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Authors: Janet Edwards

Earth Flight (6 page)

BOOK: Earth Flight
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There was a brief pause, followed by Fian, Playdon and General Torrek all saying almost exactly the same words. ‘Why didn’t I know about this?’

I didn’t need to reply. Fian was already answering the question. In fact, he was having an entire angry conversation with himself.

‘I knew Petra was prejudiced against Jarra, but I’d no idea she was actively insulting her. It’s always the same. We’re on our second Twoing contract, but does Jarra tell me when she has a problem? No. Does she ask anyone for help? No. Does she even hint someone’s been persecuting her for months? No, she doesn’t. I swear, one day I’ll strangle her!’

‘Please don’t strangle Jarra today, Fian,’ said Leveque. ‘When Military Security officers are guarding two people, and one of them tries to strangle the other, they get confused about the appropriate course of action. Besides, Jarra’s clearly suffering from shock.’

‘I’m perfectly fine,’ I said.

‘I disagree,’ said General Torrek. ‘I’d ask why the doctors didn’t treat you for shock, but after my years serving with your grandmother I can guess the answer. She hated taking meds as well.’

‘Were any other class members involved in this abuse?’ asked Colonel Leveque.

Steen hesitated for a second. ‘Petra tried to drag some of the rest of us into the name calling, but we wouldn’t get involved.’

I was grazzed to hear this. My own memory of events was that Steen had spent two months calling me a throwback and pointedly holding his nose when he passed me in the corridor. I opened my mouth to speak, but Petra was ahead of me.

‘It’s not true! I called Jarra some names, but you were just as bad. You’re only crawling to her now because she’s famous.’

Steen shook his head. ‘If the rest of us ever said anything rude, it was only because you kept nagging us, just like you nagged poor Joth. You wanted to drive Jarra away so you could get your claws into Fian. When words weren’t enough to get rid of her, you tried skunk juice!’

‘What?’ Fian’s voice interrupted the pair of them. ‘What’s been going on here?’

I urgently blinked my eyes. The regen fluid must have worked because this time the world came into focus and stayed that way. Fian was on his feet now, his face and stance showing his fury.

‘This is because of me?’ He advanced on Petra. ‘You helped that man throw skunk juice at Jarra because you wanted to split us up?’

Petra scrambled to her feet and tried to back away, but only succeeded in knocking over her chair. ‘I didn’t have anything to do with the skunk juice!’

Playdon moved to stand between them. ‘Stop this, all of you!’

Fian looked past him at Petra. ‘Jarra and I are together. Nothing and nobody is coming between us.’

He turned, came back to sit next to me, and took my hand. His unblemished skin against the mottled green and purple of mine.

‘I’m arresting Petra and taking her in for questioning,’ said Leveque.

Petra’s eyes widened in shock. ‘You can’t arrest me. You aren’t a police officer.’

‘Incorrect,’ said Leveque. ‘Legally any member of the Military is also a police officer empowered to deal with interplanetary crimes.’

‘I may have called Jarra a rude name once or twice,’ said Petra. ‘That might get me warnings from Lecturer Playdon under the Gamma sector moral code governing our course, but it isn’t an interplanetary crime. I didn’t have anything to do with the attack on Jarra, but that wasn’t an interplanetary crime either.’

I admired Petra’s courage, but I knew she was making a big mistake arguing with Leveque. I watched him give one of his relaxed smiles, and held my breath waiting for him to pounce on his prey.

‘Your last point is debatable, since the attacker came to Earth from Atalanta in Beta sector specifically to harm Commander Tell Morrath,’ said Leveque, ‘but I’m happy to abandon any action against you under interplanetary law.’

Petra looked surprised to have won so easily. Steen started to protest, but Fian urgently shook his head at him.

Leveque’s smile widened. ‘I now arrest you for crimes against humanity under the powers of the Alien Contact programme.’

Petra gasped. ‘You can’t do that! I have rights.’

Leveque shook his head. ‘Contact with an alien civilization potentially threatens the survival of the human race. Everyone studies the Alien Contact programme in school, so you should know its emergency powers override everything. I’m not even restricted by the protection of humanity laws, let alone your personal human rights.’

