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Bryce hustled Tussig into the vehicle. He followed and closed the hatch, then sat down at the pilot's station. Tussig listened to his breathing, labored and loud, and slowly realized that Bryce was terrified.
"The others," Bryce said finally. "They left?"
"Not much different than anybody else, then. Too much trouble, cut a co off, leave him behind. No different at all."
"You don't know what we're like," Tussig said. "You don't know anything about us. All you're worried about is your precious dispenser."
Bryce swung out of the seat and faced Tussig. "Yeah? So what? Before today, would you have believed your buddle would abandon you?"
Tussig glared at Bryce, but he could not sustain the rage. Not at Bryce. He looked away.
"Thought not. So don't give me any s.h.i.t about not knowing you. No one knows anyone till they're desperate. Then you find out. Eh?"
Bryce returned to the pilot's seat and started up the transport. As the vehicle began to roll, Tussig moved into the seat next to Bryce.
"Where are we going?"
Bryce steered the transport through a half circle and headed for the towers of Charic, visible distantly at the end of the road.
"Were you really trying to make it here for the migration?" Bryce asked.
"That's what Raja-can told us."
"One of you might make it, then."
"Where are you taking me?"
"Home. My dom. I have to sort things out."
Tussig's heart raced as he watched the main city draw near. It seemed his vision was clearer and his hearing more acute. He licked his lips.
"Are you going to try to balance it all?" he asked.
Bryce frowned deeply but did not look at Tussig. After a time, he nodded.
"Maybe. Whether it wants to be or not."
Tussig did not speak the rest of the way.
Bryce lived in a small dom, three rooms and a hygiene cube, on the outskirts of the port. The place was clean and the air tasted pure. Bryce sent Tussig to the cube.
"I got some things to check out," he said. "You get cleaned up."
Tussig stood in the hot spray or a long time. When he came out, Bryce had set out new clothes on the couch. Tussig examined them, amazed, and then carefully slipped them on. He felt new, reborn, and wondered if this was the goal of all those ecstatics in their enclaves along the rivers. Probably not, he decided, since if it were so simple as new clothes they would all have abandoned their self-loathing long ago.
Bryce came into the dom in a hurry.
"There's ships leaving for the frontier every day," he said. Sweat glistened on his scalp. He held up a disk. "Pa.s.sage out." He handed the disk to Tussig. Then he held up his own disk. "If you don't mind the company?"
Tussig stared at him, gnawing his lower lip. Bryce grinned.
"Been thinking about it for a long time. Charic's getting too fussy with its rules and people like Sidge and Ridel don't make me feel any better about living here. Time maybe to move on."
Quickly, Bryce began packing a bag for himself. Tussig had nothing but his old clothes, so he sat and watched, dismayed. He slipped his disk into a breast pocket and tried to sort out what was happening.
Bryce finished and sealed his pack. "Ready?"
Bryce left his transport beneath an enormous shed at the perimeter of the port and led Tussig, a hand firmly on his shoulder, to a walkway that carried them into the port proper.
Tussig had never been in such a huge, clean s.p.a.ce. The white of the walls and supports, the pale, veined stone of the floors, all seemed to glow. People in beautiful clothes stood in lines or strode purposefully through the galleries. The ceiling arched high above. Throughout, Tussig felt the occasional vibration of rising shuttles heaving out of blast pits. The air was cool and curiously rich. He had never been in a place like this, never thought to walk in such a world.
Bryce's grip tightened briefly. Tussig looked around and spotted a group of police officers near one of the queues, asking questions.
"Keep walking," Bryce said. He pointed. "That's where we're going."
Tussig saw a booth serving a line of about a dozen people, all of them carrying bags like Bryce's. Bryce let go of Tussig's shoulder then and handed him his own bag.
"Hang onto this till we get our ship," Bryce said.
Tussig sensed the tension in his voice. Uncertainly, he shouldered Bryce's pack and drifted a few paces away from him. They walked on, parallel to each other.
