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Authors: Suzanne Francis

Wintermoon Ice (2010) (9 page)

BOOK: Wintermoon Ice (2010)
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One man, blond and wiry, wearing the uniform of a Kepitan, whispered rapidly to the others in their tongue, no doubt telling them not to fire. He seemed oddly familiar. Suvi stared and stared, but the increasing darkness melted his features into a blur. He held up a hand and the boat cast off, leaving him alone on the shore.

She waited, unmoving, as the heavily laden boat set out to sea. The rolling mist soon doused the light completely. The Kepitan strode away into the darkness, and Suvi heard the muffled sound of a car soon after.

Just then, something rubbed against her leg in a friendly way. Suvi gasped in fear, but it was only Chelah, down from the tree at last.

* * * *

The dark form of a car blocked the alley as Suvi wearily rolled the motapede to a stop outside the warehouse. She stared at it, a little nervous, wondering to whom such a fancy velo belonged and what they wanted with Carina. When the door was thrown open, the extra light helped her to recognize the car. It was Jack's, no doubt about it. She wondered if she ought to hide, but Suvi now felt so tired she could hardly find the strength to walk, never mind run.

Marja called into the darkness. "Suvi? Is that you?"

Suvi lurched forward into the light, waving her hands. "Shhh... Do we have company? Who is it?"

Marja's eyes were shining. "Indeed we do, and she has been waiting ages to meet you. Where have you been all this time?"

"She?"

"Dr. Katy Bennett, of course. The friend of Tom Finn's." Marja seized her by the arm and dragged her towards the door.

Suvi shook her away. "I have to carry in the fish. You get Chelah and go back inside. I will be there in a minute."

She waited for Marja to close the door, and then Suvi stole round to the office windows. Boards and blankets blacked out the windows, but she found a knothole and squinted into the tiny ray of light. A woman sat on the bed, petite, smartly dressed, with chestnut hair swept into a fetching chignon. Marja stood beside her and smiled, and the woman smiled back. Dr. Katy Bennett...

From offshore. My wife and I came here last year.

She was entertaining Jack's wife, who had somehow turned into a friend of Tom's, though he had denied knowing Jack. Suvi sighed, wondering dizzily what it all meant.

Once inside, she dropped the pikken into the kitchen. Brini took the sacks, redolent with the smell of fish, from her with a hearty smile. "Pikken for the banquet! Where did you find these?"

"Ludde," answered Suvi distractedly. "Is there any food left? I am starving."

Brini gave her a motherly pat. "Go and put some dry clothes on. I'll bring you some bread and soup in a minute. You look done in." Suvi thanked her and headed for the office, trying not to stumble as she walked.

Dr. Bennett stood when she entered the room. Her voice sounded very cultured, with the trace of an accent. "Suvi? How nice to meet you at last. I am Katy Bennett."

"Nice to meet you too. May I ask what brings you to Carina?" Suvi wiped her hand on her jacket, and extended it. Katy shook it heartily.

Suvi frowned as Marja answered for her. "She came to see Riku. Turns out Tom was right. He does have Trench fever. Dr. Bennett has given him some medicine, and he seems better already."

Dr. Bennett laughed, long and low. "Katy, please. We don't have to be so formal, I hope. I get enough of that at my clinic in Ebbetsfeld."

A stinging twinge made Suvi rub her calf. The room seemed suddenly hot and airless. Katy stood and crossed the room. "You are looking very pale. Is everything all right?"

Suvi rubbed her eyes, wondering why Katy's face seemed so out of focus. "I got chased by a Grond escort plane. Had to cut across country. It was hard work on my pede. Then Chelah got away and..."

"But you have been hurt! There is blood on your trousers. Let me have a look." Katy squatted and gently pressed against Suvi's calf. The sharp pain that followed made her head swim. Katy rose and caught her, just as she slumped to the ground in a faint.

* * * *

"How in the hell did she make it back here at all?" The voice Suvi heard seemed to come from a long way off.

"Delayed shock. It is not at all unusual in situations where someone's life is endangered. The body keeps going as long as it can, and then it just shuts down."

