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Authors: George Alec Effinger

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The Exile Kiss

BOOK: The Exile Kiss
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The Exile Kiss

George Alec Effinger

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Back Cover

Books by George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails

A Fire in the Sun

The Exile Kiss

What Entropy Means to Me
Relatives
Mixed Feelings
Irrational Numbers
Those Gentle Voices
Felicia
Death in Florence
Dirty Tricks
Heroics
The Wolves of Memory Idle Pleasures
The Nick of Time
The Bird of Time
Shadow Money
The Zork Chronicles

BANTAM BOOKS  NEW YORK - TORONTO - LONDON - SYDNEY - AUCKLAND
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

This edition contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition. NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED. THE EXILE KISS
A
Bantam Spectra Book I published by arrangement with Doubleday

PRINTING HISTORY
Doubleday edition published May 1991 Bantam edition / March 1992 spectra and the portrayal of a boxed "s" are trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1991 by George Alec Effinger.
Cover art copyright © 1992 by Stephen and Paul YouK.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-22944.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information store and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Doubleday, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10103.

To the science fiction community of
the
South Central region, which has given me so much support. and encouragement over the years. My thanks to Armadillo Con in Austin, Swamp Con in Baton Rouge the New Orleans Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, 'and Coast Con m Biloxi.

And special thanks to Fred Duarte and Karen Meschke for hospitality above and beyond the call of duty, while my car was m a near-fatal coma during the writing of this

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware
that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

ISBN 0-553-29664-7
Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words "Bantam Books" and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries, Marca Regis-trada. Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10103.

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA RAD 0987654321
upgraded to v4 by ebookman

 

Though it rain gold and silver in a foreign land and daggers and spears at home, yet it is better to be at home.
—Malay Proverb
O! a kiss Long as my exile, sweet as my revenge!
—William Shakespeare
Coriolanus
Act 5, scene 3

The Exile Kiss

1

It never occurred to me that I might be kidnapped. There was no reason why it should. The day had certainly begun innocently enough. I'd snapped wide awake just before dawn, thanks to an experimental add-on I wear on my anterior brain implant. That plug is the one that gives me powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. As far as I know, I'm the only person around with two implants.

One of these special daddies blasts me into full con-sciousness at any hour I choose. I've learned to use it along with another daddy that supercharges my body to remove alcohol and drugs from my system at better than the normal rate. That way I don't wake up still drunk or damaged. Others have suffered in the past because of my hangovers, and I've sworn never to let that happen again.

I took a shower, trimmed my red beard, and dressed in an expensive, sand-colored
gallebeya,
with the white knit skullcap of my Algerian homeland on my head. I was hungry, and my slave, Kmuzu, normally prepared my meals, but I had a breakfast appointment with Fried-lander Bey. That would be after the morning call to prayer, so I had about thirty minutes free. I crossed from the west wing of Friedlander Bey's great house to the east, and rapped on the door to my wife's apartment.

Indihar answered it wearing a white satin dressing gown I'd given her, her chestnut hair coiled tightly on the back of her head. Indihar's large, dark eyes narrowed. "I wish you good morning, husband," she said. She was not terrifically pleased to see me.

Indihar's youngest child, four-year-old Hakim, clung to her and cried. I could hear Jirji and Zahra screaming at each other from another room. Senalda, the Valencian maid I'd hired, was nowhere in responsibility of supporting the family because I felt partly to blame for the death —Friedlander Bey—had decided that in order to accom-plish such a worthy goal without causing gossip, I also had to marry Indihar and formally adopt the three children. I couldn't remember another instance when Papa had cared at all about gossip.

Nevertheless, despite Indihar's outrage and my flat refusal, the two of us now found ourselves man and wife. Papa
always
got his way. Some time ago, Friedlander Bey had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shaken the dust off me and turned me from a small-time hustler into a heavy hitter in the city's underworld.

So Hakim was now legally... my son, as queasy as that concept made me. I'd never been around kids before and I didn't know how to act with them. Believe me, they could tell. I hoisted the boy up and smiled in his jelly-smeared face. "Well, why are you crying, O Clever One?"

I said. Hakim stopped just long enough to suck in a huge breath, then started wailing even louder.

