Serenades, chapter 8

Deviation Actions

Literature Text

eight: i certainly don’t feel safe here
“Just why are you wearing sunglasses down here?”
“No ned to be rude. She’s photophobic,” Juliana said, discretely passing her card through the gate to Ava. The whole thing is automated, and enough people pass through each day before someone passing through twice is noticed. If we’re lucky, we’d be long gone by the time anyone noticed. Ava kept her mirrored sunglasses on after getting in.
“Provincials must have complained recently. A few years from now, they’ll be really lax about enforcement, Yellow Skull will stab someone to death at a nominally Occidentals Only station, and it’s always Yellow Skull, and the provincials complain enough to hire more militias to start enforcing the laws again. They never see the real city, just skyscraper canyons with teeming anonymous masses, they just come here for work and nothing else and take Silver back to their refuge outside.”
“It wasn’t like this when the police were still around.”

“I know somewhere good. It’s the next stop.“ We passed by three already, and Juliana pointed out one of the earlier ones, where it was sealed off to prevent access from the upper world of the foreigners’ district.

The shopping concourse was not in the same state of disrepair as the rest of the city. The centerpiece, a three-story cascade of pink marble with colored lights inset, a basin that looked overgrown with water lilies, cattails, and purple tulips, was still functioning. Above it were ferns and club moss spilling off ledges and balconies.
“All this stuff is a bit upper class.” For the upper stratum of the middle class and above, something that Ava, and about seventy percent of Selinia, wasn’t.
“Will you join us?”
“I’m sorry, I’m very busy right now. Here’s some money.”

The restaurant was in an art deco meets art nouveau style with flat, linear designs, and a ceiling painted in pastel cloudscape. The incoherence of many voices blending into one wall of sound, the tinkling of glasses and silverware, and footsteps accompanied unseen torch songs. We sat on a synthetic leather couch until the attendant came for us, a woman around my age with cropped ash-blond hair, wearing a close-fitting black shirt and skirt and silver leggings, glittered hearts and flowers on the back of her neck. Lights behind colored drinks threw a riotous display of rainbows on a wall. She took us to a booth and left, coming back with bread, water, and menus.
“Hi, there. I’m Triduna,” the attendant said. “I can tell,” she looked at Ava, and I couldn’t tell if it was about her rebellious soul or her physical qualities, “but don’t worry, we’ll serve you here. Those damn provincials will complain about everything. And Lepidus did nothing but pander to them. It’s getting so bad that the former Chief of Police is involved with an insurgent group.”
“I could get a three course meal for these prices back at the Fritillary Grotto,” Ava said, browsing the menu. “And I’m almost out of money. Oh, well, it’s special. Here’s to our last day in Tarentum.” She raised her cup.
“Sapphire Fantasy is special.”
“I don’t want to put anyone at risk. They won’t raid this place. They’re all acceptable losses in Sapphire Fantasy to them.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“They’re pretty generous to say the least with their portions. Shall we share something? I hope she doesn’t complain.”
“I’m sure she won’t. She seems pretty nice.”
“It pisses me off that I’m the one who’s being bitchy for asking to share a meal that nobody should be expected to finish in one day, when I’m not going home immediately after eating here.”

