Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Cold Distance : Chapter Two

Welcome to the first adventure of Jugee & the Duchess:

Dee makes the hard choices, the ones that change people's lives. The result of her latest choice means she must put a lot of space between herself and her adopted home with the law hot on her trail. Her escape is cut off and she strikes a bargain with a mysterious alien and his companion to get off planet. 
As she learns more about her traveling companions, Dee must decide whether to join them or evade agents of the enigmatic Clave on her own. More hard choices are in her future and she has to make the right ones.

This is Book One, Way Out. It will run for four weeks from July 18th through August 11th. I'll be at Kansas City Comicon August 12th through the 14th where we can talk about it face to face if you like. Chapters will drop on Mondays and Thursdays at 7 AM Central Time. Feel free to comment here or over at my Facebook Page.  If you like it, please tell your friends. You know us writers are an insecure, superstitious lot.

Chapter One



The Kez is Kinetsia City’s bawdy district where anything goes. It’s the huge tourist attraction, the thing the city is most embarrassed by. It’s also surrounded by high-end hotels. When the driver landed the cab on the edge of the Kez, he didn’t pretend to care and I didn’t ask him to. I’d given him all of my cash in the hopes of buying his temporary silence. I hoped he wouldn’t report the deviation. If he did, though, my destination was still masked. Finally, the rain had stopped.
With my valise floating close to me, I skirted the edges of the Kez. I kept my head down and ignored the catcalls. Bright lights over filthy streets gave no sense of safety as I made my way through the grime. Tourists gawping at storefront promises made the whole thing surreal. There were families here - with young children no less! - taking the whole thing in like it was some kind of carnival or museum.
Which it is, but now I’m off-topic. A little slice of personal judgement, I suppose. I’m pretty good at telling others what they should do when I’m incapable of doing the right things myself. 
Anyway, I ended up pulling my valise under my right arm as I crossed the Kez. Fourteen blocks of tawdry salaciousness to reach my goal. Soon enough, there it was: the Riange Hotel. 
It’s huge. 
The building dominates the Kinetsia City skyline. Most of the regular customers of the hotel arrived by sky car starting at the tenth floor. The more money you had, the higher you could check in. 
The hotel itself could accommodate any needs. Bleeding edge artificial intelligences translated every language. The kitchens could make anything any customer asked for, accommodating any allergen they might be made aware of. It’s the best hotel on the planet. Maybe in the entire system.
I walked around until I found the loading docks for the kitchens then walked past them. Thank Natostha I’d been bright enough to wear comfortable boots. 
All the nooks and crannies of a major building leave plenty of places for someone to hide. Mostly the staff will sneak out to smoke, or arrange a rendezvous of some kind. My job now was to set myself up as an administrator of the hotel’s ownership. Five minutes’ work, tops.
I worked quickly. Used my own pic along with the name of a low-level clerk in a larger office for my credentials. I sent a backdated email saying that I would be coming into inspect the kitchens’ inventories. They were to give me all courtesies and cooperation. My plan was to get in and use my new identity to get into hotel registration to find what room Alu Besdiae was in. I hoped he wasn’t using an alias of some kind. 
With the fake ID set, I walked back to the dock. Another human leaned back against the half wall trucks pulled up to. She was smoking a baker and tried to hide it when she saw me. I raised my hand to say Don’t worry about it and walked up the short stairs without a word. I heard her exhale heavily. The dock had four bays with large rollup shutters. Next to them was a black steel door with a sign telling the hours of the day deliveries were accepted. 
The palm reader took my print and unlocked the door at once. 
Inside was a thin hallway just wide enough for me to walk without bumping my shoulders on the walls. The doors at the end of the long hall led to the kitchens but it was the one on the right, about halfway down, that opened and spilled out an ancient receiving bot. 
As a rickety bucket of bolts, the bot failed. It was falling apart at the seams. One arm drooped so low it almost scraped the floor while the other shook as its three wheels rolled it toward me. The large flat head had four lenses, all different sizes, but only one seemed to be working. 
“Pause for scan-ning,” it said in Standard then in four other languages. I stopped.
The largest lens threw out a wobbly green beam which scanned me from head to toe twice then presented a scanner. “Palm i-den-ti-fi-ca-tion,” it said in its hollow robotic voice. I laid my hand on it and pressed hard. The reader didn’t move so I assumed the decrepit look was a ruse to fool potential troublemakers. 
Its lens continued to stare at me while the reader did its job. I heard whirring in its guts. There was a strong smell of burning wires, too.
“Wait,” it said and rolled back into its little room but the door stayed open. When it plugged itself into a console, I held my breath.
There’s a light over the doors at either end of the hall. Both were solid red. If this went badly I would have a hard time getting anywhere that I might consider ‘out’. 
The bot disconnected and rolled back out on its wobbly tires, its broken arm swung back and forth. Its good arm didn’t look much better. I was only half sure this thing was an act.
“En-try ap-proved.”
Over the door ahead the light turned green. I couldn’t help myself and smiled at the bot. “Thanks,” I said and walked by the security station. I was better than I thought. No, I was as good as I thought.

