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The Bosch broke cloud cover and banked low over the City of Shores, Athkiyar, spread below in a pattern of stone, sand, and the dark green of ancient soil gardens. The endless waterways gleamed in occasional slips of sun through pewter cloud.

Jet scratched over the roughness of slight stubble on his face. The Bosch's view cut any glare there might have been, but he squinted, thinking. Faces rose in his mind's eye. His mother and father ... gone now, through the next gate, one with honor, one without. Uncle Koll, the smell of smoke; his Aunt Kayla ... an oppressive, echoing anxiety in his gut. The cousins--Kault, resentment and the weight of heavy fists, Niell and Droikus, shadows bulking behind Kault. And Dai. Dai, of them all, who part of him wanted to see.

The tangle of conflicting emotions stripped years away from him, as surely as the protective distance had been stripped from between him and his family by his own spinning. He could have spun them somewhere else, anywhere else in the Aggregate. Could have told Arcady he didn't want to come here--asked to be let out of his contract.

But Arcady and Snat trusted him to spin as requested, and after serving as contract crew on a blurred succession of ships, he'd found one where he honestly wanted to stay. He wanted Arcady to offer him full crew option. Wanted it almost more than he'd once wanted to get his persephone string. He ghosted his fingers over the fine, strong chain at his neck. The thin disc hung at the end, skin-warm under his ship tee.

"What's the ambient?" Arcady's voice broke into Jet's musings and he blinked down at the boards.

"Nine-two, holding."

"Ease around to seven-three." Arcady listened to the com button in her ear. Her gaze slid to Jet and an ill-boding shiver worked from his gut to the top of his head. "Got you, Main," she said curtly. "Will relay. Bosch out."

The last two words cut com. He could feel Arcady looking at him.

She folded her hands in front of her on the board; it should've been prim, but wasn't in Arcady. "Athkiyar Main," she said, "has asked me to inform my spinner, one Jet am'Diia, that his cousin Dai am'Diia, a member of the radical anti-enlightenment group suspected of being involved in recent terrorist activities against the government, has disappeared."

She paused to scan the board, flicked a control. "Their general drift seemed to be if you know anything concerning her whereabouts, you better come across with it." She pinned him with a look. "Do you?"

He considered the tightness in his gut that had been there ever since entry into Athkiyar system. The Bosch hummed heavily. Okuta class hauler, elderly and snug. Com, boards, view and galley forward with crew quarters for four in semicircular config; cargo above, drive core and systems everywhere else. A reliable ship with a few quirks.

Snat watched in his monitor; Jet met the pilot's reflected gaze, saw curiousity and challenge there.

His hand started to go to the sanction disc, to grip it through the tee; he caught the movement, set his hand back on the mons. It was a gesture he'd weaned himself of some time back. Proximity to his family had brought it back.

"Jet? Give me some react here. You don't know--"

"No."

"This Dai ... were you close?"

The ambient gauge under his hand registered drift and he toggled it down, then said quietly, "Yes."

Dai.

"Is she-" He could see Arcady trying to figure out what she wanted to ask. "She's a, what is it, an anti-enlightenment terrorist?"

"Self-sovereign is what they call themselves. Anti-enlightenment is what the Belcathat calls them. Dai ... she always had strong feelings about ... things."

"The sanction arguments on Athkiyar are long standing," Snat said. "The Belcathat party has always held majority, however. You have a dissident in the family? That's interesting."

"Actually," Jet said levelly, "my whole family are self-sovereign-dissident. All the am'Diias. Except me."




He'd told Arcady about the persephone string right away, having discovered it upset a captain to hire a spinner and then find out he had a sanction to kill himself. People tended to see it as a death wish. It didn't seem to matter that the whole philosophy behind a persephone string was the cultivation of a responsibly lived life, so that, if the need still existed in one, death was made honorable by the nature of the living which preceded it.

The official title of the string was Belcathat Sanction of Enlightened and Honorable Passage from Life; the official title was rarely remembered. Various sentient life -- depending what planet, ship, station or rotting hole in the Aggregate one was habitating -- called it simply the sanction, enlightenment, the persephone string, saint's cord, deader chip, asshole's delight. Or they just tossed you off the ship for having it.

Settled long ago by a small religious sect whose members adhered to a complex philosophy of responsible life, Athkiyar promoted a rather morose and serious psych set. They believed that if the present world wasn't working out for you, you could consider moving on to the next one, but that there was a tithe to pay to pass that gate, and a responsibility to be honored, to your life and all whom it touched.