He paused to give Petra the chance to speak, but she’d sense enough to keep quiet this time. ‘Both Commander Tell Morrath and Major Eklund have made multiple valuable contributions to the Alien Contact programme, and I consider it highly probable they will do so again in future. Mere suspicion you were involved in harming irreplaceable personnel is enough for me to perfectly legally pick up a gun and kill you. I can also use any methods, however extreme, to interrogate you before execution.’

He glanced at one of the guards. ‘Take the girl to Military Base 79 Zulu.’

The guard took Petra by the arm and led her off. The rest of the class watched her go with stunned faces, but Playdon moved to face Leveque.

‘I have a duty of care to my students. I’ll insist on regularly visiting Petra to satisfy myself she isn’t being mistreated.’

Leveque seemed amused. ‘I’ll authorize your visits, but I assure you I’ve no intention of torturing the girl. I just wanted to frighten her so she’d stop wasting my time with childish defiance and lies. Now let’s discuss possible new locations for your class.’

6

I stood on a stage, looking out at a sea of faces, and heard Petra’s hugely magnified voice speaking. ‘But the funniest thing is Jarra thought the skunk juice would wear off. She didn’t know she’d be stuck like this forever.’

There was a deafening roar of laughter, and I saw Petra standing in the middle of the audience. I jumped off the stage, intent on reaching her and murdering her, but I couldn’t get through. There was a solid wall of faces. No bodies, not even heads, just faces hovering all around me.

‘Jarra, it’s time to get ready for breakfast.’

I woke up with a gasp. In the dim light of the room glows at their lowest setting, I saw Fian looking at me.

‘Another nightmare?’ he asked. ‘The attack again?’

‘No, this one was weird. Lots of floating faces.’

‘I’m sure you’d have had less nightmares if you’d taken your meds.’

I groaned.

‘And why the chaos didn’t you tell me or Playdon about Petra calling you names? We could have dealt with her for you.’

I groaned again. ‘That’s exactly why I didn’t tell you.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Remember after the Solar 5 rescue, when I was in a hospital regrowth tank having my leg fixed. You went and told the class I was Handicapped.’

Fian frowned. ‘Well, someone had to tell them.’

‘Yes, but that someone was me, not you. I was the one who was Handicapped. I was the one who’d lied to them.’

‘It would have been very unpleasant. The class were shocked and people said a few things that …’

‘I realize that. I should still have faced them myself.’

‘That’s a …’ He broke off. ‘No, I see what you mean. I hated standing by watching Lolmack fighting that man with the skunk juice. He was doing my job for me, fighting my battle, and I felt so …’

He shook his head. ‘Never mind that now. I understand what you’re saying. I should have waited until you were out of the tank and let you talk to the class yourself.’

‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘You meant well, but it actually made things far worse. Petra kept jeering at me for being a coward and hiding behind you, so …’

Fian finished the sentence for me. ‘So you couldn’t tell me or Playdon what was going on, because that would prove Petra was right.’ He paused. ‘I promise I won’t fight your battles
for
you again, but I’d like to fight your battles beside you. There’s a big difference.’

I grinned with relief. ‘Fighting battles together is fine.’

He grinned back at me. ‘You’re still a nardle for not taking your meds though.’

‘You’re a nardle too. Did you see the look on Playdon’s face when you insisted on moving the wall?’

Fian laughed. ‘It didn’t take long with Amalie organizing the whole class to help.’

‘It wasn’t the time it took, or the fact everyone was totally exhausted by then, it was the sheer idiocy of wanting to share a room with me when I smell like this.’

I paused to pick my words carefully. ‘Fian, it’s not just the perfume, it’s … Well, it might be sensible for you to keep a distance from me for a while. Leveque said our relationship was making you a target too.’

‘I’ve been waiting for you to suggest that idea, so I could tell you to forget it.’

‘But …’

‘No!’ Even in near darkness, I could recognize the determined angle of Fian’s jaw. ‘I meant what I said to Petra. I’m not letting anyone split us up. I’m definitely not allowing some exo and his skunk juice to put a physical wall between us. With three air purifiers in here the smell really isn’t a problem.’

He’d used the ‘exo’ word; the insult the Handicapped use for off-worlders. I smiled to myself. We were fighting this battle together.

Fian rolled away from me, turned up the glows to full brightness, and got out of bed. I’d suggested we should leave a gap between our beds until the skunk juice wore off, but he’d insisted on having them wedged against each other as usual. Fian was wonderfully, madly stubborn, and I loved him for it.