Indihar gave an impatient grunt. "Please, husband," she said, "don't try being a big brother. Jirji is his big brother." She lifted Hakim out of my arms and dropped him back to the floor.
"I'm not trying to be a big brother."
"Then don't try being a pal, either. He doesn't need a pal. He needs a father."
"Right," I said. "You just tell me what a father does, and I'll do it." I'd been trying my best for weeks, but Indihar had only given me a hard time. I was getting very tired of it.
She laughed humorlessly and shooed Hakim toward the rear of the apartment. "Is there some actual point to this visit, husband?" she asked.
"Indihar, if you could just stop resenting me a litde, maybe we could make the best of this situation. I mean, how awful could it be for you here?"
"Why don't you ask Kmuzu how
he
feels?" she said. She still hadn't invited me into the suite. I'd had enough of standing in the hall, and I pushed by her into the parlor. I sat down on a couch. Indihar glared at me for a few seconds, tiien sighed and sat on a chair facing me. "I've explained it all before," I said. "Papa has been giving me things. Gifts I didn't want, like my implants and Chiriga's bar and Kmuzu." "And me," she said.
"Yes, and you. He's trying to strip me of all my friends. He doesn't want me to keep any of my old attach-ments."
"You could simply refuse, husband. Did you ever think of that?"
How I wished it were that easy! "When I had my skull amped," I said, "Friedlander Bey paid the doctors to wire the punishment center of my brain."
"The punishment center? Not the pleasure center?"
I grinned ruefully. "If he'd had the pleasure center wired, I'd probably already be dead. That's what happens to those wireheads. It wouldn't have taken me long, either."
Indihar frowned. "Well, then, I don't understand. Why the punishment center? Why would you want—"
I raised a hand and cut her off. "Hey, I didn't want it! Papa had it done without my knowledge. He's got lots of little electronic gimmicks that can remotely stimulate my pain centers. That's how he keeps me in line." Learning recently that he was truly my mother's grandfather had not disposed me more favorably toward him. Not as long as he refused to discuss the matter of my liberty.
I saw her shudder. "I didn't know that, husband."
"I haven't told many people about it. But Papa's al-ways there looking over my shoulder, ready to jam his thumb on the agony button if I do something he doesn't like."
"So you're a prisoner, too," said Indihar. "You're his slave, as much as the rest of us."
I didn't see any need to reply. The situation was a trifle different in my case, because I shared Friedlander Bey's blood, and I felt obliged to try to love him. I hadn't actually succeeded in that yet. I had a difficult time deal-ing with that emotion in the first place, and Papa wasn't making it easy for me.
Indihar reached out her hand to me, and I took it. It was the first time since we'd been married that she'd re-lented any at all. I saw that her palm and fingers were still stained a faint yellow-orange, from the henna her friends had applied the morning of our wedding. It had been a very unusual ceremony, because Papa had declared that it wouldn't be appropriate for me to marry anyone but a maiden. Indihar was, of course, a widow with three children, so he had her declared an honorary virgin. Nobody laughed.
The wedding itself was a mixture 6f customs observed in the city as well as those from Indihar's native Egyptian village. It pretended to be the joining of a young virgin and a Maghreb youth of promising fortune. Friedlander Bey announced that it wasn't necessary to fetch Indihar's family to the celebration, that her friends from the Budayeen could stand in for them.
"We'll pass over the ritual certification, of course," Indihar had said.
"What's that?" I asked. I was afraid that at the last minute, I was going to be required to take some kind of written evidence. I'd accepted the of Indihar's husband. Papa test that I should've been studying for ever since puberty.
"In some backward Muslim lands," explained Friedlander Bey, "on the wedding night, the bride is taken into a bedroom, away from all the other guests. The women of both families hold her down on the bed. The husband wraps a white cloth around his forefinger, and inserts it to prove the girl's virginity. If the cloth comes out stained with blood, the husband passes it out to the bride's father, who then marches around waving it on a stick for all to see.
"But this is the seventeenth century of the Hegira!" I said, astonished.
Indihar shrugged. "It's a moment of great pride for the bride's parents. It proves they've raised a chaste and worthy daughter. When I was first married, I wept at the indignity until I heard the cheers and joy of the guests. Then I knew that my marriage had been blessed, and that I'd become a woman in the eyes of the village."
