Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Cold Distance : Chapter Four

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.

Previously:
Chapter One 
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

Turbines to speed...


CHAPTER FOUR


I was up just before the chime. When I emerged from the refresher I found some clothes laid out for me. Centon leather boots, pants, a blouse of Paklys silk and a jacket designed by Pol Etom Olla on the end of my bed. I took a minute to appreciate the luxuriousness of it all.
“We leave in thirty,” Jugee said over the room’s system. I held still for a moment to see if there was anything else. There wasn’t.
So I went to the console and opened a screen which promptly told me that I had no access to the infranet. If I wanted it all I had to do was click one box to charge it to the room. Not knowing Alu Besdiae’s nature, I decided not to incur the charge. So I retrieved my blouse and tried to open a connection via the inboard controller on my sleeve. No play there, either. The blouse had been soaked for too long.
Resigned, I dressed in the clothes that Alu and the werlibug had laid out for me. I looked too stylish to work but not fancy enough to be received in any proper way. I sighed and whistled for my valise to follow me. It was time to leave.
Alu commented on my costume when I entered the main room of the suite. “You look like one of those infuriatingly efficient pirates in the Carshishe System.” His smile didn’t help my mood. 
And the smell of the atmosphere caused me to gag. I’d tried to hold it back but it was too much, too acrid. My nostrils burned and the sour taste on my tongue overwhelmed me and I ran back to the ‘fresher in my room to vomit. After I cleaned up I looked at myself in the mirror. “You can do this,” I said out loud. When I went back, I stood straight and presented myself as I’d been trained to do. 
“Jugee says I should apologize,” Alu said, “for leaving the room set for my own comfort. In the future I will endeavor to find a happier medium for both our comforts.”
I nodded, accepting the not-apology. The werlibug perched on the back of a sofa across the room, studying me. 
Alu wore the same suit as the night before but with a different shirt. Still no tie. He looked me over once again, cold and clinical.  It made me uncomfortable until he finally said, “Jugee, well done on her wardrobe. Our car is waiting,” he said, “are you ready?”
“Yes.”
“Leave your valise. It will be sent with the few things we have here to the Compass. To my ship.”
Jugee flew up as I passed him to follow Alu out of the room. In the vator I stood as far as I could from Alu and was grateful no one else got on. We crossed the lobby without checking out. When we finally got outside I was relieved to breathe fresh air and feel a cool breeze. It helped me clear the Symbi atmosphere from my senses. I still wanted to take a shower, though.
The car was on par with the Embassy limo: deep, rich leather seats, climate controls for each passenger, and the smoothest of takeoffs. So different than the hack I rode in the night before. If this was the style they traveled in, I could get used to it. Except for being so near a Symbi.
When I looked out the window, the car was in the high lane reserved for the ultra-rich and powerful. It was rare that Madeleine and I ever flew this high but it gave me a perfect view of Kinetsia City. The Amberg Spire, three hundred floors of art from all over Ffeine and the entire System. A ring of giant digital screens orbited it touting the current and upcoming exhibits, all of which I never saw. Nuary and I had spent hundreds of hours exploring the museums in the Amberg. The thought that I wouldn’t ever be there again to honor her or expand my horizons depressed me. I stopped looking out the window. 
I was going to miss so much about my adopted home it hurt. Whether or not Alu noticed, I didn’t care in that moment. I let myself grieve for the remaining few minutes of the trip.
We touched down three blocks from the Olan Embassy and wheeled the rest of the way.  When the car came to a stop, I hesitated. The driver held my door open, waiting patiently for me to get out.
