© Dana W. Paxson 2005

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1563 4D

Janny trotted, silent, alongside Andrew as he dropped back to walk with Grendel. Raffina, her words to Ezzar modulating with a deepcity lilt, led them through a maze of industrial corridors, waving her hand as they passed several knots of men and women dressed in brown and armed with long beam guns. One of each group nodded to Raffina in answer. Dim light from spaced lamps in the ceiling blurred their faces.

“What was that thing that came after you?” Andrew asked Grendel.

“I don’t know,” Grendel said. “It was inside me. In innerspace.”

Innerspace? But that’s just an andro thing.”

“No. It’s a place. I don’t go there much.” Grendel stared straight ahead and clamped his mouth shut.

Ahead of Andrew, Ezzar described to Raffina the lift escapade with the choppers. “It’s gonna take the crews a while to fix that one. It looked new, just a few years old, and now the car has this big hole in the roof. Thanks to Mister Trigger back there.” Ezzar tossed her head, glancing back with an eyebrow raised at Andrew. He grinned.

“They’ll just sink another shaft,” Raffina said. “They need that one for the ore station, but they won’t drop it as far next time.”

“Where are we going?” Andrew asked, impatient. He wanted to head for Sobi Zone to look for Engel. The longer he delayed, the harder it would be to find anyone or anything.

The two women looked back at him. “To see what’s in the shipment,” Ezzar said.

“In here.” Raffina pointed through a doorway in the stone wall. They passed a steel door painted the pale brown of the stone, and entered a round chamber with an arched ceiling. Piles of crates lay everywhere, their lids removed; workers delved in packing grease to pull out weapons and boxes of ammunition. Three stood over one very large crate, reading a label one of them held. “What’s in it, Jirinai?” Raffina asked.

“Look at this.” A muscular man showed them all the label: EXPLOSIVE AND NEUROACTIVE. “Ever seen one of these?” He pointed into a crate. In it projectiles stood in array, their dark pointed snouts sticking up like blind snake heads, motionless and waiting.

Raffina stared. “No. Ezzar?”

“Nothing like this.”

Grendel spoke. “I saw one of these labels at the inn, when I was hiding from the corpos out there.”

“Where was this?” Raffina asked.

Engrammatic Inn. It’s—“

“Oh, yeah, I’ve been there. Just the label?”

“Yeah. Nothing attached to it. But I think it’s something new.”

Andrew listened. “You’d use this shit?” he asked. The others all looked at him.

“Who’s this?” The man called Jirinai turned to Raffina. She looked at Ezzar.

“He’s a friend of mine,” Ezzar said. “We’ve been working the outland.”

“Doesn’t he know?” Raffina said.

“Know what?” Andrew looked at her, then at Ezzar.

“Give us a minute.” Ezzar drew Andrew aside and said softly, “Keep your mouth shut here. This is a big thing.”

He lowered his voice. “Bioactive weapons are against world gene law. Nobody uses them, not the corps, not the militia…" Andrew turned his head away and looked up at the ceiling. He’d seen the militia training holos: horribly half-eaten eyes and noses, streaming blue mucus from dead mouths.

“Look. The best way to use them is to let someone know you have them. That’s using them.” Ezzar moved to stand between Andrew and the others, who stared at him.

“I hope your friends know that.”

“When did you get to be a judge? And do you know how long we’ve been working on this? No, you don’t. And you don’t know why. So just settle down, all right?” Ezzar shoved her hand down, held flat.

“Right. I don’t care about any of this. I need help finding Engel. That’s all I care about right now.” Andrew pointed to Janny. “Until she came along, I didn’t hope. Now I do. And I want to find my son. Will you be there for me?” Andrew, scowling, reached for Ezzar‘s arm.

She avoided him. “You mean I haven’t been, don’t you?”

“No, I meant—“

“Forget it. Let’s get this done. Then we’ll talk about what you want. And maybe you should know what’s happening all around you. You’re not a farmer any more.”

“Look, you two, we don’t have time,” Raffina said, the lilt in her voice gone to a jagged edge. “We nearly got taken down when we unshipped all this. We have to move it, now.”