"Don't you think I should shift back to Litchfield and fetch her some penicillin? Infection could be a real problem here."

"Too risky. People might start asking questions. Jack said we aren't supposed to travel off-world, anyway."

"Who cares what..."

"Shhh... Tom, she may be waking soon. We don't..."

Suvi opened her eyes. Tom Finn and Katy Bennett stood close together, looking at her. "What... What happened? Did I faint?"

Katy smiled and patted her shoulder. "You took a bullet in your calf and it severed a rather important blood vessel. But everything will be all right."

"Did you fix me?" Suvi blinked at her.

She shrugged modestly. "Well Tom helped a lot. I called him and he brought a surgical kit, then assisted with the..." Tom's foot shot out and kicked her. "Bandaging," Katy finished with an exasperated look.

"Can I sit up?" Suvi licked her lips, trying to quell the nausea that filled the back of her throat. "I am very thirsty."

Tom handed her a drink of water and she sipped it carefully. "That is because you lost a lot of blood. You must have left a trail all the way home. Where did they catch you, anyway?"

"On the
Ayedeen Road
. I went to see Ludde."

Tom's voice was sharp. "Ludde Armstrong? What were you doing visiting him?"

Katy tutted in disapproval. "She is tired, Tom. Don't pepper her with questions right now." She sat on the edge of the bed. "It is very late, and I had better get home before they send out a search party. Tom is going to stay here with you tonight. He knows... a little bit about medicine, so if you need anything he should be able to help. I will come back tomorrow and look in on you, all right?" She stood and left the room before Suvi had time to thank her.

Tom hovered over her. "You probably feel a little sick. Katy gave you some ether while she cleaned and stitched the wound. But there is some soup here, if you can stand to eat. Brini put it in a vacuum jug to keep it warm. It would probably do you good to get something in your stomach."

Suvi nodded vacantly, so he brought over a tray with a small bowl of soup and a piece of bread. She sipped the tepid soup, and nibbled a little bread. "How do you know Katy? She is from a different world and you... well you said you came from Schippendorff."

Tom sat beside the bed, and sighed. "Katy and I went to school together." He did not elaborate.

"And did you go to school with Jack, too? He is her husband, isn't he?"

He glanced at her apprehensively. "How did you know?" Then he groaned and answered his own question. "Oh dear. The car. We should have thought of that, I suppose."

Suvi could hardly keep her eyes open, but she forced herself to speak. "Why are you here? What do you want with Carina?"

He rubbed the top of his shorn hair distractedly. "I can't tell you."

"Why not?" Suvi struggled to sit up further. "Why won't you trust me?"

"I... just can't. I am sorry. But I promise I mean you no harm."

As much as Suvi wanted to, fatigue robbed her of the ability to argue further. She passed the tray back to Tom, and slid under the covers. "Will you be here in the morning? This isn't over yet, you know. I will get to the bottom of this, I promise you."

"Of course I will," Tom said, with a smile in his voice. "We can continue whenever you feel up to it."

But when she woke again, Tom Finn could not be found.

* * * *

"Major Bennett? Dr. Finn is here, Sir."

"Send him in." Jack frowned, and threw his pen down. It bounced off the pile of papers he had been annotating and landed on the floor. Sighing, Katy bent and retrieved it.

Tom strolled into the office. "You wanted to see me?" He saw Katy as she straightened. "Oh
,
hi Katy. Busy night, eh?" He sprawled in the other office chair, rubbed his eyes and yawned hugely.

Katy gave him a worried smile and cut her eyes towards Jack, who stood, tall and glowering, behind his desk.

"Busy night?" he growled. "Busy night? Is that all you have to say for yourself?"

Katy tried to calm him. "Jack, dear.... You promised not to get angry."

He threw up his hands in despair. "How can I not be angry? You two go out without permission, right into the middle of a sensitive area, and then blow our cover wide open! What am I supposed to do now? Tell me how I can salvage this mission?"

"Tom and I took an oath when we became doctors. We can't just ignore someone who needs help. That little boy had trench fever. It might have spread through the whole camp. And as for Suvi..."