Someone at a nearby booth complained about the music. “This shit is horrible. Too fucking random. Maybe this shit is acceptable in Pachoras, but not here.”
“I like it. I’m all for ethnic fusion,” Ava said. “Besides, in Pachoras, you have the oud and more percussion, and maybe a sitar or one of those fiddle things, not just saxophone and piano. And the scales are all wrong. This is twelve-tone, and in Pachoras, it would have seventeen or nineteen or twenty-four tones. I’m not very well versed in Terran musical history, but I’d say it’s Americanesc. Or from the Kingdom of Hanovra, but I don’t think that actually existed officially.”
“Shut up, I get it. You been hanging around the skinnies and rock apes too long?” Vibraphone joined in. “Oh, wait. I know who you are. I’ve seen your picture on the Network. You’re a fucking terrorist, and a slant too. A slant with freckles. Did one of them rape your mother?”
“She gave her birthright away, like some trinket, when there are plenty of Occidental men? And yet we gave women the vote.”
“Think you can take our land and jobs, foreign bitch?” That was his companion, so in my face I could smell him, he stunk of alcohol and sweat.
“Look, I’m leaving as soon as possible.” she said, meekly, in between sips of tea. “I’ll be honest with you. I certainly don’t feel safe here.”
“That’s because you don’t fit in. And you never will.”
“Hey. Back off. Leave her alone,” I said, shoving the one who was fingering her amber bead. “She may not fit your idea of the ideal Selinian, but she’s my friend and my love. She is everything to me. Do I make myself fucking clear, troglodyte?” I shoved him again for emphasis.
“Fucking race traitor scum.” The other one picked up Ava’s cup and splashed hot tea in her face.
“We should just leave,” I said, pointing at a poster that had a photograph of Ava, badly taken but still recognizable. “They know. I don’t want the magistrates on our ass just because we got in an altercation with a few nationalist pricks.”
“Um, Triduna? I’m not very comfortable and I just want to take this food and get out of here. Here’s your money, and here’s something extra.”
“I’m sorry about that,” Triduna said. “I wish there was something I could do to help.”
“Well, you could,” she paused. “No. Forget I said that.”

“What do they mean by that? I know plenty of Chenlans and Lanxangese with freckles.” She put her face in the bubbler.

We went back to the fountains, took an escalator, with terraced brick walls covered in plants on the side, up, and sat at a glass table on the third floor balcony, below the glass ceiling and colorful helium balloons tethered with wire. The ground floor was halved by an indoor garden, and thin footbridges went across it. Our balcony was circular, with a pattern of circles and spirals in black marble tiles with a small fountain and trees with their roots covered in bioluminescent fungi of a cold, actinic blue in the center. Benches, chairs, and tables with wrought iron frames were arranged around it.
“Normally I love arguing with people that expect me to be stupid and without any sense of who I am, just because I’m only half-Selinian, but this is just terrible.” She paused, her lower lip quivering and her mouth slightly open.
I looked behind me to see what was wrong. A man in crisp blue uniform under his armor, and a helmet strapped to his head, carrying a percussion rifle, was standing there. His eyes were behind a plastic visor. Two men with the same uniforms, holding fletchette machine pistols, stood behind him.
“This is her.”
“Are you ready?”
“Do not shoot to kill,” I heard the man say to his subordinates. “Do not martyr her.” Ava stared back at the man, a mournful expression on her face.
Ava backflipped off the ledge. I simply jumped down. Fletchettes flew past us and shattered windows into millions of twinkling shards. She grabbed a railing, and tried to pull herself up, but another salvo of fletchettes and armor piercing rounds shattered the railing and part of the balcony. Ava fell backwards, landing on the marble floor with a thud. I grabbed another part of the balcony. Windows and lights shattered and melted as I ran past, looking for the escalator. I jumped down it.
“Owww,” Ava complained, covered with scrapes and surface cuts. I pulled her up and she leaned against me to support herself. More soldiers, some of them holding massive shields with reinforced glass viewing windows, poured through the doors. Three men walked up to us, crushing glass underfoot, flanked by two humanoid machines with curved energy blades and particle shields. Their varying-sized eyes glowed red, scanned us.
“Stand back, all of you, stand back,” one of the men shouted.
“Put your hands behind your back. Remain still,” said a tall, lean man with the same uniform as the others, only adorned with a oak leaf rank insignia above a nametag that read Euphronius. He carried a gauss rifle, and was unarmored. One of the guards handcuffed me and Ava.
“Nebridus, find out if there are any more with them, and find where the weapons are kept. Sarmata would know,” Euphronius said, as cold as the wind outside.
“Yes, sir.” Nebridus left. A pentad of Civil Guards followed him. Three others took us outside by gunpoint.
“You may go about your business,” someone back inside said.
The rest of them took us outside at gunpoint, and led us to a brick building in another part of the city. The man at the desk asked for our names and all identification numbers.

