With the stability of the space station now in doubt, the Marines under Colonel Singleton's command were rushing out of Bradbury Common to do what they could to keep order. President Selwyn touched her jaw and was carrying on three different conversations via her embedded greentooth. She walked away leaving Jimmy, Diana and Grewsa alone in the little park filled with tipped-over flora that had been installed for the health and comfort of the residents.
"The Core," Jimmy said. "That's where there'll be the least rotation. That's where we can safely get the most people."
"I can get us there quickly," Grewsa said.
Jimmy nodded and grabbed Diana's arm. She tried to shake him off as she watched the observation window. "Come on," he said and pulled her with him.
They followed the Pramotauran through the far side of the Common and through an access hatch hidden behind a stand of giant sympodial orchids. "This is a direct tunnel to the Core," Grewsa said.
"How do you know about this?" Diana crouched in the close quarters of the service tunnel.
"Diplomats are given instructions and a map in the event of emergencies," Grewsa said through her translator. "No one wants a war if something happens."
They made their way toward the center in silence, following Grewsa, until they stepped through another hatch that opened into Doctorow Plaza. Grewsa stood up straight and Jimmy and Diana stretched out the kinks from being hunched over. "This way," Grewsa said and led them to the left.
Diana stopped. "The Core is this way," she said pointing to the right.
Grewsa shook her head. "No, it's this way."
Jimmy frowned. "Diana? What're you on about?"
"The station's in no real danger, Jimmy," Diana said. "The way the stars were moving across the observation window, we never would have made it through the tunnel."
"Maybe Singleton got things under control," he said.
"I think the quadrant representative is not who she presents herself to be," Diana said and turned to face the amphibian. "You failed to return the traditional Pramotauran greeting, and the spirit was not telling you who Brahmen is."
The amphibian diplomat stood still, looking from Diana to Jimmy and back again. "The Core is this way," she said, her voice tinny and unsure of itself.
"No," Diana said. "It's not."
"Ah, shit," Jimmy said and moved closer to Grewsa. "Who are you, then?"
The amphibian backed away. "No," she said. "Stay back."
The struggle was short, violent and ended with Jimmy sitting on top of the Pramotauran. "Now," he said catching his breath. "Now tell me who you are and what you're after here."
Diana looked on, observant.
Grewsa's face did not change, she was silent.
Jimmy stood a little and shoved at Grewsa's shoulder, turning the creature over onto her front. He ripped the panel he'd opened before to save Grewsa's life and stabbed at the button, grabbing at the circuitry and yanking out a fistful of wires. The amphibian's life-support systems shut down and Jimmy stood back, watching with Diana to see what would happen.
The quadrant representative rolled back and forth, struggling for air and grasping at her throat. The gasps were getting deeper, more hoarse and farther between when Diana looked at Jimmy.
"Don't you ---" she said and he looked at her with hard, cold eyes that quieted her.
There was a blast of compressed air that escaped from the neck of the amphibian and the creature's body stopped moving. The head separated from the neck and Grewsa tried to pull it free. Jimmy reached down and ripped the head free with a savage twist.
The pretty woman's face looking at him was heaving in deep breaths.
"Emily," Jimmy said with a growl. "Christ, I should've known it was you."
She spat at him. "Fuck you," she said. "You never would have guessed."
Jimmy sat down on the chest of the creature suit, hard. Emily exhaled deeply with the pressure of him landing on her. "Now," he said with a grim smile. "You're going to tell me what you're doing here or I'm going to kill you. Understand?"
"You don't have the spine," Emily said, wheezing.
"The way this works is like when a constrictor gets hold of you," Jimmy said. "I won't move and every breath you let out means I'm not letting any air get back in. Make every breath count, sister. Spill."
Emily shook her head and tried to take in a breath, found that she could but only just barely. "All right," she gasped. "All right."
Jimmy didn't move. "Give me something now," he said, "before I get up."
"Her father," Emily said in a bare whisper. "He had a book we need."
Jimmy looked over his shoulder at Diana. She shrugged. He turned back to Emily. "What book?"
"An old book," Emily coughed.
Jimmy stood up and clapped his hands. "Get up," he said. Emily rolled to her side and coughed, retched and coughed some more. "Now, Emily. Let's go." She pushed herself up onto an elbow.
Diana put a hand on Jimmy's shoulder. "I know what she's talking about. It's the only thing my father left me."
Diana's apartment was clean, spartan. Jimmy had Emily by the arm and she was still dressed in the remains of the Pramotauran suit. "Sit," he said and shoved her at the small couch inside the door. Emily landed sidewise and looked back at Jimmy with hate-filled eyes. "Stay," Jimmy said. For emphasis, he pointed at her. She glared at him.
"Where is it?"
"Hold on," Diana said. "I'll be right back." Jimmy gave her a questioning look. "Right back," she said and left the front room to go down the short hall. She looked back over her shoulder to ensure that Jimmy hadn't followed her down the hall. Satisfied, she touched the center of the door and it irised open. She went into her bedroom.