“You will come with me and face her,” Alu said. “This is the price of your passage.”
I’ll never forget how bad I felt. My stomach dropped through the bottom of my feet when I walked up the five short steps to the front door of the Embassy. Side by side with a pat Symbi and a werlibug flying just behind us I thought we must have looked comical.
Madeleine’s major domo, Csif Pindotrage, received us in the grand sitting room. She was distant, emotionally removed as she should have been but looked fabulous in a new suit. When I greeted her by name she returned the greeting formally, without a hint of recognition or acknowledgement that we liked the same kind of pop music. I wondered if Alu would pick up the cues as to who she was.
“Daymya Holling, Messeer Alu,” she said, bowing slightly, “the Ambassador will not be able to see you today.” She looked worried.
“My appointment was not canceled,” Alu said. I kept an eye on Csif while I scanned the room. The windows were shuttered. Nothing was out of place but there were white cloths over all the furniture. I had half-expected that given Madeleine’s activity last night but the house was deserted.
Csif gave me a quick glance then addressed Alu. “Events have dictated that Medayma be away from the residence. She did leave a message for you, though.”
“Jugee?”
“There’s only one person in the house besides us. And we’re looking at him.”
“Her,” Alu corrected.
He looked at me.
“Csif identifies as mat.”
She bristled a little but didn’t say anything.
Jugee landed the werlibug on the arm of a sofa. “My apologies, Medayma Pindotrage. I am updating my files.”
“There is a separate message for Daymya Holling,” Csif said and snapped open two screens; one for me and one for Alu.
“Jugee, did she take it with her?”
“I’m looking.”
My screen glimmed up and there was an image of Madeleine. She looked tired, more tired than I’d ever seen. Her dark skin wasn’t as lustrous as usual and her black hair was pulled back tight. I couldn’t tell where she was when she recorded from the background, either. It wasn’t any place I was familiar with. I reached up to pause the recording but no controls opened when I touched the screen.
“Jugee?”
Madeleine took a deep breath and spoke to me. “I’m disappointed you didn’t come to me. After all the years I spent with you - all the things I taught you - I hoped that you would be as true a daughter to me as I wanted to be a mother to you. It’s obvious now that you would never have joined me in public service. You see the world in such stark terms - and it’s not at all the way you want it to be.”
“It’s not here, Alu.”
“She took it?!”
“It’s not here.”
I had no idea what they were talking about, or how they could talk while Alu watched a message. Madeleine went on.
“Little Duchess, you are going to have a hard life. You may not see it that way now but your coming back here was a terrible mistake. The Clave are coming to investigate. They will find all the things I have done and all the things that have been done on the premises. My career is over, yours never began. 
“The Clave will want to question you. You’ll be pursued wherever you go, they’ll have your identifying information. You know their reputation.”
A phone screen opened in the air behind Csif, who paid no attention to me. 
“Jugee, go look. She says there’s something for me in the upstairs library.”
The werlibug flew away faster than I had thought possible.
Csif turned to look at the phone screen as it bleated its tones, begging for someone to answer.
“They do not quit, Duchess. Eventually the Clave will track you down no matter what you do. If you’d only come to me we could have resolved this amicably. Instead my people are anxious to hang me for what you revealed to the world. I am on the run now too. As much as I love you, as much as you are my own flesh, I will destroy you if we should ever meet again.”
“Alu! I’ve got the package but it’s not what we came for.”
“We are leaving now. Daymya Holling -“
I raised my hand. “In a minute.”
Alu grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the screen. “Now.”