You can't just give up, was how Jet's sanction mentor had put it, and leave a mess behind you. You have to cultivate your brilliance.

After eighteen months standard, the mentor board had concluded that Jet had an acceptable grasp of the responsibilities of enlightened passage and Jet received his sanction. Jet's mentor had suggested that Jet consider getting off Athkiyar for a portion of his period of responsible action, to see a wider slice of the Aggregate Worlds.

Athkiyar, though a big world with a rich economy, was well off the ship routes and didn't see much traffic. With few system-capable ships of its own and those private, it took him nearly five months standard just to get transport off to Quintep, to get evaluation and training to support himself offworld.

In evaluation he'd discovered what he'd never been given the opportunity to suspect on Athkiyar, an aptitude for spinning that was upper percentile. He could throw his numbers into the air and pick the right ones every time. He hadn't lacked for contract opportunities. But despite the hotshot spinning, he'd been let go from service repeatedly. Because of the sanction. Ten ships in four years, plus a stint on a mining station in the dust belt.

Then he met Arcady Bosch, who needed a spinner and took him on as contract crew, hiring him despite what had become a bad rep as a bad fit. Arcady, Jet learned, made a habit of doing things people told her not to.

The Bosch ran with a small crew. Arcady handled trade, contracts, licensing, chose destinations, fielded all com traffic, and did small mech repair. Jet spun the numbers for deep nav and fed them to Snat. He also took care of galley supply and helped Arcady with the mech repair. Snat flew the Bosch, did trade research for Arcady, and ran diplomatic interference in slant culture situations. Snat knew civstory and customs on about a hundred Aggregate Worlds. Twice Arcady's age, he'd been with her since she took captaincy. Sometimes Jet talked about old flash kives with him. But Snat archived more information than Jet thought a person ought to be able to hold in their head. Other than number theory, spinner stuff, Jet archived pulp flashes. The Jensai Xel adventures were favorites, and some of the retro-epics out of Chaldinny. Warring families, sword battles, poisonings, doomed love.

Snat said he was morbid.

Arcady said Snat liked him, but didn't approve of him, and that he wouldn't let the one get in the way of the other. Reg-thinking, she said, meaning regulation, and then got a funny look in her eyes. From which he gathered that either Arcady wasn't raised reg, or she was raised way too reg.

He wanted, so badly it frightened him, to be offered full crew option when his contract was up. Then Arcady got this contract, moving kives and Megrantian metals in exchange for chi'ri glass and rare bio-chems, Athkiyar's main exports. So here they were.

City of Shores, Athkiyar. Home.




They berthed the Bosch in Athkiyar Main Port. The only other ships were a longhauler out of Quinteppi and a sleek little thing with Kakuli diplomatic markings, plus the Beidian hulk that'd been there since Jet was a kid.

"Ship looked lonely," Arcady said as they left port and boarded a transport.

Snat squinted at the leaden sky. "Is this good weather?"

"Perfect," Jet said. "It's not raining. Trifune Way," he added with a wave of his hand, playing guide as the transport hove onto a long esplanade. Biolumes in mosaic chi'ri globes cast petals of color down the main thoroughfare.

"Belcathat," Jet mumbled, throwing out his hand again as the bonded sand of the lower city buildings gave way to the fancifully carved stone of the Belcathat district. By the time they reached the groomed sandpaths bracketing lush soil gardens around the complex proper, he'd fallen silent.

Belcathat complex was a big square, walkways and soil gardens all around, inner offices off archway-laced corridors. At the center, the tower spired into cloud cover. Here and there people strolled, Belcathat workers, groundskeepers, an early class of students from the chi'ri school. The smoothed sandpaths still bore the brush patterns of the late night crews.

The sand gave under his feet as he stepped from the transport. The sound and feel of it made him draw a sharp breath and then the scents of water, stone, and greenery assaulted him. Bloody void, anywhere but here.

Inside the Aggregate Traffic Office, tall windows of gray and blue chi'ri threw light across a wide stone chamber. Free standing holosphere comps glowed softly and soberly suited bureaucrats, dwarfed by the architecture, interfaced quietly at their comp stations, hands moving over the work spheres. Occasionally someone spoke a soft phrase or a comp chimed.

Sanction discs glinted, worn on chains around the neck, like Jet's, or hanging from worked pins attached to a pocket edge. Some people had smaller discs, fashioned into rings or bracelets. Unlike Jet's, they were all worn openly. Jet saw a woman fidgeting with hers, a ring, as she peered into her work globe. He also saw Arcady and Snat glancing about, taking it in. Arcady's gaze dropped after a moment; she looked briefly at Jet, then away.