He interrupted her, his voice cold. "You could have sent someone else. You had no business going in to a danger zone."

Tom frowned. "I already checked the place over thoroughly. There is nothing going on there. I think you are barking up the wrong tree, buddy."

Jack's voice got lower, a sure sign he was angry. "I am your commanding officer, not your buddy. I ordered you to go into Carina, and find out whether Suvi Markku was harboring spies. Were you told to make friends with her?"

"Jack, please..." begged Katy.

"And you!" he said to his wife. "You weren't supposed to go within a mile of that place. It is too damned dangerous."

"But Tom said..."

He didn't let her finish. "Tom isn't your husband! He will quite happily drag you into any sort of hazardous situation if it suits him..."

Tom stood abruptly, his eyes blazing. "Now wait just a goddamned minute, Jack Bennett. I would never endanger Katy. Never! I sent her to Carina, yes, but it is perfectly safe there. Why can't you get it through your concrete skull? It is just a refugee shelter -- nothing else!"

Jack walked around the desk, his step measured, until he stopped in front of Tom. Jack was six inches taller, and probably fifty pounds heavier, but Tom did not back away. The two men stood face to face without speaking, their animosity evident.

Katy stood too, and swiftly stepped between them. "Boys, boys! Stop this right now. This isn't a boxing ring. Both of you sit, and discuss the problem like gentleman."

They immediately obeyed, though Tom could not resist a taunting smirk when Jack's back was turned. Katy frowned at him and he gave her a sheepish grin. "That's better. The business with the car was unfortunate, true, but no one saw it but Suvi. I don't think she made any connection. Did she say anything to you after I left, Tom?"

He nodded. "She figured it out right away, but I am sure I can convince her to keep her mouth shut. We should just cut her in on the whole deal anyway. She could help."

"No!" Jack slammed his palm down hard on his desk.

"Why the hell not?" Tom bawled back. "She seems like a perfectly harmless girl..."

"Who is dealing in black-market military supplies and state secrets. Stuff that could get her shot if it falls into the wrong hands."

"She is only doing it for the shelter. She loves that place."

"Says who?"

"Says me." Tom stood again. "Now, if we are finished here, I have real work to do. I don't sit behind a desk all day, like some people I know."

Jack waved him back. "No one is to speak to Suvi Markku again without my express permission. Is that understood,
Captain
Finn?"

"Yes, Sir, Major Bennett, Sir." Tom gave him a lazy salute.

Katy watched him slouch out the door, and could hardly stop herself from laughing. "Stop being such a stuffed shirt, Jack. Tom is right, you know."

"It is fine for you two. You don't have to run a war in a country where people hardly talk to one another if they don't belong to the same Soli. But we still have to beat the Grond
here
, before the Imperial Command takes its show somewhere else."

Katy stood, crossed the room and took Jack's arm, then kissed his shoulder lovingly. "I know, and Tom does too. We are all doing our best to help you."

He put his arm round her waist and pulled her close. "Of course you are. I just worry about you -- I never should have..."

She smiled fondly. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world." Her expression turned thoughtful. "How is the war going in the North?"

Jack sat and rested his head in his hands for a moment. "The line is holding, though I am not sure how. One thing about the Grond -- they don't know much about fighting in snow. Our boys can ski rings around them. One of the commanders organized a few raiding parties last week that took out most of a division. But as quickly as we defeat them in one area, more arrive elsewhere to take their place."

"But what do they want? Why are they attacking here?"

"Officially it is to liberate the oppressed masses of Severness so that they may enjoy the glorious rule of the Imperial Commander."

"And unofficially?"

"No one really knows. That is why we need to catch those spies in Carina. If we could question one or two, then we might find out something."

"But surely you have prisoners of war?"

He shook his head desolately. "We never capture anyone. As soon as we break through the defenses, anyone left alive just blows themselves up. I think they are more afraid of their own high command than the enemy."

"I hope someday we will know why they would do such a terrible thing. And now, I had better go and check on my patients. See you later, love."

"Please be careful. Don't take any unnecessary risks."