"As you say, my daughter," said Friedlander Bey, "in this instance such a certification will not be required." Papa
could be reasonable if he didn't stand to lose any-thing by it.
I'd bought Indihar a fine gold wedding band, as well as the traditional second piece of jewelry. Chiri, my not-so-silent partner, helped me select the gift in one of the expensive boutiques east of the Boulevard il-Jameel, where the Europeans shopped. It was a brooch, an emer-ald-encrusted lizard made of gold, with two rubies for eyes. It had cost me twelve thousand kiam, and it was the most expensive single item I'd ever purchased. I gave it to Indihar the morning of the wedding. She opened the satin-lined box, looked at the emerald lizard for a few seconds, and then said, "Thank you, Marid." She never mentioned it again, and I never saw her wear it.
Indihar had not been well-off, even before her hus-band was killed. She brought to our marriage only a mod-est assortment of household furnishings and her important, because I'd become wealthy through bride-price in our marriage contract was more than In-dihar had ever seen in her lifetime. I gave two thirds of it to her in cash. The final third would go to her in the event of our divorce.
I merely dressed in my best white
gallebeya
and robe, but Indihar had to endure much more. Chiri, her best friend, helped her prepare for the ceremony. Early in the day, they removed the hair from Indihar's arms and legs by covering her skin with a mixture of sugar and lemon juice. When the paste hardened, Chiri peeled it off. I'll never forget how wonderfully fresh and sweet-smelling Indihar was that evening. Sometimes I still find myself getting aroused by the fragrance of lemons.
When Indihar finished dressing and applying a modest amount of makeup, she and I sat for our official wedding
holos. Neither of us looked especially happy. We both knew that it was a marriage in name only, and would last
only as long as Friedlander Bey lived. The holographer kept making lewd jokes about wedding nights and
honey-moons, but Indihar and I just watched the clock, counting the hours until this entire ordeal would be
finished.
The ceremony itself took place in Papa's grand hall. There were hundreds of guests; some were friends of ours, and some were sinister, silent men who stood watch-fully at the edges of the crowd. My best man was Saied the Half-Hajj, who in honor of the occasion was wearing no moddy at all, something remarkable in its own right. Most of the other club owners in the Budayeen were there, as well as the girls, sexchanges, and debs we knew, and such Budayeen characters as Laila, Fuad, and Bill the cab driver. It could have been a truly joyous occasion, if Indihar and I had loved each other and wanted to get married in the first place.
We sat face to face before a blue-turbaned shaykh who performed the Muslim marriage ceremony. Indihar was lovely in a beautiful white satin dress and white veil, with a bouquet of fragrant blossoms. First the shaykh in-voked the blessings of Allah, and read from the first surah of the noble Qur'an. Then he asked Indihar if she con-sented to the marriage. There was a brief pause, when I thought I saw her eyes fill with regret. "Yes," she said in a quiet voice.
We joined our right hands, and the shaykh covered them with a white handkerchief. Indihar repeated the words of the shaykh, stating that she married me of her own free will, for a bride-price of seventy-five thousand kiam.
"Repeat, after me, Marid Audran," said the shaykh. "I accept from thee your betrothal to myself, and take thee under my care, and bind myself to afford thee my protec-tion. Ye who are present bear witness of this." I had to say it three times to make it work.
The shaykh finished it off by reading some more from the holy Qur'an. He blessed us and our marriage. There was an instant of peace in the hall, and then from the throats of all the women came the shrill, trilling sound of the
zagareet.
There was a party afterward, of course, and I drank and pretended to be happy. There was plenty to eat, and the guests gave us gifts and money. Indihar left early with the excuse that she had to put her children to bed, al-though Senalda was there to do just that. I left the cele-bration not long afterward. I went back to my apartment, swallowed seven or eight tabs of Sonneine, and lay on my bed with my eyes closed.
I was married. I was a husband. As the opiates began to take effect, I thought about how beautiful Indihar had looked. I wished that I had at least kissed her.
Those were my memories of our wedding. Now, as I sat in her parlor, I wondered what my real responsibilities were. "You've treated me and my children well," Indihar said. "You've been very generous, and I should be grate-ful. Forgive me for my behavior, husband."
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Indihar," I said. I stood up. The mention of the children reminded me that they could run squawking and drooling into the parlor at any moment. I wanted to get out of there while I still could. "If there's anything you need, just ask Kmuzu or Tariq."
