Read Galaxy Blues Online

Authors: Allen Steele

Galaxy Blues (7 page)

“I will. Thank you.” All this and a trip to the tailor, too. It suddenly felt as if I'd hit the jackpot.

But not quite. Goldstein started to walk away when another thought occurred to me. “By the way…you didn't say what sort of cargo we're taking to the
hjadd
.”

He stopped. For a second, I thought he was going to turn around, but instead he merely glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, did I forget that? Sorry.”

And then he disappeared. The cell-block door creaked as it was opened from the outside, then it slammed shut once more. Leaving me to wonder if I'd just talked my way out of jail or negotiated a deal with the devil.

( FIVE )

Good-bye, Your Honor…

take me out to the ball game…

where the aliens are…

o, Captain! my Captain!…

a cold Rain.

XVII

Morgan Goldstein was true to his word.

Early next morning, not long after Chief Levin brought in breakfast—which I didn't mind skipping; if the eggs had been any runnier and the bacon a little less fatty, I could have raced them against each other around my plate—another proctor showed up to take me to court. I straightened my clothes as best as I could, hoped that I didn't smell too ripe, then let him put the cuffs on me and lead me from my cell.

Two more proctors were waiting outside the stockade, along with a wagon drawn by an animal that looked like a cross between a water buffalo and a giant anteater. At least there was one creature on Coyote who stank worse than me. The shag farted at least twice on the way across town, and I seemed to be the only one who noticed; my guard and the driver had enough sense to pull scarves up around their noses.

I got a good look at Liberty along the way. Clapboard houses and log cabins lined packed-dirt streets; men and women in homespun clothes walked to work on wooden sidewalks raised a half foot above storm gutters. We passed a schoolyard in which a crowd of children were at play, and from somewhere far off I heard a bell-tower clock strike eight times. Here and there, I spotted indications of advanced technology—sat dishes on rooftops, a hovercoupe parked in an alley, comps on display in a shop window—but otherwise the town looked as if had been transported across time and space from nineteenth-century America. Despite the opening of the starbridges, Coyote remained a frontier where the inhabitants had learned how to make do with what they could build with their own hands. I wasn't sure whether I liked this or not.

We finally arrived at Government House. The wagon trundled around the statue of Captain R. E. Lee, commanding officer of the URSS
Alabama
and founder of the colony, and came to a halt at a side door of the two-story wood-frame building. The proctors helped me climb down from the wagon; the shag passed gas one last time as a fare-thee-well, then I was marched inside.

A quick walk down a short corridor, and then I was escorted into a small courtroom. On the other side of a low rail, two men were seated at a long, wooden table. One of them stood up as I walked in‚ and introduced himself as my court-appointed attorney. Rail-thin and affable, with curly hair that seemed to stand on end, he seemed more like someone you'd find throwing darts in the nearest pub. Better to have him on my side, though, than the other barrister, who barely nodded in my direction before returning sour eyes to his pad; I wondered if being a prosecutor was his way of compensating for going bald before he was thirty.

My lawyer had just finished telling me, in a low whisper, not to speak unless I was spoken to, and only then to say just what was necessary—
play dumb, and let me do the talking
—when another door opened and the magistrates walked in. Two men and a woman, each wearing long, black robes, all of whom looked as if they'd had lemons for breakfast. Everyone rose as they strode to the bench, and we took our seats again when they did. The Chief Magistrate picked up her gavel, gave it a perfunctory smack on the table, and called court to order, and then we were off and running.

And I do mean running, because we were in and out of there in less than twenty minutes. The head maggie asked the prosecuting attorney if he was ready and willing to press charges against the accused, identified as Jules Truffaut. He responded that he was indeed: two counts of identity theft, possession of forged documents, stowing away aboard an interstellar vessel registered to the Coyote Federation, two counts of assault against Federation Navy officers, theft of a spacecraft registered to the Federation, unauthorized intrusion into Federation airspace, and unauthorized landing upon territory in possession of a Federation colony.