She moved the very modest vanity mirror and the book was behind a hidden panel she pressed twice to open. Diana carefully removed a small rectangular bundle wrapped in a bolt of grey cloth that shone in the soft fluorescent light. Carefully peeling back the cloth, Diana saw the brilliant color of the book's cover.
There was a note from her father inside the front cover on a small scrap of paper.
I'm sorry for everything, it said. I wish I could take it back. At the bottom, the familiar scrawl of her father's signature was punctuated by a strange notation: Rook #68. She flipped through the book, reveling in the feel of real paper, and pocketed the note, folding the cloth carefully again around the volume.
Smiling ruefully, she walked back to the front room.
Emily was free of the Pramotaurant suit and had a heel on Jimmy's throat. "Ah," she said with a thin smile. "There it is. The Russia Owens book. You can just put it here on the couch and then back away down the hall, if you don't mind."
"Don't do it," Jimmy said. Emily twisted her heel and he gagged. The top of her boot rested just under his jaw.
"Shut up, fryboy," Emily said. She looked at Diana. "I can kill him with a twist of my foot if you don't put the book where I can pick it up and right fucking now. Let's go."
Diana didn't know what to do and the look on Jimmy's face told her not to do what Emily was demanding. She held the book in both hands and set her jaw. "All right," she said and stepped forward.
"Careful," Emily said. She watched Diana lean in and set the book on the couch. Diana backed away without looking up.
"There," she said.
Emily nodded, squinted her eyes. "Good," she said. She leaned over and that's when Jimmy moved. "Fuck!" Emily hit the floor with her shoulder and he rolled up to his knees, fists clenched.
Diana tried to get to the book, but Emily kicked her in the chest. The thief then rolled to her back and kicked Jimmy in the face. Emily scrambled to her feet and grabbed the book, then leapt over Jimmy's head in a long somersault toward the door to the apartment. Jimmy growled, turned and flung himself at her, pushing her back to the wall. He got turned sideways.
"Not again," he said. "Not this time!" He slammed his elbow into her stomach, then brought the back of his fist hard into her nose. She pushed him away, shouted something and jabbed at the door so that it opened and she dove through. Jimmy recovered and gave chase, but Emily was too fast. She was gone when he got out to the hall.
"Damn it!" Jimmy punched the wall, looked down the way that Emily had left then went back in the apartment. "Why did you give it to her?"
Diana was coughing and holding her stomach, where Emily had punched her. "I'm fine," she said. "Thanks for asking." She coughed again.
"Sorry," Jimmy said, softening his tone. "I'm sorry, Diana. I just can't believe you gave her the book."
"There was a note from my father," Diana said. "Here." She handed over the paper.
"Rook #68?” Jimmy scratched his goatee. “What does it mean?"
"I don't know," Diana said.
Diana looked around and saw swirling mist floating in the still-open doorway.
"You've done well,” the ghost said, sounding like Mare. “They won't be able to use the book without the note."
"James, take care," the ghost said, this time with Alain's voice. "This isn't over yet."
"What do you mean," Diana said, "it's not over yet? Didn't we stop her? Stop them?"
"S'only a setback for them," came the third voice, Bea. "They'll get back up, stronger'n ever. Now we know what they're doin', though, we'll be ready."
"All we can do, then," Jimmy said. "You all take care."
The ghost swirled and dissipated. The apartment was still.
Diana's voice seemed like a crash of thunder in the silence that followed. "What now?"
"Now?" Jimmy ran a hand through his hair and laughed. "Now we get you back to work. Me, I hang out, cook for the president and the Colonel tomorrow night and hopefully figure out where to go next."
“Which is where?”
"I wish I knew," Jimmy said. He reached out a hand to Diana, who took it. "Wherever it is, it won't be safe."
Diana stopped in Ellison Corridor where she'd seen the spirit before. She closed her eyes and waited. Nothing happened. No spirit came to her, no explosions rocked the Norrin Radd. She sighed and opened her eyes, turned completely around and noted what she saw.
People laughing, walking, talking, arguing, even singing; people living their lives on a space station at lagrange point five behind the dwarf planet Ceres sometimes in the shadow of Mars. There were no spirits other than the ones that people from the known galaxies brought with them.
Diana saw all this and smiled.
"Are you the Witness who saw the ghost?"
A little human girl was looking up at Diana. "Are you the Witness who saw the ghost?" she said again.
"Yes," Diana said.
"My mama says she believes you," the girl said. "She says a Witness wouldn't say anything that was wrong."
Diana knelt down and got to eye-level with the girl. "That's right. Witnesses only report what we see."
"Have you seen a lot?"
"Yes," Diana said. "I have."
"I think I might want to be a Witness when I'm old enough," the little girl said.
"It's good work," Diana said. "Honest work."
©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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