Then the police came toward them. Tussig's pulse jumped up, but he held back the urge to run. He looked at the booth, the queue, and kept walking.
"Sir," one of the officers called. "Excuse us, co."
Bryce slowed. Tussig continued on, heart pounding. After several paces, he risked a backward glance.
The police officers were putting restraints on Bryce's wrists. The big tech scowled unhappily. He looked up, catching sight of Tussig, and gave a barely perceptible nod.
Tussig snapped his gaze around and continued on. He reached the queue and stood in line the way everyone else stood in line and waited for the official request to step away and come with them for questions, removal, disposal- "Can I help you, co?"
Tussig blinked, startled. He was standing before the booth and a woman waited for him to answer, smiling innocuously. Tussig swallowed hard and took out the disk. He handed it to her and waited while she read it.
"Very good, co," she said, handing it back. "Gate ninety-seven. You have one hour before your shuttle lifts."
Tussig did not speak. He slipped the disk back into his pocket and stepped away from the booth. Bryce was gone, taken away, and he saw no other police.
He felt tears well up, but he caught them, pushed them back. Not knowing what else to do, he turned and headed for Gate 97.
Tussig sat in a cushioned chair beside a woman who toyed with a palm reader intently for several minutes. A tall window gave a view across the shuttle field. The mushroom-shaped vehicles lifted on shafts of shimmering agrav beams, displaced air returning to give a clap of thunder, awed and frightened.
"Inside," " the woman said. "They say you can't hear a thing."
Tussig blinked at her. "That's good."
She smiled. "Where are you going?"
Tussig pulled the disk from his pocket and looked at the label. "Diphda."
"Hmm. Never been there myself. Why are you going there?"
Tussig thought about the question for a long time before he answered.
MORE TO GLORY.
The night Jenn came home was just like any other: I was holed up in my bedroom, trying to ignore my parents fighting. I was looking at a book, but I wasn't reading it; I just stared at the picture of the sailing ship on the flat blue screen. Its broad cloth sails billowed with the winds of the Glory Sea, the rigging creaking and the hull slapping rhythmically on the waves.
For a moment second pop's voice rose above everyone else's. I heard, "I know he's just a boy! He needs to face up to facts, that's all!" I turned up the volume on my book. I didn't want to hear what second pop had to say about me.
Tapping at the window caught my attention and I looked up, frowning, unable to see through the wavery plastiglas into the night air. I slid off my bed and went over to it, putting my face close to the surface.
Two bug eyed faces came into view, alarmingly magnified. I started back.
Giggling came from the bugs. It was the twins, Dallas and Austin. Heart still hammering, disgusted that I was taken by surprise, I grabbed my respirator, glanced to make sure my door was cycled shut, and slid open the window.
"What are you two idiots doing here?" I whispered. "If my parents find out-"
"Guess who's back in town?"
I looked at them with narrowed eyes, determined to wait them out. Dallas gave in first.
"Jenn,'' he said. "She just got in."
This time I thought my heart stopped for good. Jenn. My best friend Jenn. Ship's apprentice Jenn. Her parents bought her a spot on a s.p.a.ce cruiser and she shipped out six months ago, just after she turned twelve.
"Where?" I breathed and they nodded at the ground below. A white blur waved up at me.
"I'll be right down." I closed the window, tore off my respirator and got into my jeans, shirt and jacket, sealing all the openings meticulously, swearing at the long process that usually only took seconds. My fingers were clumsy and it took forever. I bolted out the door, flung myself back to pick up my respirator, and tore out to the door again.
The fight was still going on in the kitchen. It sounded like all three of them were in there, their voices rising and falling, first and second ma's higher pitched than second pop's but no less angry. As far as I could tell it was the same argument. I tiptoed toward the front door.
Oh no. I skidded to a stop just before the front door, heart sinking. Tickham. I turned around. He stood in the low light of the hall, looking pale and thin.
"Go back to bed, Tick," I ordered. I gave my meanest glare. "Or I'll tell first mama that you got out of bed."