I didn't need to be familiar with Colony Law to know that I was seriously up a creek, and not just one found on this planet. Forget deportation. Considering that there was no question that I'd committed every single offense, I would be lucky if I spent the rest of my days in the stockade…if they didn't first ship my criminal ass back to Earth.

When the Chief Magistrate asked how I would plead, though, my attorney calmly rose to tell her that I was pleading
nolo contendere
to all charges, on the grounds that, as a citizen of the Western Hemisphere Union who had grievances with his government, I had been forced to defect to Coyote with the intent of requesting political asylum. The magistrates took a few minutes to study their pads and murmur to one another, and then Her Honor summoned both attorneys to the bench. They spoke for five or ten minutes, their voices too low for me to hear. The lawyers returned to their seats, and my attorney barely smiled when the Chief Magistrate announced that my case would be remanded to a future date, as yet to be determined by the court. Until then I was free on bail, which had already been posted by a third party.

Another bang of the gavel, and it was over and done. My attorney shook my hand, wished me good luck, then turned and walked away. The last I saw of him, he and the prosecutor were ambling together from the courtroom, chuckling over some small joke I didn't catch. The magistrates had already disappeared; a brief glimpse of black robes gliding through the anteroom door, and they were gone. Even the proctors who'd brought me took a powder after one of them came forward to release my handcuffs; he clapped me on the shoulder, told me to stay out of trouble, and followed his pal out of the room.

All at once, I was alone. Nowhere to go, with nothing to my name save for the clothes on my back and a few bucks in my pocket. I stood there for a moment, wondering what the hell had just happened…

And then someone who'd been sitting quietly in the gallery all this time rose to his feet and came forward. A big guy, about a head taller than me and twice my size, with long blond hair and a thick beard to match. In a surprisingly mild voice, he informed me that his name was Mike Kennedy, and that he worked for Mr. Goldstein. Would I come with him, please?

XVIII

A hoverlimo was parked out in front of Government House, only the second ground vehicle I'd seen on Coyote that didn't have an animal hitched to it. Kennedy opened the rear door for me, and I wasn't surprised to find Goldstein seated inside.

“Mr. Truffaut, good morning.” In hemp jeans and a light cotton sweater, Goldstein was more casually dressed than when I'd seen him the night before. “I trust your arraignment went well.”

“Yes, sir, it did.” I climbed into the back of the limo. “No small thanks to you, I assume.”

“Think nothing of it. I try to…” His voice trailed off, and there was no mistaking the look on his face as he caught a good whiff of me. I tried to sit as far from him as possible, but even so he pushed a button that half opened a window on his side of the car. “I endeavor to accommodate my employees,” he finished, his voice little more than a choke, then he leaned toward the glass partition between the passenger and driver seats. “Could you turn on the exhaust fan, please, Mike?”

Without a word, Kennedy switched on the vents. Cool air wafted through the back of the limo. “Sorry,” I murmured. “Three days without a bath…”

“No need to apologize. Can't be helped.” Goldstein tapped on the glass. The limo rose from its skirts and glided away from Government House. “I'm afraid I'm still a little overcivilized. There are still settlements where people take baths only two or three times a week…that's a Coyote week, nine days…and then in outdoor tubs just large enough to sit in.” He paused, then added, “I've had to do it myself, from time to time.”

“Of course.” He'd made it sound as if going without a bath for more than a day or two was an act of barbarism. For him, perhaps it was. “At any rate, thank you. I appreciate your acting on my behalf.”

“Think nothing of it,” he replied, waving it off. “You're working for me now…and you wouldn't do me any good if your residence were the stockade, now would you?” He smiled. “Soon enough, I'll have you at an inn here in town. Nice place…hot running water, two meals a day…and there are clothes in your room that Mike has bought for you. You didn't have a chance to give me your sizes, so we had to guess a bit, but…”

“I'm sure they'll be fine. Thank you, sir.” I was gazing out the window beside me. This part of Liberty had apparently been built more recently than the neighborhood around the stockade and Government House. I caught a brief glimpse of shops, open-air markets, tidy parks surrounded by redbrick bungalows. Very few vehicles, although I spotted a teenager seated on a hoverbike, chatting with a couple of young ladies. More often than not, though, I saw hitching posts to which both horses and shags had been tied up.