For the remainder of the night, I was kept in an underground cell of rough stone blocks mortared together, separated from Ava by a large grated sheet. It contained a small metal cot, a shelf, really, with a foam mattress covered in an institutional-looking plastic sheath, a grate on the floor about the size of my outstretched palm. A chill wind, along with some snow, blew in from a crack in the glass. Bars covered the window, already reinforced with a reticulation of metal wire to further prevent escape. There was a smaller room, a recess that offered no privacy whatsoever, with a shower stall and a latrine, and a scent of rotting wood and mold mixed in with the usual dirty public toilet smell. I didn’t think I would use it. It was filthy, and several of the tiles were in shards on the base of the stall. The drain looked like it reversed at some time, spewing sewage over the remaining tiles and exposed yellowed concrete. Outside of the cell was a hallway, rough-hewn brick walls with wooden beams, lit by sodium lamps, a ceiling covered with a labyrinth of pipes, a glimpse of a stairwell, where red tape blocked the way further downwards. A bored guard in blue uniform paced back and forth across the hall, surrounded by a cloud of flying machines like insects, which would swarm and stun me if I ever tried to escape. Not that it was possible.
“It looks like they sealed a basement off. It’s all the same,” I said to her. She was sitting on her cot.
“Yeah. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not as cramped or as hot as Dakyanus. I’m more outraged by the principle of the thing. There hasn’t been a trial yet, and here we are.”
“Like a trial means anything. Euphronius mentioned Sarmata. Was she the one masquerading as Cecilia?”
“I think so. An effort to demoralize us, of course.”

It was a cold morning with a cloudless sky. Ava and I were taken to the courthouse in the green-saturated holding cell of a skimmer modified from the standard vespula class, a light cannon attached to the base used to shoot down several protesters on the landing pad. Floating machines with their guns pointed at us orbited outside to make sure we don’t try to escape.
“Are they going to be fine?” Ava asked the pilot, to no answer.
“It’s because of that failed assassination attempt on Walafar. Lepidus knew he was in the city, but nothing was done about it until Paschasia. Or the off-world guns. I think they can’t openly support Walafar, or arrest us for trying to assassinate him, so they had somebody supply Paschasia with illegal weaponry.” That was my theory. Ava remained silent, and gave a blank stare off the back of the skimmer.
“What I know is that Nostrianus sold us out,” I continued.
“But why? I may not like him, but I still don’t understand.”
“I don’t either. Maybe he was pressured in it, maybe he did it willingly. It doesn’t matter anymore, does it?”
We landed on a pad and were led at spearpoint through the snow, the drones continuing their clockwork dance around us.
“I wish I had better shoes,” Ava complained. “How did this happen? I hope they didn’t get Juliana too.”
“It wasn’t her fault. One of the people at the restaurant saw the poster and called the magistrates on us. That’s it.”
A half hour of unpleasantness later, we reached Tarentum’s House of Justice, a granite and white marble building in the governmental district, the centerpiece of which was the Provincial Administration Building, an elegant tiered building of white stone, brown-tiled roof, great glass windows, and a verdigris-encrusted dome.

“I can’t feel my feet,” she whispered in my ear.

“All rise for Judicator Lupicinus Dubourdeau.” The blue-uniformed guard spoke into an amplifier, his voice echoed through the chamber. The Judicator was a tall, dignified and aristocratic man in black and scarlet with a gaunt face and short hair flecked with snowy gray mostly hidden under a velvet toque, a heavy amulet on a gold chain around his neck, who stood at a blackwood podium on the other side of the room. The room had whitewashed stucco walls with oak trim, and a large stained glass window behind the podium, flanked by bas reliefs of the personification of Justice in blackwood, a violet and white stained glass and wrought iron dome.
Lupicinus intoned on the weapons used.