“Just hold on.” Jirinai strode forward and seized Andrew‘s arm. “I want to know who you are.” One strong hand gripped Andrew‘s wrist; the other stripped back his coverall sleeve to show the destroyed and mottled spot that had once read as a Darko Hejj collechi inscription.

Jirinai‘s eyes widened. He looked Andrew in the face and dropped the arm. “Arlen.” He let go and pulled back his own sleeve to show a scarred and blistered field in the same place as Andrew‘s. His eyes, dark as indigo, glittered. “Not enough. He’d do that to one of his own, just to get a spy in.” Jirinai turned and waved into the shadows outside the chamber.

A huge, dark man loomed into the doorway. In a thick Gellin Sintherou accent, he rumbled, “You need me?”

“Yeah, Lin, take this guy down to the small storeroom and wait for me there. I need to be sure he’s cleared.”

“Come with me.” The giant beckoned to Andrew. Then he paused. “Starblood, you look like a young guy I saw twenty years ago, out in the plains. But your face…"

His voice registered. Andrew blurted, “I never saw your face, but I’ll never forget what your voice said to me about the little bugs out of my ass. That was you, wasn’t it?”

“What’s this?” Jirinai demanded.

“He was a City militia baby,” the big man said. “Dumb as a rock, but he did a good thing for me.”

“It was too bad they undid it,” Andrew responded, remembering Mentrius and the datasheet. “I got it back, finally, but Arlen torched my house and my family, and it was gone. You’re Linderus, aren’t you?”

“You know him?” Jirinai asked the big man.

“I’ll stand blood for him,” came the immediate answer.

“All right. You can stay.”

Andrew opened his arms to Linderus. “Thanks. I only wish I could get it back for you now.”

Linderus grabbed him and smothered him in a hug. “You did all you could. Little stupid cock.”

“Lin, thanks,” Jirinai said. Linderus smiled down at Andrew, let him go, and returned to the corridor.

“There’s most likely virus sign on those shells,” Grendel said. “Lots of it.” Everyone in the room turned to look at him.

“Why? Can you sniff it?” Jirinai came and looked up at Grendel.

“It was on the label I saw. Just be careful.”

“What kind of virus?”

“I don’t know. I’ve told you all I know about it.”

“No, you haven’t, andro, you haven’t told me anything. Like why they’re after you. Like why you’re here, out of your zones and up to your ass in trouble.” Although Jirinai stood a head shorter than Grendel, he stood just as broad and powerful. “Who smelled the label and told you about it?”

Grendel said, “His name is Jeddin.”

Jeddin! So he’s still out there. The City wants to melt him down.” Jirinai looked at Andrew, and gestured at the open crate. “You’re worried about this junk? Jeddin‘s the real carrier. He’s packing a virus that makes everything else look like a head cold.”

Jeddin! The name brought back to Andrew the face of the andro who’d fixed the datacard.

“Yeah, we call them headsmiths,” Grendel said. “How contagious do they think he is?”

Jirinai said, “Very. You know him?”

“He and I get together out in the mountains around Drevill sometimes. We run a knife show for drinking money.”

Jirinai turned, calling over his shoulder, “Armassin, you ever seen this guy outside the City?”

A man with a long braid came up and looked Grendel over. “You!” He turned to Jirinai. “Sure. I saw him but just didn’t put it together. I know him from Engrammatic and Tytan’s Manor and Cytoman. Him and this other andro with the knives—“

“Thanks, Arm. Finally your bar-jumping’s paid off.” Jirinai turned back to Grendel. “So you know him. Okay. And?”

“They’re after me,” Grendel said, “because I’ve killed humans. Argaz.” He said the words in an even tone.

“An outlaw. That’ll do for now.” Jirinai‘s shoulders relaxed slightly.

“Come on,” called a woman across the room, “We’ve got five more minutes.” They had nearly emptied the crates; guns, quickly degreased, and boxes of ammunition passed from hand to hand out two doors.

“We’re out of here. Now.” Jirinai pointed to one of the doors.

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