"Do I ever?" she asked laughingly, over her shoulder.

Jack only sighed and went back to his papers.

Chapter Seven

Tessa

The arrow of the soul always flies straight and true.

Powwaw Speak: Shamanic Wisdom of the Irrakish
, Theodore Black, PhD

* * * *

The Polys hadn't trashed the house, as she had feared they might, but standing inside gave her such a feeling of creeping horror that Tessa decided she couldn't defy Jakob's instructions and stay. She found an overnight bag and stuffed it with jeans and t-shirts, wondering how long she would have to be away. As she dug in her underwear drawer, her hand brushed against the mirror. She drew it from its hiding place and studied the cracked reflection. Why had Suvi hidden it? Had she known about the Polys?

Tessa brushed the broken window glass off the bed and sat down, then picked up the black and white photo of her grandmother that lived on her nightstand. Young Suvi smiled jauntily, posed next to a scruffy motorcycle. Heavy gauntlets covered her hands, and she wore a fur lined cap. The indiscriminate background gave no clues to her location -- a building, some fields, a dirt road on which she had ridden the bike. She looked capable, gutsy, able to deal with anything.

"Oh, Suvi," Tessa whispered. "I wish I had some of your courage, right now."

Old Suvi's voice came to her, quavering, but still surprisingly deep. "Courage, love and honor are all branches of the very same tree. Remember that, girl."

Tessa added the picture to the contents of her overnight bag, along with her grandmother's journal. Maybe, if she kept reading, she could figure out the mystery of the mirror before Jakob did. It would serve him right.

The mirror she left on the kitchen table, thinking that he could easily find it there. She didn't want him prowling round her house, touching her things. Remembering his effortless grace made her feel uncomfortably warm for a moment.

She spoke out loud, trying hard to convince herself. "Forget it, Tessa. He isn't worth it."

Her mobile phone lay on the table next to her keys. It flashed at her madly, six beats on and off. Who had called her six times? She flipped open the cover.
Jane
. Her heart skipped with guilt and fear, wondering if her friend had also been in danger last night. After all they were together the first time the Polys saw them.

She dialed in a panic, without listening to any of the messages.

"Dr. Piper here."

"Jane! Are you all right?"

Jane's words sounded as though they had been bounced off a drum. "Where in the hell have you been? I tried calling you all night."

"Well, that is kind of a long story. I can't go into it over the phone. Do you want to meet somewhere later?"

"Come to my office, right now. I need to talk to you about something important."

Tessa flipped the cover shut, wondering what else could be wrong. She stared at the phone, wondering if she should get in touch with Ted and invite herself to stay for a few days. He wouldn't say no, of that she was certain, but she felt a curious reluctance to make the call. How could she share his bed without thinking about...

A shadow fell across the table. Tessa whirled, with her hand over her mouth, frightened beyond belief.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to..." Jakob stood in the doorway, twisting his hands together. "May I come in?"

Tessa bit back the rude comment she had been about to spit in his direction. "Did you come for the mirror? I left it out for you."

His voice sounded soft and sad. "No, I just wanted to tell you something." He crossed the room and flopped on the couch. "Could you sit here, just for a minute? I won't keep you long."

Tessa joined him, wondering why his surly mood had changed so abruptly. "What is it?"

He stared at his hands as they moved restlessly in his lap, seemingly wanting to be somewhere else. "I just didn't want to leave it as it was -- between us. I wanted you to know..." Jakob raised his eyes to meet hers. The blue seas rolled on, seemingly just out of reach. "Last night, when we made love, it felt wonderful to be with you, Tessa -- more than wonderful. But this morning I realized I had wronged you, very badly... You came to me for protection and I took advantage of it. It made me angry at myself, and I took it out on you. So I wanted to say I was sorry. Sorry for taking advantage, and sorry for being a jerk afterwards."

Tessa shook her head, almost speechless at his archaic gallantry. "Oh Jakob. You don't have to apologize for
anything
. I am the one who started... I mean, I practically threw myself at you. And you are right, it was wonderful. Better than..." Tessa sighed deeply. "But I felt bad too. Because of Ted. The truth is, I don't know what to do about him."