"We're well provided for." She looked up into my eyes, then turned away. I couldn't tell what she was feel-ing. meager personal belongings. Her contribution wasn't materially my asso-ciation with Papa. In fact, the amount specified as her I began to feel awkward myself. "Then I'll leave you. I wish you a good morning."
"May your day be pleasant, husband."
I went to the door and turned to look at her again before I left. She seemed so sad and alone. "Allah bring you peace," I murmured. Then I closed the door behind me.
I had enough time to get back to the smaller dining room near Friedlander Bey's office, where we had break-fast whenever he wanted to discuss business matters with me. He was already seated in his place when I arrived. The two taciturn giants, Habib and Labib, stood behind him, one on either side. They still eyed me suspiciously, as if even after all this time, I might still draw a naked blade and leap for Papa's throat.
"Good morning, my nephew," said Friedlander Bey solemnly. "How is your health?"
"I thank God every hour," I replied. I seated myself across the table from him and began helping myself from the breakfast platters.
Papa was wearing a pale blue long-sleeved shirt and brown woolen trousers, with a red felt
tarboosh
on his head. He hadn't shaved in two or three days, and his face was covered with gray stubble. He'd been hospitalized recently, and he'd lost a lot of weight. His cheeks were sunken and his hands trembled. Still, the sharpness of his mind hadn't been affected.
"Do you have someone in mind to help you with our datalink project, my darling?" he asked me, cutting short the pleasantries and getting right to business.
"I believe so, O Shaykh. My friend, Jacques Devaux."
"The Moroccan boy? The Christian?"
"Yes," I said, "although I'm not sure that I completely trust him."
Papa nodded. "It's good that you think so. It's not wise to trust any man until he's been tested. We will talk about this more after I hear the estimates from the datalink companies."
"Yes, O Shaykh."
I watched him carefully pare an apple with a silver knife. "You were told of the gathering this evening, my nephew?" he said.
We'd been invited to a reception at the palace of Shaykh Mahali, the amir of the city. "I'm startled to learn that I've come to the prince's attention," I said.
Papa gave me a brief smile. "There is more to it than joy over your recent marriage. The amir has said that he cannot permit a feud to exist between myself and Shaykh Reda Abu Adil."
"Ah, I see. And tonight's celebration will be the amir's attempt to reconcile you?"
"His futile
attempt to reconcile us." Friedlander Bey frowned at the apple, then stabbed it fiercely with the knife and put it aside. "There will be no peace between Shaykh Reda and myself. That is quite simply impossible. But I can see that the amir is in a difficult position: when kings do battle, it is the peasants who die."
I smiled. "Are you saying that you and Shaykh Reda are the kings in this case, and the prince of the city is the peasant?"
"He certainly cannot match our power, can he? His influence extends over the city, while we control entire nations."
I sat back in my chair and gazed at him. "Do you expect another attack tonight, my grandfather?"
Friedlander Bey rubbed his upper lip thoughtfully. "No," he said slowly, "not tonight, while we're under the protection of the prince. Shaykh Reda is certainly not that foolish. But soon, my nephew. Very soon."
"I'll be on my guard," I said, standing and taking my leave of the old man. The last thing in the world I wanted to hear was that we were being drawn into another in-trigue.
During the afternoon I received a delegation from Cappadocia, which wanted Friedlander Bey's help in de-claring independence from Anatolia and setting up a peo-ple's republic. Most people thought that Papa and Abu Adil made their fortunes by peddling vice, but that was not entirely true. It was a fact that they were responsible for almost all the illicit activities in the city, but that ex-isted primarily as employment for their countless rela-tives, friends, and associates.
The true source of Papa's wealth was in keeping track of the ever-shifting national lineup in our part of the world. In a time when the average lifespan of a new coun-try was shorter than a single generation of its citizens, someone had to preserve order amid the political chaos. That was the expensive service that Friedlander Bey and Shaykh Reda provided. From one regime to the next, they remembered where the boundaries were, who the taxpay-ers were, and where the bodies were buried, literally and figuratively. Whenever one government gave way to its successor, Papa or Shaykh Reda stepped in to smooth the transition—and to cut themselves a larger chunk of the action with each change.

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