What? You said you wanted all the details. Do you want me to tell the story or not?
Okay, then. Where was I?

It was noisy on the other side of those double doors. The laundry, with all its steam and out of balance washers was on the left and a sign pointed the way to the kitchens. I followed the signs to the office, which was on the edge of the production area. Two large mixers - and I mean the giant ones taller than me - stood like sentries facing into the ovens, grills and fryers and clean stainless steel tables. Fortunately, this kitchen was dark. The blinds on the inside of the large window were all the way up. If anyone had been in there, they would have seen me straight away.
It was empty.
I looked all around to make sure I was alone then tried the office door. It was unlocked and I went straight to the desk. All coming up roses, right?
My login didn’t work on the computer. I tried everything I could but no luck. 
The sound of squeaky wheels rolling across the hard tile floor made me hold my breath. A patrolling security bot, a sharper looking twin of the one that let me in, hove around a corner. I had time to duck under the desk to avoid the green sensor beams it threw out. It was looking for anything out of place since the last time it was here.
Which of course was the door to the office that I had stupidly left open.
It rolled over, the axles grinding in the crooked wheels, squealing with every rotation. The Riange sure didn’t spend a lot of money on their bots. 
My mind raced at what to do if I was discovered but I needn’t have worried. The bot pulled the door shut with one of its arms and left the area.
When I realized I was still holding my breath I let it out all at once. My heart pounded hard against my chest and my head thrummed. I was doing something for a change, not just obeying whatever Madeleine wanted. It was like that time that Nuary and I found the city archive, only she wasn’t here to share in my excitement. I took a moment to feel sorry for her and then for myself before getting back to the business at hand. Once I did that I could figure out how to get him to take me off world. Then I could figure out where I really wanted to go.
I turned on the viewpointer and made myself invisible. It wouldn’t stand up to a security scan, no way, but it would keep fleshy eyes and digital pryers from seeing me while I tried the computer again.
After three more tries I realized my mistake. There was an address that had to go after my username. That was a second goof. Nothing monitored my continued attempts to login so I didn’t get locked out. I would have set security up for that along with an alarm that a station was active in an empty room.
Once I got into the system I could look at the hotel registry and find my quarry. Administrative powers rock.
He was on the seventy-eighth floor. A high roller but not in the elite class yet. Close, though. The room was ready for him but he hadn’t checked in yet. I frowned; he had a suite of rooms, not just one. Definitely a high roller.
I checked the roster of housekeeping staff and picked someone who was scheduled off. After I replaced her picture with mine, I was Jaxis Primar in the system. I could open any guest door I needed to.
So I erased my digital tracks and fried the admin identity. 
Time to get upstairs.