Jakob took her hand and held it very gently. "This isn't the right time to be making decisions about your future."

"It isn't just because of what happened last night. I have been having doubts for a while now." She smiled wryly. "You should get Jane on the subject sometime." Tessa looked at her watch. "I need to go. I told her I would meet her at her office right away." She stood, and he rose with her, so that he was very close. Tessa threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. "Thank you for everything. I wish..."

"Being with me is the last thing you need right now. Let me do what I came here to do; keep you safe." But when she brought her mouth close, he could not stop himself from kissing her.

Her phone burst into life, where she had left it on the table. Reluctantly, Tessa pulled away from him and answered it. "Ok, yes, I know. I was just leaving. Yep, bye."

He watched intently as she snapped the phone shut. "That machine lets you talk to people who are far away?"

Tessa smiled as his big hands fumbled with the tiny hinge. "See, you keep a list of your friends in here. Each of them has a number. When you want to talk to someone you punch in the number and then their phone rings."

He seemed much impressed. "If I had one, then we could talk whenever we wanted. You could call me if you needed help."

Tessa nodded. "Lots of stores sell them. Why don't you let me take you shopping? You could get some new clothes while you are at it." She smiled at him, but he only shook his head.

"I think the police are looking for me. They want to talk about the ragged man that the Polys killed."

"Jane told me about the murder. I guess I should have known the Polys had something to do with it. I wonder if they killed the other boys, the ones that were found under the container?"

Jakob shrugged. "Probably. That is what they do."

"But shouldn't we... you know, tell someone else? Like the Army or something?"

He shook his head. "They wouldn't believe you."

Tessa sighed, knowing he was right. "I had better go. Jane sounds really worried." She scribbled her phone number on a piece of paper. "Here is my number. If you do get to a phone, that is all you need to call me."

They stood close again. He brushed his lips against the top of her hair. "Goodbye, Tessa. Take care."

Her eyes filled with sudden hot tears. "I felt better when I was angry at you. Now I have to worry about you instead."

He seemed to find this genuinely funny.

* * * *

She passed through the cool, quiet halls of the office plaza next to the hospital, heading for Jane's suite. The secretary looked up when she entered. "Hi, Tessa. Dr. Piper said to go straight back. She is on the phone right now, but she should be done in a minute."

Jane had closed her door, but Tessa could see her through the window, sitting on a high stool next to her microscope, talking animatedly on the phone. She knocked softly and went in. Jane waved her towards a chair, and continued her conversation. Tessa looked at the uninspiring view of the parking lot, trying not to eavesdrop.

"See what you can do, OK? Of course I know, but you owe me one, for the time I fixed that... Uh huh. That is what I thought. Bye now."

She dropped the phone back in its cradle, stood and shut the door firmly. "Where have you been?" Tessa opened her mouth and Jane held up her hand. "Wait! Don't even tell me. What I have to say is more important." Jane sat on her stool and dragged it closer to Tessa with her feet. "You remember I told you about those boys? The ones who got crushed?"

Tessa nodded warily, wondering if Jane had somehow found out about the Polys.

"Well it turns out that they had a quite surprising connection to someone we both know."

"You mean that they were both in Ted's first year Anth paper? I knew that already. He told me the other day, at the Beckwith. He seemed very upset about the whole thing."

"Did he tell you anything else? Like how he hired them to mug you?"

Tessa's eyes went wide. "What?"

"You heard me. Ted offered them a passing grade if they would steal your purse as you walked home through the wharves."

"How could you have discovered that? I thought they were dead."

"The police found a note in Stan Smith's pocket, with Ted's number on it. They started asking questions around campus, and one of the boys on the football team said he overheard Stan and Tree Carter discussing the deal. I got all this from a buddy of mine on the force. Not to be repeated, of course."

Tessa shook her head in disbelief. "But that makes absolutely no sense. Why in the world would Ted want them to steal my purse?"

"That is what the police asked him, but he denied the whole thing. Said the kid had the number because he had offered him after hours tutoring. They bought the story; for now, anyway."