‘Time for me to shower and get ready for breakfast,’ he said.

I watched enviously as Fian headed out of the door. I was desperate to wash the greasy gel out of my hair and be properly clean again, but I couldn’t. Water would make the skunk juice start burning my skin again.

I picked up the hateful jar of gel and went across to the mirror. The regen fluid had finished healing my eyes, so the reflection of my face was a perfectly focused, lurid green and purple mess.

I sighed and carefully rubbed gel into my skin, choking at the overwhelming scent of Osiris lilies. I’d spent my life wistfully dreaming of the hundreds of worlds I could only see on the vids, never visit in real life, but I was glad I’d never go to Osiris and see its famous fields of luminous white flowers opening at sunset, flooding the air with their fragrance. I’d smelt enough nuking Osiris lilies to last me to my hundredth.

I’d just finished putting on my uniform, when Fian came back into the room. I giggled at the look on his face. ‘Wait outside for a few minutes while the gel dries and the air purifiers catch up with the smell.’

‘No, I can cope.’

He heroically shut the door behind him and started changing from his sleep suit into his uniform. On a normal day, I’d have said something about his excellent legs, or even made him blush by using the butt word that was regarded as shocking outside Beta sector, but today I just turned away and attached my curved Military forearm lookup to my left sleeve where it clung neatly in position. The exo with the skunk juice hadn’t managed to put a physical wall between us, but certain things wouldn’t be happening for a few days.

‘I’ve just realized I didn’t take my gun with me to the shower,’ said Fian. ‘I mustn’t leave it lying about like that or Playdon will throw a fit.’

‘No one else could fire it, and all Military guns and lookups have tracking devices and can be disabled remotely if they get lost or stolen.’ I went over to the bed and reached under the pillow for my own gun.

‘Tell Morrath confirmed,’ said the gun. ‘Active power 3. Single target. Safety engaged.’

I remembered the training Fian and I had been given. We were to keep the guns on power 3, which meant anyone we shot would be paralysed for hours. We were to use single target except in extreme circumstances. Scatterfire would hit multiple targets at once, so you had to be really careful using it.

I stared down at my gun. Physically, it felt perfectly natural to be holding it, the grip had been moulded to fit the scanned medical records of my hand, but mentally …

Although I was Military now, I’d still never expected to hold a gun intended for use against another human being. I wasn’t living in the days of pre-history when humanity fought wars. I wasn’t a Military Security agent. I wasn’t on a hostage rescue squad.

Fian picked up his gun, and it chattered away at him. ‘Eklund confirmed. Active power 3. Single target. Safety engaged.’

‘Wearing protective impact suits all day is impossible,’ said Fian, ‘but I’m surprised Leveque hasn’t given us some sort of body armour.’

‘He doesn’t need to. All Military uniforms are made of special material that’s highly resistant to fire, acid, knife attack, and projectile weapons.’

‘That’s good. So, where do we put the guns?’

‘You’re right handed, so the holsters will be on the right hip and left side of your uniform.’

‘They are?’ Fian ran his hands over his uniform. ‘Oh, this little pocket thing. I hadn’t noticed it before.’

I was still standing there like a nardle, looking at my gun. ‘Fian, do you think you could actually shoot someone?’

He put his gun in the holster on his right hip. ‘Yesterday morning, I would have said no, but now … If someone tries to hurt you again, then yes, Jarra, I’ll shoot them.’

The lookup on my sleeve chimed with a message and I frowned. ‘Major Rayne Tar Cameron of Command Support says the Tell clan council have been notified of the attack. They’ve postponed the presentation ceremony and will contact me when they’ve made new arrangements.’

Fian nodded. ‘It’s sensible to give you time to recover.’

I was still frowning as I followed Fian out of the door and down the corridor. Delaying the ceremony might be sensible, but it meant more days of suspense for Lolia and Lolmack. For me too.

Most of the class were already in the hall, sitting at tables and watching Earth Rolling News on the wall vid. A couple of presenters were talking in angry voices about two images on the screen. One was a girl with her face radiating pure delight. The other was a beaten wreck, with slimy hair, mottled skin, and lifeless eyes. They were both me.

BOOK: Earth Flight
6.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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