* * *

It took forever for someone to come down on the vator. I couldn’t very well call it to an empty kitchen and expect security not to notice. Though given the state of things downstairs that might have worked. I didn’t want to take the risk though. There was plenty of time before Alu Besdiae arrived. And these places all run like clockwork, even late at night so I wasn’t worried.
I say it took forever. Really it was only about ten minutes before two human housekeepers came out. Engrossed in a fascinating conversation.
“—powder everywhere! Every kind of powder you could think of.” The tall mat was pushing a cloth covered cart laden with dirty dishes.
The pat with a lot of body mods including full-sleeve tech ink and piercings all over her exposed skin. Her hair was nice though she was bored with her companion. “You spend too much time obsessing over the guests, Heppe.” 
I slipped onto the elevator and waited for the door to close. 
“Eh,” Heppe said with a shrug. “Doesn’t change the fact that the darmes would love to see who was in that room with all those drugs.”
“So call ‘em,” the pat said. 
The door didn’t close and didn’t close and didn’t close. The two housekeepers disappeared around a corner. I almost reached out to press a floor button. I was desperate to press that damn button and get the vator moving. It finally dinged as the hydraulics whirred the doors closed. I relaxed. Then I punched the button for the seventy-eighth floor. My viewpointer had plenty of battery so I could relax a little more until someone else got on the vator.
I don’t believe in a particular deity. Mama wasn’t devout anything but understood why some found faith important. She tried to teach me that, I suppose, but she ran out of time. My father had religion. It got both him and my mother killed by a Symbi, a fanatic who claimed the same beliefs as my father. Doesn’t matter now. That’s how I ended up an orphan and in the system where Madeleine found me ten years ago.
So - I don’t have religion but I was grateful to whatever powers that be at that moment that no one got on that vator. I thanked the stars and Natostha for that. I allowed myself a sigh of relief when the car slowed. When the doors opened, it was another stroke of luck the hallway was empty. I didn’t think too much about it, about the coincidences. My goal was in reach. 
I was still invisible thanks to the viewpointer. I made my way down the hall, followed the signs toward Alu Besdiae’s room. I made a wrong turn and went halfway down one hall before I realized my mistake. Other than that, I did my best to stay out of the line of sight of the ceiling pryers. It was reasonable to assume no one was watching, but best I didn’t take any chances.
When I got to the room, I checked both ways to ensure no one was coming and quickly keyed in Jaxis Primar’s code. The door opened on the first try.
Now I’ve mentioned I made quite a few mistakes along the way. This was the first time I’d done anything like that. Madeleine raised me to be a polished ambassador as she expected me to follow into her career. My senses were bright and sharp in stark contrast to the flutters in my stomach. If I hadn’t made a huge mistake down in the kitchen office I wouldn’t have ended up where I am today. 
I closed the door behind me and took in the decadent opulence of the suite. The Riange Hotel was truly a grand place despite the pedestrian kitchens below. In the entry was a table and lamp, a mirror and a coat closet. Ahead was a long, deep couch covered in Trenshen leather, with two wing chairs on either side. They all faced inward for a conversation pit. It reminded me of Madeleine’s sitting rooms, where she held her salons. My curiosity carried me into the rest of the suite.
Two bedrooms on either side of the sitting room. One was larger than the other but both had spectacular views of Kinetsia City below. I looked into the refresher too. 
Kinetsia City is the capital of Klekuun as well as the world capital of Lippe. The Riange is the premier hotel in Kinetsia City because it can accommodate visitors from all over the system. Settings in each suite can be changed to make every guest as comfortable as possible. That means that if a guest needs a boiling ammonia bath to clean up, the hotel can provide that. The atmosphere in the room can be mixed to exacting specifications if need be. Furniture and the decor can be tailored to any taste too. Like I said, this is the best hotel on the planet.
So, the ‘fresher, yeah. The hotel puts toiletries in each ‘fresher according to need, too. And what was on the sink and in the bath were items that only a Symbi would use. 
I - well, I have issues with Symbi. I mentioned the fight I had back at school, right? Pul Ljin - the Symbi mat I mentioned - found out my parents were killed by a Symbi. She kept needling me and taunting me about how her race was superior to mine. She wouldn’t stop. 
And because none of the teachers or administrators saw it or heard it, nothing got done.
One day I’d had enough and I fought her as hard as I could. All the rage I felt at being made to feel small and somehow less by this arrogant mat… I couldn’t stand it. Nuary was my lookout when I ambushed Pul and got her down. It’s not clear in my head how many punches I threw but I remember Pul’s face being a mass of scales and blood.
I ended up pulling her shoulder out of its socket. Nuary pulled me off her and Pul Lijn never bothered me again.
For weeks I waited for someone to bust me out for it, but the school never talked to me. I avoided my mother by staying that night at Nuary’s. Every night in my head were recriminations for beating Pul so badly. I hadn’t know I was capable of it and that scared me more than anything else. The realization that I didn’t hate all Symbi startled me. My hate was only for Pul who abused me and the lunatic who killed my parents. They’re bigger than me, you know. They tower. Their lizard eyes make me cringe. Pul was even a head taller than me which is why I sucker punched her.
After that I tried to look every Symbi I encountered in the eye. Hard as I tried not to be intimidated they still terrified me. 
And there was no way in Jommua I wanted to travel with a Symbi. None.
The biggest mistake I’d made that night was not checking the room settings. Once I’d figured out it was a Symbi room, I felt the lack of humidity and a vague tang of ammonia in the air. I had to get out of there.
Which is when the room’s comm squealed and a pat voice asked for Jaxis Primar.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were off today?”
It was her damn supervisor. 
I didn’t answer. Finally, he came back on the speaker and said, “Messeer Besdiae is on his way up. You need to get out of there.”
Of course I ran to the door but stopped short of it, realizing that if I left then he’d know someone had been in there. What if he put two and two together? I mean, Madeleine was about to be in a world of trouble with the darmes. What if he connected the mat running away from him to her? 
Yeah, I was overthinking it, which kept me from bolting. Instead I found the closet in the smaller bedroom and huddled in its darkest corner.
Hoping to Natostha I didn’t have to see him.

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