Authors: Susan Jane Bigelow
I want no part of other people’s pain
, Michael thought.
At least, not any more than I have already.
And he went to find Janeane, or to sit where she had been and absorb more of her peace.
* * *
The others seemed not to notice that they had stayed far beyond what they had originally said. Every morning, Andrew would come to Michael’s room and smile, saying, "You’re welcome to stay longer."
And Michael would say, "Thank you." And they’d stay longer. Michael had no wish to hurl himself back into the freezing world. He started to avoid Ian and Broken, and stopped looking in the mirror.
Whenever he saw
licking at the edges of his vision, he ran for Janeane so he could see the ocean rocking back and forth, bobbing up and down, over and over…
Janeane was always happy to see him. Sometimes, as he lay tossing and turning from his dreams, she would put her cool hands on his forehead, and whisper things he didn’t understand in his ears. "This is for you, Prophet," she said. "Only for you."
Sometimes she seemed tired and haggard, but whenever Michael or Monica asked her about it, she put them off, saying she’d just had a long day. She’d been having a lot of long days, lately.
Outside, the world was tilting sharply downwards. But Michael took no notice of it. He rarely ventured out into the cold. He tuned out the hushed, heated discussions of politics and Reformists. What did he care for them? He was safe here.
* * *
Broken came to him just after the new year. "Ian," she said. "Valen."
She looked cold, determined, insistent. He waved her off.
"Soon," he promised. "Let me rest. We’ll go soon."
"Men," she grumbled, and wandered off.
* * *
At times, he did venture outside with Monica. She liked to take walks down to a nearby pond, where she could feed the few ducks that remained.
"So tell me about Janeane," he said one cold January day. The pond hadn’t frozen over completely, so the ducks were still bobbing on its surface. Michael and Monica tossed bread crumbs at them; they picked them out of the air when they could, and swam hard after them when they missed.
"Oh, she’s a friend of mine from when I was in college," Monica said. "She's older than me, but we got along really well.. She kind of got me involved with the
. At least, that’s how I got interested in one of Andrew’s Xenoculture classes. Janeane kept bugging me to go. And so I did. I guess it’s hard to not do what Janeane says." She laughed.
"Yeah," Michael agreed. The ocean roared in his memory.
"She’s not from around here. I think she grew up somewhere a lot warmer, in the south or maybe the Caribbean. She never said, and I didn’t ask. She likes to keep secrets."
"Mmm," Michael said. He could see that.
"How’s your friend? B?"
"Fine... I think. I see her creeping around the house at night, and she’s been getting drunk a lot, but she’s not stealing anything and she’s still around. I guess that’s a start."
Monica giggled, her green eyes bright. "Jane won’t talk about her anymore. All she does is play with Ian. It’s like she has a new kitten."
"I’m glad Ian’s happy," Michael said, tuning out. Ian… Ian…
There was a man signing a piece of paper. There would be peace and unity for a century. Peace...
He let himself relax and forgot about it.
* * *
Broken knocked on his door one day not long after. She was completely sober; her gaze was hard and quick.
"Hey. We should go," was all she said.
Michael shook his head. "We need to make sure Ian is all better. Patience. I’m still coming up with a plan." He seemed out of it, his eyes faraway and dreamlike.
Broken grunted and left.
She passed Janeane in the hallway later that day, and glared at her. Janeane only smiled; she was infuriatingly difficult to hate.
That night she dreamed of lying on a beach, and then of wading in shallow water that came to her knees. Was there something there, in the water? She reached for it.
She woke abruptly, feeling a sense of incalculable, unknowable loss.
Something inside her began to shift.
* * *
Janeane and Michael lay in bed, listening to the quiet of the house around them. He ran his hands along the soft curve of her side, and she moved closer to him in her sleep, murmuring happily.
"I want to go to the ocean with you," he whispered.
"You can’t," she said. "The ocean is mine, and you have things of your own to do."
"But maybe," he struggled to say, "Maybe I can come there when I’m done."
"You’ll never be done."
"I think I love you, Janeane."
She squeezed him. "You are beautiful, Prophet. You can come to my sea whenever you want. It’s right here." She kissed his forehead again. "Always."
He opened his eyes and was alone, but her scent was still heavy in the room.
* * *
Jane and Broken sat across from one another. Jane held Ian in her lap. He gurgled happily; he obviously liked her.
“Have... have you seen anyone else?” Jane asked hesitantly.
“Sky Ranger a few times, from far away,” Broken said.
“Did...did they try to find you? Did the LED come after you?”
Broken shook her head. “No. You?”
“They... no. They didn't.” Jane cradled Ian in her arms. “Do you miss it?”
Broken closed her eyes, a million emotions warring inside her. How could she answer that question?
* * *
"What does she do?"
"Janeane! Who else?"
"She works for the CA. I thought you knew that." Monica tossed a crust of bread to the ducks, who gobbled it up greedily. One duck, a big black and white male, was muscling all the other ducks out of the area, so no one else could eat. It was January, but the ducks had stayed. Strange. Michael and Monica tried to throw the food to the others, but the big one kept grabbing it away. "That duck’s a jerk."
