Though Hell Should Bar The Way – Snippet 24

Mom and Dad didn’t talk about me. There wasn’t anything really to talk about. I did my schoolwork and played sports without making waves. I wasn’t bad or even mediocre, but I wasn’t right at the top either. There just wasn’t much to say.

Maeve started asking me about working in the Matrix, then. I guess I babbled to her because it was all new to me too. I hadn’t gotten far enough in the Academy to have real experience on the hull after insertion. Astrogation was more important to a career as an officer than being able to scramble up antennas to free a joint or unkink a cable, but I’d done astrogation. Not a lot and not enough to stand out at it, but enough to see the principles and be able to apply them.

I guess I was beginning to see why it had such an appeal to Captain Leary, too. Heaven knows, Barnes and the other riggers I was training with never talked about that part of what I was seeing, but the realization that I was in midst of all there was, of All, seeped deeper into my marrow with every watch I spent on the hull.

I was seeing the Matrix as a series of pathways instead of just being blurs of light which suggested energy gradients. I’d never be as good an astrogator as Captain Leary, but I was certainly becoming better than I had been.

“I’m getting to be a better astrogator than the Academy would ever have made me!” I said to Maeve.

I heard the words when they came out of my mouth. For a moment I was shocked, but what I’d said was the truth and nothing to be ashamed of. Even so I raised my goblet. To my surprise, it was empty. I remembered Maeve refilling it several times as I talked, and I was pretty sure that the server had brought more than one additional bottle during the evening.

“Oh!” I said.

“We could have more,” Maeve said. “It’s good wine. But I think I’d rather go up to my room.”

I got up — lurched, rather; it was a banquette, so I didn’t knock my chair over.

I was pleased to be able to step to Maeve’s seat and offer my arm. Apparently my experience in the rigging had given me the ability to walk upright even when I was drunk.

I was certainly drunk.

Maeve laid her fingers on my forearm and rose to her feet with the liquid grace of a fountain. I was pretty sure she’d have grabbed and supported me if she’d needed to, but I was perfectly steady.

We walked through the restaurant. I heard Maeve call, “On the room, Jean,” but I was concentrating on walking toward the doorway. Everything outside that rectangle was a gray blur.

An elevator opened beside me. Maeve directed me in. I didn’t recall an elevator before. We’d come up to the restaurant by stairs.

The door opened again. We walked into a hallway. I must have been sobering, because I could see in color again. Everything was still fuzzy, though.

We entered Maeve’s room. I heard the door close; I turned her toward me and kissed her. She responded with an enthusiasm that startled me. I cupped her breasts within the garment. The fabric must have been even thinner than it seemed to look at. It had been a very long time since I’d last been with Rachel.

Maeve kissed me again but broke away. “Now let me talk for just a moment, Roy,” she said, “because I want this as much as you do. Now, just sit down.”

She patted to the bed. I sat beside her and tried to embrace her again. She squirmed away and kept hold of both my hands.

“You joined the Navy to protect Cinnabar,” Maeve said, her eyes holding mine. “Protect the Republic against all her enemies.”

“All right,” I said. I didn’t know why she was talking about that. I wasn’t sure what she’d just said was true. I’d entered the Academy basically as a matter of inertia: I didn’t want to think about my future, so when Junior joined the RCN, I decided I would too.

“There are people who use Cinnabar as a tool to make themselves important,” Maeve said. “The worst of these is Bernis Sand, who has a private apparatus outside the Foreign Ministry. She has the ear of very important politicians and we’re sure she’s getting money from the Republic even when she’s working against its best interests.”

I shook my head to clear it. Maeve put my hands back in my lap and let them go.

“What Sand is doing now,” Maeve said, “is trying to stir up war between Cinnabar and Karst. Which will be a disaster.”

“Karst isn’t such a big deal,” I said. My voice sounded like a growl even in my own ears.

“No,” Maeve said. “But that will breach the treaty, and we’ll be back at war with the Alliance.”

I was staring at her bosom. She covered my right hand with her left and raised it to her breast. She giggled. I was so startled that by the time I reacted by shifting forward, Maeve had risen to her feet and walked around my outstretched legs to sit on my other side.

“Now just listen for another moment,” she said. “I know you respect Captain Leary, and perhaps you respect Lady Mundy too. You should. But they’re acting as tools of Bernis Sand, and they’ll destroy the Republic unless they’re stopped. Our economy and our society will break under the strain of resumed all-out war with the Alliance.”

Maeve leaned forward and kissed me again as hard as she had when we first came through the door. She said, “You’ll help me save Cinnabar, won’t you Roy? You’re a patriot, not one of Captain Leary’s retainers!”

She lifted my hands to her breasts again.

I pulled away and stood. I couldn’t claim to be sober, but my mind was as cold as the hull in space.

“I’ll be leaving now,” I said. “We’ll work out what I owe you for dinner, but not just now.”

I walked to the door like I was a puppet on a string, opened it, and went out into the hall. I half expected Maeve to come out of the room after me, but the door remained as I’d shut it.

Instead of riding the elevator, I took the stairs at the other end of the hall. I think it sobered me up some; my legs worked, and my brain was starting to work again.

And the anger helped a lot too. They — Maeve and whoever she worked for — were treating me like I was dishonest. They hadn’t offered me money, they’d offered me Maeve’s body. I wondered if Dad had used whores to bribe people too.

The door at the ground floor opened into the street. I was about to cross, heading back for the Sunray and wondering what I was going to say about what’d just happened. Probably nothing, but I wasn’t in any shape to decide tonight.

The Fountain bubbled to the top again. I turned and went into the bar. I was sober again and I didn’t want to be.

“A double of your house whiskey,” I said. I thought for a moment. “You do have whiskey on Saguntum, don’t you?”

“We’ve got whiskey,” the bartender said. He turned up a glass and began to fill it from a bottle fitted with a pour spout.

I wondered how much money I had with me. Enough to tie one on properly, I was sure. I’d probably have to borrow against my salary to cover tonight’s dinner, but I was damned if I was going to feel that I’d taken any money from Maeve and the people behind her.

A man came in from the street and took a place at the bar to my left. “Say,” he said. “You’re Tommy Reisberg from Xenos, aren’t you? Have a drink on me, Tommy.”

“I’ve never met Tommy Reisberg,” I said, “but I am from Xenos and I’ll cheerfully take your drink. If you’ll have one on me next.”

Another man got up from the table and moved to my other side. “Say, I thought you were Tommy too,” he said. “What you doing in Jacquerie, Tommy?”

The barman put my drink before me as I turned to look at the new man. I’d never seen him before. I’d never seen either of them before.

“I’m still not anybody named Reisberg,” I said.

The man on my right had brought his drink with him from the table. “Well, we’ll straighten things out over a few more of these,” he said. He polished off the clear liquid and set his glass down.

I drank also. The local whiskey seemed to be a rye, but there was an odd undertaste to it.

My knees gave way. The man on my right caught me as I fell into him.

A coin rang on the counter. I heard the other man say, “Tommy never did have a good head. I think this’ll take care of everything. We’ll take Tommy home.”

About that time the gray fog filling my head dimmed to black.