“Ava Samassaravong and Nicasius Patrescu,”
“Yes,” she said nervously. Her hands were tied together, as were mine.
“You have been charged with firing upon two magisters and a captain under the command of Molonachus while in Dakyanus. Is this accusation true?”
“Yes. They ordered me to fire on unarmed civilians. There were children among them. All of them slaughtered...”
“Your explanation is not necessary.”
“What? No! This can’t be...”
“It is irrelevant whether a few foreigners died, domnisoara. And you were not freed under any orders by the Esercito?”
“No. Although I was pardoned, and I do not understand what I am really being charged with.”
“Your benefactor was one Celestine de Sauveterre.”
“Are you aware that she was executed?”
“Yes. Mutilated, and hung from the Gate of Triumph in Dakyanus along with the Adhipa of Carmania, with the message ‘Such is the fate of your benefactor’ painted over her corpse. The city was later razed with hellfires in the way that Kish and Umma were, after both insurgent leaders and Adhipa Siavash announced their lack of desire to return to their status as a client state of Selinia and the attacks on Selinian troops escalated...”
“This is a trial, not an inquisition. Though a farcical one. I see it now. It’s a facade set up to assure the people that whatever happens to me was done in the name of justice.”
“Silence. You are a member of the Movement for Justice and Equality, are you not?”
“I am.”
“And you were involved in a certain terrorist attack on one of the power regulating stations three days ago, yes.”
“Terrorist attack is hardly the word for it. How about the terrorists in the Knights of the Cross? What is done about them?” Her voice loudened, and tears welled up. “I’ll fucking tell you. Nothing, unless they get too zealous and decide to attack the aristocracy for using us as cheap fucking labor. You have no idea what it is like to have your parents brutally murdered and nothing done about it, and forced to join a fucking gang to survive. You have never seen the ruins of Kish. The monsters that came out of there were humans once. But I don’t think you care about that. You never lived there. You just sip wine and eat fine foods while the lower strata and foreigners starve in the streets and freeze to death come winter, because you destroy their homes to make room for your own. But it’s still not enough for you!”
“But you were involved?”
“Yes,” she said, with her head down.
“You acquired officer grade weapons of the exotic class from one Nostrianus Moruzov, did you not? This includes the following: Jezails, fusils, thunderlances, positron pistols, athames, psionic blades, golem armor, a heavily modified suit of golem armor,” he said, reading from a list.

We were kept in a small, though well lit, room while the jurors decided the verdict. Just part of the show. Both of us knew what the decision would be. It was very simple. A few wood chairs, a cracked table, cinder-block walls. Ava was silent as she paced around the room.
“See, it was Nostrianus. It was about the weapons.”
“I don’t understand,” she said, finally, distressed.
“I don’t either. Did he do so willingly? Was he captured like us?”
“He worked for a crime lord in the undercity. The real undercity, not the decaying sector the Department of Minority Affairs shoved us into.”
“What does that mean? Would he betray us for anyone who would pay him?”
“None of us understand.”
“We’re the only ones left. Maybe Paschasia is alive. They couldn’t try us for what I did. Military crimes are dealt with in neutral nations, and they don’t want a tribunal in Shewa to set us free.”
“Are they allowed to have juries entirely of ethnic Selinians and perhaps the occasional Palmyrene and Scarbantian?”
“Salomea says no. This guy just managed to circumvent it. Or maybe Lepidus removed Salomea’s edict.”

“What is your verdict?”
“Guilty, Judicator.”
Recommended listening: Texhnolyze music

I think that to be a racist, you are required to be misogynistic too. They used to hate Jews, but now you'll find racists who don't. It's too bad, really, since their traditional hatred keeps them from joining forces with the Kahanists.

Yellow Skull is a non-existent "organization" started by Kenneth Eng, you know, the dragons guy.
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