"What does she do at the CA?" The Colonization Authority controlled everything that went to and came back from the twenty or so worlds humanity had colonized.
"Oh, she just deals with transportation issues," Monica said vaguely. "I worry about her there. The CA isn’t safe."
Monica stared at him. "Don't you know? I thought you were a political artist or something.”
“Right. I, um, specialized.”
Monica rolled her eyes. “The Reformists hate them. One of the first things they did was expose so-called corruption at the CA." She scowled. "They’re jealous of the power it has."
"If they’re so powerful, they should be able to take care of themselves."
"When the UNP was in charge, they could," Monica said. "Not anymore." The UNP was the United Nations Party, recently kicked out of power by the Reformists after fifty years. "I’m a UNP member. So is Janeane. I worry sometimes..."
"Janeane will be safe," Michael said. "No matter what."
"Yeah," Monica said. "But what about us?"
Michael couldn’t answer her.
he others were all gathered in a tense clot around a screen in the common room when they returned.
"What happened?" Monica asked, worry choking her voice.
"President Lin escaped," Andrew told her, expressionless. "Some party members got her out of jail." President Lin Su-Kwan had been the president of the Confederation before Damien Peltan. She’d been put in prison by the Reformists, Michael knew, but he wasn’t sure why.
"Isn’t that good?" Monica said.
Lydia shook her head. "You’ll see."
The reports took an ominous tone. A government spokesman came on to announce that the United Nations Party leadership had been behind the breakout. He said that the government would "take direct action against an outlaw party."
"‘Outlaw party?' The UNP? What does that mean?" Monica seemed genuinely confused.
"It means we were right about them," Lydia said bitterly. She took off the small UNP pin she’d been wearing since Michael had first met her, and put it in her pocket. Everyone watched her, agog.
Monica went to the kitchen, and Michael followed her.
"What’s going on?"
Monica looked like she was ready to cry. "Lydia was on the UNP committee for our district. I wanted to join it next year. Can the administration really do this? We were the Confederation government for fifty years! How can we be traitors?"
Michael thought. "I don’t know," he admitted. "But didn’t President Lin do something like try to steal the election? Um. I mean, isn't that why they put her in jail"
Monica glared at him. "Yeah, they
she did. But she didn’t. We believe Peltan really took over the government in a military coup." She stared at him. "How could you miss that?"
"Other priorities," Michael said. Joe had been sick and dying in 2105. They shared an uncomfortable silence for a few minutes, then rejoined the others in the living room.
An hour later, the police caught up with Lin and her compatriots on the wide plains of central Australia. The wind whipped up dust all around. In the center, stepping gingerly out of an open-top car, was Lin herself. A group of Black Bands—not the police after all—in smart uniforms surrounded her. She raised a hand—a feeble old woman, all of five feet tall, raised a hand to surrender—
The Black Bands opened fire. Lin Su Kwan fell, disappearing into the dust.
* * *
An hour after that, President Peltan declared martial law. He also declared that all opposition parties had been outlawed, because of suspected terrorist ties.
Riots broke out all over the world. The news reports framed it as evidence: the opposition was bent on disorder and chaos.
"What’s going to happen to us now?" Andrew wondered.
"We’re fucked," Shawn said evenly. He seemed no more or less disturbed than before.
Horror flooded Michael.
He smiled and sighed. He looked around for Janeane, but found she wasn’t there . She hadn’t come back from work yet.
"Where’s Janeane?" he asked.
Monica turned white. "The CA! They’ll take it over! They’ll kill her!"
The Colonization Authority was a symbol of the old regime. The Reformists hated it. And they had just seen what the Reformists did to things they hated.
A frenzy of activity gripped the
. They called her office; she wasn’t there. Later, they watched the screen in horror as the Black Bands stormed the Colonization Authority transfer station in Newark ... but Janeane wasn’t one of the prisoners taken, nor was she listed among the dead. No one had seen her.
"Janeane can take care of herself," Lydia said absently, after a while. "Don’t worry about her. She’ll come home."
And yet Michael still held the ocean in his mind. Behind the peaceful waves, though, an urgent need to be gone was building.
* * *
They watched the reports for a while longer, and then decided, fitfully, to go to bed. A few riots had broken out in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but nothing had spread their way yet. Supposedly Australia was going insane. Janeane still hadn’t come back.
Michael paced sleeplessly around the house for an hour, unable to go to his room, unable even to think. Janeane had to be safe. Maybe she had gone to her ocean.
Janeane was out of the house tonight.
He rushed back to his room and bundled his few possessions and some cash into his pack. He almost didn’t notice the envelope on the pillow, but the pale blue paper caught his attention as he turned to go. He opened it.
A letter. He read it quickly.
Time to leave, Prophet. These are for you. All my love. Godspeed.
Three pieces of paper fluttered to the ground.
Tickets. To Valen. Each bore the CA stamp, and each had two hundred credits taped to it.
"Thank you, Janeane," he whispered, and ran out of the room, putting the envelope and its precious contents in the inside pocket of his jacket.
He ran to Broken’s room, but she was already up. She held Ian in her arms.
"Time to go?" she asked.
He nodded. "How did you get him away from Jane?"
"She fell asleep. I hold him every night when she sleeps."