Through Fire – Snippet 17

Which was why when I reassembled the machine and turned it on, and the holo of a rather plain young woman, with scraped back dark hair and wearing a tunic as non-descript and grayish as mine floated in front of me, the first words out of her mouth were, “I’m sorry, the picture is not very clear. Can you move to another booth, please?”



“No, I don’t wish to move to another booth,” I said.

There was a silence, and she looked like she would like to ask me why not, but instead, what she said was, “We like to have visual verification to protect your account integrity.”

“You have a genlock for verification,” I said.

The holo of the supervisor wagged its head, then looked away. I got the impression she was consulting something. “But why wouldn’t you wish for–”

“I’m comfortable in this booth, and I don’t wish to change,” I said, and infused my voice with that tone of I’m being unreasonable and prepared to make your life difficult that is the nightmare of anyone in a service position.

There was a long pause, then she said, “Very well. Is your account with us?”

I said no, and gave her the code for the bank in Liberte. I could have given her the name, but it was less likely she would remember what and where it was by the code, and I’d memorized the code, in case I ever needed to draw money elsewhere. Then I put my finger in the genlock, let it read it.

“Where would you like the money transferred and how much?” she asked.

“I would like it in to-go unmarked credigems,” I said. Simon had introduced me to these, and even given me a few, with instructions that I was to use them whenever I didn’t want the whole world to know about my purchases, since all the other records were tracked.

There was a silence. “We’d prefer to transfer it to an account in our bank,” she said. “We can offer you very competitive rates in–”

I repeated my request for pay-to-the-bearer gems. The hologram of the representative didn’t sigh, but gave the impression she wanted to; however presently, the little chute atop the machine ejected three glittering gems while a slit in the machine spit out a receipt telling me the account in Liberte was now closed.

The hologram of the bank employee vanished with the suddenness of something turned off, and I opened the door to the booth and walked out.

Slipping the gems into the pocket of my pants, I started making a mental list of what I needed and where I could find it.

One thing was sure, either on Earth or in Eden. I wasn’t going to find the cheapest prices in the brightly lit streets, with the beautiful buildings and the shining shops. And I’d learned something about seacities, too. In seacities, the lower levels correlated with the cheaper properties and the less expensive shops.

I ambled to an area where there were stairs down, then took them. I needed a broomer suit, not expensive but good, because I intended to fly at high altitude and fast, and the cheaper suits might not be well insulated enough to prevent my losing appendages. I probably had enough money for a flyer, but it seemed to me that if I took one, I’d be painting a huge target on myself. Much easier to see a flyer land. A broom could take advantage of any little bit of beach, or even, for that matter, go underwater, if needed.

What I was wearing would do for under the suit. I was still a little worried about sticking out, or being memorable, but assumed I’d pass more easily in my present clothes than if I had been properly attired and–

And I careened into someone, stepped back, started to apologize, and stopped. Something about her — not very clear, but remembered, sparked my memory. She didn’t look like anyone I knew, but there was something to the way she narrowed her eyes, to her expression that was familiar. Her eyes too were familiar. Very dark and intent.

It clicked suddenly and I remembered I had met her, but in passing. She was Martha Remy, Nat Remy’s twin sister, a head shorter than he was and with mousy brown hair instead of his pale blond crop, but the eyes were the same.

I had a moment of confusion, the unreasonable feeling that I was “caught” and then I stopped myself taking a deep breath, and told myself I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was an adult, with adult autonomy. Lucius Keeva might not want to render Simon assistance and help, but that didn’t mean I was forbidden from doing it. It just meant that I was on my own.

So I smiled graciously — a thing I’d learned to do from-the-lips-out in all sorts of embarrassing situations with people who expected me to know how to behave on Earth — and said, “I beg your pardon,” as I started to walk around her.

She grabbed my wrist. I just stopped myself from breaking her arm. In Eden you don’t grab strangers, you just don’t. And if you attempt to do it, you might find your arm broken or worse, you might find yourself taken to a traditional court for compensation. Sure, among family or friends there’s touching, but you simply don’t physically restrain someone you’ve barely been introduced to. And I was faster, stronger. Which is why I didn’t break her arm. You didn’t hurt normal people. I’d learned that early enough.

My checking of my own movement must have been noticeable because she took a little step back, startled. “You must let me talk to you,” she said. It was all in a rush, as though it came out impelled by some violent emotion. “You must. Luce is going to send you in there and–”

“The Good– Lieutenant Colonel Keeva is not sending me anywhere,” I said. “He has told me he’ll give what help he can, but in fact he can give no help, so I’m free to stay and will be sheltered but there’s no help for Simon.”

She stomped her foot, hard. “That,” she said, “is just what I mean. He’s sending you in there with no help at all, and you can’t go. You just can’t. If you do, you’ll end up dead, and Simon will end up dead and it won’t do anyone any good.”

I stared at her. “Something wrong with your hearing?” I asked. I rarely allowed myself to be rude. It’s an expensive luxury. But talking to Martha Remy was like howling at a hurricane. “He’s not sending me anywhere. He’s not interested. I can please myself and do what I wish.”

She narrowed her eyes, but not at me, more like she was trying to sort through something. My rudeness glanced off her as though she had an invisible shield. “That’s how he’d do it. Luce, I mean. Oh, I don’t want you to think badly of him. I rather like him, in a way, which is good since I think he’s permanently attached to our family through Nat — but that’s how he does things. He no longer has any power, objectively. He never had any power, in a way, because before his father died, he had none, but the thing is, he’s learned to get people to do what he wants. He wants you to go to Liberte and rescue Simon. And he doesn’t want his fingerprints on it. But he’s being so clever that he’s stupid, because you’d just get killed.”

“That’s exactly what he said,” I said. “That it would be suicide.”

“Yes,” she nodded. “He would. But I don’t think he realized that he was exactly right. He’s not, you see, very worldly. Not really. You can’t be when your entire life was artificial, and you spent fourteen years away from all human beings.” She rubbed her fist under her nose, in a reflexive gesture that looked like something a young child would do. “He wouldn’t realize how you stick out, how odd you are.”

“Beg your pardon?” I asked, wondering if she were paying me back with rudeness for rudeness.

She looked at me, but I still got the impression she wasn’t seeing me. Not as Zen Sienna, not as a person she was talking to, but as a problem, a cipher, something to be calculated and weighed. “How could you not be?” she said. “You’re not from here. And you stick out all over.” She sighed, and seemed to focus on me, really focus on me for the first time. “Are you determined to go and rescue Simon, one way or another?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think I have to.” This was not the place to explain to her how I’d been raised with the idea that I owed normal humans service, nor the load of unspoken guilt in my mind because I couldn’t save the one normal human who meant the most to me. Len had trusted me, and all I could give him was death. I was not going to have another death on my conscience.

This time she was looking at me, looking into my eyes, evaluating me. She sighed. “Well, then,” she said. “You’re going to need Royce.”


“Royce Allard,” she said. “You’ll see.”