Madeleine wasn’t done but because my proximity to the screen had changed the sound clipped and the image paused. Whatever else was on her mind, I never got to know.

***

Jugee joined us in the driveway, with Alu pulling me behind him until I stopped short. He carried a small, square package underneath. It looked like one of the secure boxes Madeleine used sometimes to send documents around the city.
“Where did our car go?”
“I sent it away,” Alu said, yanking my arm again. “I planned to be here longer than ten minutes.”
“I’ve whistled up a hack to meet us three blocks from here,” Jugee said. “It’ll be there waiting for us.”
Alu whipped me ahead of him and picked up his pace as we crossed the green space on the far edge of the driveway. I stumbled through the shoulder-high bushes lining the wall, using my free arm to cover my face against the sharp branches. We burst through to a strip of grass about six feet wide that ended in the perimeter wall. In all my time here, I’d never been on the edge of the property. The white stone wall was always part of the view when I left the Embassy but I’d never paid attention to it.
“What is in the package Medayma left?”
“I don’t know, Alu. There’s a blocker on it. I need time.”
“Keep working on it.”
“There’s a concealed door on your right,” Jugee said. “Here.”
The werlibug threw a green light on the wall where the tiniest of cracks ran in the shape of a rectangle. 
Alu said, “I see it. Have you killed the cameras? Erased any trace of our presence?” He pulled open the door.
“I’ve done what I can but there was a live feed in the sitting room. I’ve traced it to the local darmes precinct but I’m having trouble figuring out where it is there. Or if it went on somewhere else.”
Inside the door was a small, dark room. “Straight ahead,” Jugee said. “Watch out for the stairs on the left.”
The door behind us closed. My left hip bounced into a metal railing as Alu continued to tug me in his wake. “I had no idea this was here.”
“Where is our exit, Jugee?”
In response, the werlibug cast another green light ahead of us. “To your right, about ten steps. Darmes are on their way. Expect lights and sirens in less than two minutes.”
“We need to get out of here and across the street before they show up,” Alu said. 
“Then let me go and we can run,” I said, more forcefully than I intended. “I’m not a child.”
“I will leave you behind if you cannot keep up.”
“Right. I know that.”
Alu let go of my hand and I stopped while he found the door. My blouse was torn and I felt blood oozing from a cut on my forearm but I’d never felt so exhilarated as I did in that moment. “I’ll keep up.”
The door opened and daylight poured in, blinding me for a second. The werlibug punched into my shoulder as Alu went out. I didn’t look back at it, I just followed.
On the other side of the wall I faced an enormous momid bush, easily eight feet tall and spread at least ten feet wide. Its spade-shaped leaves were their full summer deep red color and they swayed in an easy, cool breeze.
Alu was gone around the bush to my right and jogged after him. Jugee, the werlibug, buzzed past me. It was a stroke of luck that no one was on the street to see us come out of the secret door. Alu was already a hundred feet ahead of me with strides twice as long as mine. I ran to catch up but noticed houses on either side of the street, all surrounded by walls higher and more formidable than the one around the Embassy.
“There are dozens of cameras on this street alone,” I said to Alu’s back. 
“We’re invisible to them,” Jugee said through the werlibug. His voice was just as full and resonant as it had been in the hotel. “I’ve cast a wide viewpointer field that you’re almost falling back out of. Run faster.”
I picked up my pace and got within six feet of Alu, who slowed noticeably. 
“Turn left at the next intersection,” Jugee said. 
My heart raced and adrenaline wired me up. I was bursting with excitement which overcame my fear. As we made the turn Jugee told us to I heard the first faint siren.
“I’m through the blocker, Alu.”
“Well?”
“It’s nothing. An old media player.”
“Where is the car?”
“Take the next right, then left. It will be at the curb. A red Dyswovvo. Four doors.”
Wailing sirens were closer but at least a block away. My heart pounded. I was grateful for the physical training that Madeleine insisted on both at school and privately. I smiled. It was all working out after all.
We made the final turn and our hired car pulled up half a block away. 
“It’s a piece of junk,” I said. “This is our getaway?”
“It’ll make it to the Compass,” Jugee said. “That’s all it has to do and the driver has good ratings.”
“Too much talking,” Alu snapped. 
“Dropping the viewpointer in three, two, one.”
I could see the driver studying his handheld and not looking up. Best he didn’t see us running full speed at him, appearing out of nowhere. Jugee zipped ahead to get his attention.
Alu slowed to a brisk walk and I followed suit. When we got to the car we split so we could get in on either side. Jugee flew in with me, perched on the back of the seat between us.
“Headed for the Compass, yah?” The driver was a pat human, probably thirty years older than me. He pulled out onto the road without looking. A screen on his dash identified him as a long-term temp driver. He did this in his spare time for a few ferune here and there. I wondered what the bribe would have to be to keep him from ratting on us when the darmes posted us as wanted.
Jugee buzzed his wings. “Just the ride, driver. No questions and there’s a big tip for you.”
I sat on the passenger side, Alu was behind the driver, fuming. He was hard to read.
Until he turned to me. “We will have a longer conversation later,” Alu said, “but if you are with us you will have to keep up better.”
The look in his eyes intimidated me. All I could do was say, “I’ll do my best.”


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