"Well, that sounds a lot more reasonable, doesn't it?"

"Does it? My autopsy puts those boys at the wharves just as we were walking home from Mama Rosa's. How do you explain that?"

"I can't. But I do know what happened to them." Tessa suddenly looked very afraid. "Can I stay with you tonight? My house got broken into last night."

Her friend snorted. "Wonder which goons Ted hired this time?"

Tessa surprised her by bursting into ragged sobs. Jane hurried to the couch and sat beside her. "My god, Tessa. What is it?"

She explained, as best she could. Jane sat quietly, ignoring the phone as it beeped periodically. "So he told me I should stay somewhere else for a few days, but I just can't face Ted, not now. Especially not now." Tessa peered at Jane, trying to gauge her reaction. "You think I am crazy, don't you? As crazy as I thought Jakob was when he told me."

Jane didn't say anything for a minute. She got up and went back to the microscope, removed the slide on the tray, and put another in its place. "Well yeah, I would, except for this. Come and have a look."

Tessa did. A blob of pink-stained cells filled the eyepiece, glinting fuzzily in the light of the microscope. "What is this?"

"Some organic matter scraped from under Stan Smith's fingernails. Everyone in the office has had a go at identifying it, but no one could. In the end we decided it must have been contaminated."

"What are you saying?"

Jane smiled grimly. "I am saying I believe you, girlfriend. That sample assays positive for the presence of strong alkali."

Tessa slumped back on the couch again, hardly reassured. She had been hoping the ruthlessly sensible Jane would hammer some sense into her, make it all seem less bizarre. "I have absolutely no idea what to do now. Jakob has the mirror, so I should be safe -- but I don't feel that way. Not at all."

Jane stood and paced the floor of her office. "You need to leave town for a few days. Where can we go? Somewhere out of the way."

"We? What about work? I know how busy you are." She pointed at the huge pile of case files on Jane's desk.

"I have some leave coming, and there is no way I am letting you deal with this on your own."

"I guess we could go to the site. I have some work to do there anyway."

"Anenoa? In the middle of the State Park, where there are no people for miles and miles? That sounds like the plot of a bad horror movie, the kind where you see people go into the basement even though that is the last place..."

Tessa groaned. "Jane, please! You aren't helping. The site will be swarming with grad students, and we can stay at the very plush Anenoa Lodge. You can spend your time in the spa pool while I am shoveling loads of muck from a trench."

Jane grinned. "That is more like it. What about Thor?"

Tessa's cheeks turned a pale pink. "What about him? All he said was that he would be in touch. He is looking after Seadrift."

The phone beeped for the hundredth time. Jane sighed. "I had better get
some
work done today anyway." She reached in her purse and removed her house key. "Go back to my place, have something to eat and a nap. You look like you need one. I will get away from here as soon as I can, and meet you there. We'll drive to Anenoa tonight. Make us a reservation at the Lodge."

Tessa nodded pensively. "All right. That will give me time to track Ted down and tackle him on this mugging thing. I want to get to the bottom of it."

"Please don't do that, Tessa. I had to pull in a lot of favors to get that information. If you tell him, it might compromise the investigation. If I find out anything else I will let you know."

"I still don't believe he had anything to do with it."

Jane frowned. "Then you have more faith in him than I do. Way more."

* * * *

Tessa spent the rest of the day in Jane's apartment, impatiently waiting for her friend to finish work. After eating a sandwich and trying unsuccessfully to nap, Tessa scanned the internet and the paper, looking for any other signs of the Polys. Her eye caught one very interesting piece of news.

Tech Announces the Retirement of Dr. Charles Davis
The Anthropology and Archaeology Department at Bay Tech has announced that Dr. Charles Davis is standing down from his position as Head of Department, effective immediately. No reason was given for the move, but the Times understands that Dr. Davis has suffered a health crisis that necessitates his retirement. He had been employed at Tech for over forty years, serving as HOD for the last fifteen. Dr. Theodore Black has been named interim HOD, and will supervise the search for a permanent replacement for Dr. Davis.
BOOK: Wintermoon Ice (2010)
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