“Look over here,” Goldstein said, and I craned my neck to gaze past him. A collection of adobe and wood-frame buildings arranged around a quadrangle. “The Colonial University. Established a few years after the Revolution by some of the original colonists. It's grown lately, thanks to endowments from Janus.”

“I'm sure they appreciate it.” My new boss never seemed to let a chance to brag about his munificence slip by. Not that I could blame him; if I owned what was probably the only hoverlimo on a world where most people rode horses, I'd probably do the same. I was about to ask whether any schools had been named after him when something in a field across the road from the campus caught my eye.

The moment I saw it, I knew exactly what it was.

“Stop the car!” I snapped. Kennedy hit the brakes, and before Goldstein could stop me, I opened my door and hopped out. For a few moments I stared at the field, utterly surprised by what I'd found.

Four bases, with white powder lines running between them, a small mound within the center. Bleachers behind the first and third bases, and a tall chain-link fence forming an open-sided cage just behind home plate. Small wooden sheds on either side of the cage, with wood benches inside each one. And from the top of the cage, a blue-and-gold pennant that rippled in the morning breeze:

Beak 'Em, Boids!

“Well, I'll be damned,” I murmured. A baseball diamond. Of all the things I'd least expected to see on Coyote…

“Oh, that?” Goldstein had followed me from the limo. “Belongs to the university team. The Battling Boids.” A disinterested shrug. “Next week they go up against the Swampers, or whatever they're called…”

“The Fighting Swampers.” Mike Kennedy gazed at us from the open window of the limo. “From Petsloc U.” He pronounced it as
pets-lock
.

“The People's Enlightenment Through the Spirit of Social Collectivism University.” Goldstein shook his head. “Not much of a school, really. More like a small liberal arts college set up by some unreformed social collectivists. But they've got a pretty good ball team…”

“Are you kidding?” Kennedy laughed out loud. “Boss, they stink. Half the time, they're arguing over who's most politically correct to play shortstop…”

“Never mind.” Goldstein was obviously amused by my reaction to something as trivial to him as a baseball diamond. “If I'd known you were such a sports fan, Jules, I would've mentioned this earlier.”

I bit my lip at his condescension, but said nothing. Although I'd read as much as I could about Coyote before making the decision to defect, I hadn't a clue that baseball was played there. And for those of us who truly love the game, it isn't just a sport; it's a fixation nearly as consuming as sex, drugs, or religion, albeit with none of the unpleasant side effects. When I left Earth, I had thought baseball one thing I would be leaving behind. In hindsight, I should have known better. Humankind always carries its culture with it, and no place is truly habitable unless it has baseball.

“I think…” I let out my breath. “I think I'm going to like this place.”

“Hmm…well, so long as we're here, there's something else I'd like to show you.” Goldstein touched my elbow. “Take a walk with me?”

It didn't sound like a request, but after two days floating around in a lifeboat and another cooped up in a jail, any chance to stretch my legs sounded like a fine idea. I nodded, and Goldstein turned to begin walking toward the university. As we crossed the road again, he raised a hand to Kennedy, gesturing for him to remain behind.

He said nothing as we cut across campus. The Colonial University was a little larger than it appeared from the road. Some of the buildings were taller than others, and someone had obviously devoted some time and effort to landscaping. Shade trees lined gravel walkways, with benches and abstract sculptures placed here and there; students strolled between buildings, chatting among themselves, or sat alone beneath trees, engrossed in their books and pads. We sauntered past a kidney-shaped pond, where an elderly woman was holding an open-air seminar with a dozen or so pupils. None appeared much younger than me, and I felt a twinge of envy. Before things had gone sour for me, I could have been one of them. An academic life, shielded from the realities of the larger and sometimes very harsh world.

We'd reached the far side of the campus and had walked up a small hill overlooking the pond, when Goldstein came to a halt near a tree-shaded bench. “Over there,” he said, pointing away from the university. “See it?”

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