the room until somebody rapped a table to shut them up. There were more than three people here and right now Dragon Lady had them. If she kept them, the other judges would probably go along with her.

“The struggle isn’t between all Varoki and all Humans,” I said. “Have you been paying attention to what’s going on? When the anti-Humanist mobs came to burn this place down and kill everyone here, who kept them off of you? The Munies did, those nasty Varoki Munies, and they killed a fair number of other Varoki in the process. Now the Army’s taken over, the Munies are gone, and Elaamu Gaant is the number two guy in the new regime. All hell is about to break loose because he despises Humans. Sometimes I think he’s right.”

I heard another mutter of angry voices

“Listen to him!” Dragon Lady said. “He condemns himself.”

“What do you mean, he may be right?” R.G. asked, ignoring her.

“First time I met him he said the only elements common to every single Human failure are Humans themselves. Now here you are: an avalanche of fire and blood is about to sweep every Human in this district away, and your priority is to waste an hour deciding if some guy hates Varoki enough to be allowed to live. And you’re the brains of the outfit? Jesus! Just shoot me and get it over with. It’ll be a cleaner death than any of you are likely to find.”

It was a nice brave speech, but I had to swallow hot spit right after it. Fear does that to you, and I figured throwing up might ruin the effect. Sweating like a pig was bad enough.

“Is right,” I heard Stal say, finally breaking his silence. I recognized his voice and accent from our brief meeting right before he hustled me off to the tribunal. “Kill Naradnyo or cut loose. I do not care which, but we have more important things to do.”

“You have actually met Elaamu Gaant?” R.G. asked, ignoring Stal’s comment. “What do you know of him?”

Sweat burned my eyes and I pressed them closed hard for a moment as I thought about that. It’s not as if I knew Gaant all that well. I’d met him a few times and seen him speak on the vid feed, which wasn’t a lot to go on, but there was a single hot thread which burned its way through everything I’d seen.

“He’s driven by hate,” I said, “blinded by it. Something must have happened to him when he was younger, who knows what, but it’s left him with overpowering resentment, a sense that even when he’s on the top of the heap he’s somehow being slighted, cheated. I saw the vid feed of his speech this morning and I don’t think getting hit in the head during the riot improved his impulse control any. Most of his hate’s directed at Humans, but there’s plenty left over for Varoki who don’t measure up.”

“Why do you think he hates Humans so much?” R.G. asked.

“What matters?” Stal said before I could answer. “Has army behind him. How can we fight?”

“We have weapons!” Dragon Lady shot back. “We fight for every block, every building. We make them pay in blood.”

So there was friction between them.

“A revolutionary with a death wish,” I said. “Now there’s something new.”

I heard Stal laugh, a humorless bark.

“We accept the fight that comes to us.” R.G. said. “What choice do we have?”

“Sure, the fight’s coming to you, and your only options are to resist or to throw yourselves on the mercy of Elaamu Gaant, which is nonexistent when it comes to Humans. But answer the question I asked earlier, if not for me, at least for yourselves: who are you revolting against? Everybody? Proclaim this the People’s Democratic Republic of Sookagrad or something and tell the whole Cottohazz where to shove it? You’ll last a week, tops, and then no one will remember anything about you — except a bunch of crackpots got killed after issuing a political manifesto nobody read.”

Stal laughed again.

“And what would you revolt against, Mister Naradnyo?” R.G. asked after a moment of awkward silence.

“Revolt against the junta and its anti-Humanist mobs. Side with the Munies, with the elected government that was deposed, and with the Cottohazz.”

“That’s what you expect to save us?” Dragon Lady said.

“There aren’t any sure things here, only long shots, but at least give yourselves that much. Give the Varoki still loyal to the elected government a reason to make common cause with you. Give yourselves a chance. It can’t work any worse than suicide by angry mob.”

A low murmur of conversation ran through the room, not as angry as before. Frightened. Uncertain.

“Even if we do, what do we lose by killing you?” Dragon Lady asked.

“Your only potential contact to the Cottohazz Executive Council, and those terrible Varoki that none of you would dirty your hands with. Do any of you understand who in the Cottohazz government you could trust and who would screw you the first chance they got? It’s a political minefield, and you don’t have a map.”

I wasn’t sure I did either. Marr and The’On were the real masters in that realm. But compared to all the folks in this room I was actually pretty savvy, which said more about them than me.

“Enough talk,” Stal said. “Vote now.”

“Do you have anything else to say before we do, Mister Naradnyo?” R.G. said.

“I’ve never sided with someone because they were Varoki, or against someone because they were Human, only because of who they were as people and what they were doing. That’s the truth and I think you all know it. So kill me if you want, but if you do, don’t feed yourselves some lie about how this trial was anything but bad theater.”

“Very well,” R.G. said. “Zdravkova?”

I heard a low murmur of conversation in the room, felt sweat run down my back and tickle the ribs under my arms.

“Life,” Dragon Lady said at last, the anger gone from her voice.

“Death,” R.G. said.

I felt a surge of fear-driven adrenaline. Boy, had I read him wrong!

“Stal,” he said, “it is apparently up to you.”

Nicolai Stal laughed.