At the trade and licensing desk, an older woman with augmentation in her eyes scanned Arcady's license and logged the trade vitals. She assigned an ATO verification rep to be present for the exchange at Tenrethi's, Arcady's on-world customer. They each palmed the log imprint on the comp pad. The pad was cool; as Jet's hand appeared as a line etching, chemical profiles scrolling beside it, the comp gave a decorous little chime. The woman scanned her screen.

"Jet am'Diia?"

Jet pulled his hand back, stuck it in his pocket and bit the tip of his tongue, trying to generate a little spit in his dry mouth. "Yes, ma'am."

"You have a message; if you wait one moment I can give you kive copy. Also, Authority Forces would like you to stop by their office. Do you need a map?"

"The office is still on west corridor?"

"Yes, sir."

"I can find it, then." The comp spat out a little white message kive and the woman dropped it in his palm. It was warm. After a moment, he curled his fingers around the smooth lozenge and put it into a pocket.

Snat waved a hand. "I'll take one of those maps, cher."

The woman smiled and passed him a slim handset. "Prosper to you."

Outside of the trade office, in the shadowed corridor, they walked in silence. Through the archways the sky showed a lighter shade of lead. A man with a mentor band on his arm walked with an old woman along a nearby sandpath, talking intently.

At the end of the north corridor, Arcady stopped and turned to Jet. "Are you going to listen to that?"

He squeezed the message kive in his pocket, shrugged.

"Okay." She folded her arms. "Where's this office?"

"You and Snat don't have to come. I can meet you at Tenrethi's."

Arcady folded her arms, one eyebrow raised.

"Don't be a jerk, Jet. You're my spinner. What if they throw you in the brig and won't tell me where you are? Spinners aren't exactly thick on the ground here."

"They don't have brigs. Belcathat prisoners are--"

"Jet."

"They'll just ask me about Dai, where I think she might be, anything I can tell them, that sort of thing."

"Sounds like a fascinating sociological study op, not to be missed." Snat rubbed his hands together and smiled.

They struck Jet as white queen and black rook to his contract pawn. He shrugged again. "Great, come. Experience the boredom of the void. This way." He gestured dramatically down the west corridor.

Authority Forces had frosted, colorless chi'ri figured in the Belcathat sigil. The desks stood taller than in the ATO and the personnel wore crisp gray uniforms. The man at the entry desk surveyed them from under sand-colored brows that never moved over his eyes. He listened to Jet's murmured explanation, checked comp for how to dispose of him, and told him he was to see a Parmen sec'Kyle, down the right-hand hall and through the third door. He turned his molecule-thin voice to Arcady and Snat next, informing them that they could wait on the nice bench out here.

"Told you," Jet said.

"Personally," Snat said, folding himself onto the bench and observing the Belcathat officer, "I am not disappointed."

Arcady slouched beside him. She frowned generally, then specifically at Jet. "We'll wait."

Parmen sec'Kyle's office window had a mostly open chi'ri design, rather than a closed pane. Mostly open was traditional Athkiyaran design, what one found in Athkiyaran homes. The window showed soil gardens, pale sand walks, bits of the gray stone of Belcathat tower and a holo-sculpture of Belcathar, writer of the Words.

Parmen sec'Kyle was a mild, brown-haired man with a stoop in his shoulders. He gestured Jet to a chair and leaned back in his own, hands folded together over his chest.

"You hold a Sanction of Enlightenment, is that right, Mez am'Diia?"

"Yes, sir."

"But your family is, well," he looked out the window, the skin around his eyes slightly puckered, "--the am'Diia branch of House Diia has, historically, been quite active in the anti-enlightenment minority."

 

Continued . . .


 

About the Author

Jessica Reisman has been published in Realms of Fantasy, The Third Alternative, Interzone, Scifiction, and anthologies such as the recent Cross Plains Universe: Texas Celebrate Robert E. Howard. Her first novel, The Z Radiant, was publlished by Five Star Speculative Fiction in June 2004. She has work forthcoming in Dark Wisdom magazine and the anthology Passing for Human.

Brilliance © 2007 Jessica Reisman

About the Artist

Cindy Barry has been drawing and painting for over twenty-five years, working in graphics and in illustration for clients in many fields, including city planning, organic gardening, physical fitness, and children's products. This is her first stab at science fiction.

Artwork © Cindy Barry

 

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