Tick just glared back. For a little kid, he could be pretty stubborn. "Where are you going?"
"None of your business, tick t.u.r.d," I said. "Go away or I'll tell mama."
"I want to come too," he said, and he thrust his lower lip out.
I groaned. Stupid little tick t.u.r.d brother. "No, Tick. Go away." I pushed the door open, thinking that would make him run, and was bowled backward by Austin, Dallas, and Jenn.
I forgot Tick when I saw her. She was in her white apprentice uniform, her dark hair and dark skin glowing. She grinned shyly when she caught my eye. Jenn was never shy and I frowned at this new side of her. Then, as if she knew, she reached out and gave me a hug.
"Man, Randy! It is so good to see you! I missed all you guys."
My heart, which had leaped at the thought that she meant me alone, sunk at the "you guys," but the b.u.t.terflies in my stomach were still rolling in a pretty interesting way. So I held onto her hug. As usual Tick ruined things. He hadn't run from the open door like he was supposed to.
"Jenn?" he said, his eyes wide. Jenn broke away from me, and knelt down to Tick.
"Hey, little Tick," she said kindly, and held out her arms. Tick broke and ran to her, burying his face in her shining uniform. Mindful of Tick's respirator less state, Austin hit the door b.u.t.ton and the door closed. The ventilators cycled the air clear but by the time Tick had lifted his head from Jenn's shoulder, a small smear of blood stained her uniform.
Tick, you have to go to bed now," I ordered in as loud a whisper as I dared. They would come out of the kitchen any minute, see what was up.
"No! I want to see Jenn!"
"Shhhh!" We chorused.
For a moment we were all quiet. Then, "Randy? Tick?" Firs'ma, her voice weak and tired, called from the kitchen.
The twins dissolved into silent giggles. I glared at them and called out, "It's okay, ma. Tick was sleepwalking again. I'll get him back to bed."
Tick gave a glare to equal my own. "I was n-"
"Shh! Look, if you can keep quiet and keep up, you can come. The first time you whine, or cry, or say you're tired, you can just go home by yourself. Clear?"
Looking like I just gave him the keys to the Cathedral, Tick nodded, eyes bright. Between all of us we got him into his outdoor clothes and fitted his respirator on him, and then I hit the door one final time and we headed out into the night.
It never really got dark on the lakefront. White Lake cast a glow where the fuel offga.s.sed from the reservoir, even outshining the string of pearls, the strand of moons that hung overhead. In school we learned that other parts of Glory got dark enough to see the night sky, but not at White Lake. I always thought that would be something to see, a night so dark you could see the stars.
We pushed through the crowd thronging the wharfs. It was like old times, dodging the s.p.a.cers, dockworkers, and shipfitters coming off their shifts and streaming in and out of bars. In pockets of pearlescent light we could see the pretty ladies and the pretty boys, looking like they were half the show. I liked watching them from a distance-up close their eyes behind their masks were harsh and their voices lost the tinkling happiness they put on. But I wasn't looking at pretty ladies tonight. Tonight there was only Jenn. Beneath our laughter and running I kept sneaking looks at her. She had lost whatever momentary shyness had separated her from me earlier. Now she ran with the rest of us, sometimes backwards to shout something, sometimes jumping high to touch the street lamps and make them swing. It had been a favorite game and I was glad she remembered it. We all laughed when Tick jumped feebly off the ground, and Jenn swung him up and he reached out and touched the lamp.
To our amazement, the lamp tottered unsteadily and then keeled over, raising an explosion of sparks and a wicked smell of fuel, and causing shouts from other pa.s.sersby. We all stared, Tick more astonished than the rest of us, and Jenn slapped him on the shoulder and said with admiration, "Go, Tick!"
That made us all laugh harder than ever and before the wharf guards could make their way to us, wading purposefully through the crowd, we ran off, holding Tick by his gloved hands until his toes barely touched the ground and he only had to make a skipping stride every now and again.