, , , ,

The next thing Enioreh knew, she was slumped against the metal inner shell of a CycloBall. The silver light reflecting off the walls was painfully bright, and there was a buzzing in her head that reminded her of static. She did a quick inventory check. Still had all her clothes, including both shoes. No quasiputer. They’d be pissed at the station about that, but the memory was the really important thing, and she still had that – in the inner pocket of her thin shirt; she could feel the little protrusion against her breast. This was promising – if she could just keep it safe until they uploaded it into the station’s memory, chances were good it would be airable. She had sort of expected not to find it – the CycloBall had probably passed through three or four military check-points while she was unconscious. Of course it was entirely possible that they had found the memory cartridge and sterilized it a little too long, which would corrupt the data.

Enioreh heard a bump as the outer shell of the Cyc came to rest. The sound of whistling and shuffling feet soon told her she was at port; then the pod door opened with a vorpal, sucking sound. Enioreh coughed on the new air and clawed her ungainly way out.

“You made it!” Ize was there, hiding a grin behind her elbow. She reached a fist cautiously forward to bump Enioreh’s shoulder.

The girl huffed. “I’m sterile!”

“Yeah?” Ize kept her mouth against her elbow.

“Seriously. I’ve been through about a dozen check-points. If they’d found a pox on me I wouldn’t have been allowed to pass. I’ve been requested at the castle by name.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry, cat.” Ize let her arm fall and pounded her fist twice in the center of the CycloBall’s roof, but it remained at port.

“I think they used a Vanishing Entrance,” said Enioreh. “They’re really, really good at making things impossible to trace.”

“So, what, we get to keep their Cyc? They can’t have that much funding?”

“Payment,” said Enioreh. “For my services.” It couldn’t be anything else. The Offgrids said they hated charity as much as theft.

Ize gave a startled laugh. “Payment? Like, you’ve defected?”   She seemed about to start yelling, but she caught Enioreh’s steady, mind-made-up gaze, and shook her head instead. “Girl, you’ve picked a bad time to start moonlighting.” She cleared her throat. “You got the message, then? The whole message? About your sister…?”

Enioreh nodded briefly. “Rey told me.”

Ize snickered. “The old bat was freaking out when that link cut off. She thought you got electrocuted.”

“Rey was caring about me?” Enioreh laughed. “What a bitch, boy wait till I see her, she’s never gonna live this down!”

“She won’t admit it – you know she’s always saying we’re all expendable.”

“Actually, Ize, that’s just you she says that about. We always wait until your back is turned to apply all the expensive state-funded laser repellant.”

“Oh, is that why you fuckers smell like ass?”

Enioreh would have come back with something, but Ize gripped her suddenly by the waist, cutting off what she had to say. Ize seemed just as surprised by the old gesture. She let her go quickly and pretended to be coughing.

“Well,” Ize said finally, straightening up. “When your new shit gets on the air, all of us are gonna be filthy-fucking laser-proof. And I mean it this time.”

*          *          *

Reyolpme was sitting at her desk, with exactly the same posture and expression she had on the quasi transmission, however many hours ago that was.

“Heya boss,” Said Enioreh nervously, closing the door behind her and landing herself lightly on the lip of a chair. She had never seen Rey looking so stern this late in the evening. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think she was in trouble. But she couldn’t think of any major screw-ups she’d made, since…

Enioreh yanked the memory cartridge out of her pocket. “Yeah, sorry about that quasi,” she blurted. How did Reyolpme always know? “I should have been more alert, I know, but -”

“You incredible little nitwit.” The rage was suppressed, compacted into icy hardness that blocked out any thought of argument.

Enioreh hung her head.

Reyolpme was standing now, rigid, hairline just about even with the top of her desk. She began a slow pace around Enioreh’s chair. “I should be surprised to learn that you had the intellectual prowess of a centipede.”

Enioreh summoned the courage to raise her eyes so she was looking at Rey’s hands, folded now behind her back, as the tiny woman circled nearer. “But the footage -” The girl squeaked, brandishing the memory blindly, as though hoping to ward off an attack.

Reyolpme’s hand darted sharply up, slapping the cartridge out of Enioreh’s hand. “Fuck the footage,” Rey snarled, pushing up Enioreh’s chin with a balled fist so their eyes met. “Fuck it. You little, pea-brained, hair-brained, idiotic little…why are you here?”

Enioreh was shocked to see tears welling up in Rey’s dark eyes. “Wha….?” She gasped.

“I interrupted an interview with the damned Outliers! Didn’t that make the situation clear? Are you really so completely nit-witted that you didn’t understand – ”

“Wait,” said Enioreh stupidly. “This is about me coming back?”

Reyolpme’s face looked ready to explode. “Of course it’s about you coming back you nincompoop, what did you think it was about?!?!?!”

Enioreh stood up straight, confused to be feeling both touched and offended. “Why does everyone think I’m stupid? I know what it means, for the General-Prince to request me by name. For Ret to be dead. I know, ok? I get it.”

“Then why did you come back? I sent you that message to warn…”

“And you really thought I’d stay?” Enioreh laughed. “C’mon, boss – you had to know I’d come.” Enioreh squirmed against her chair until she wasn’t sitting but leaning on the armrest – she only ever sat in Rey’s office when she thought she was in trouble.

Rey stepped onto her desk from an overturned trashcan on the floor, so she was sitting at eye-level with Enioreh. She scratched away the wetness of her eyes. “I suppose I did know,” she grumbled. “I should have known. You’ve been working here long enough.”

“Four years!” Enioreh said proudly.

Rey chuckled. “Remember what a scrawny little, unpolished thing you were!”

“As opposed to how beefy and polite I now am?” Enioreh smirked, remembering. She was a teenager the first time she’d met Rey – orphaned, restless, bored. Reyolpme had come waltzing into market one day, four full bags in hand, and offered Enioreh a single credit to help her carry them home.

“‘Go fuck yourself’ – those were your first words to me, as I recall,” Reyolpme smiled fondly. “I can’t imagine why it should have impressed me so. You were a mere child – it isn’t as if you were being courageous. You had no way of knowing who I was or of what I was capable. But it had been awhile, I suppose, since anyone on the streets had treated me like an ordinary person. And there was something about you I couldn’t put my finger on. You looked…alive, while you were saying it. I thought to myself, ‘This one’s got the look of a real reporter!’”

“Oh, so that’s it? After all these years, you finally admit that my love of cussing is what got you captivated?”

“That,” said Reyolpme, “And something else. I felt as though I ought to know you. Truth be told, I’m still not convinced we hadn’t met before. Maybe I knew your parents. And then, of course, your sister came along…”

Fucking Ret.

“Cocky, killable little bastards, but we have to love you,” Rey sighed. “It’s the law.”

“Cheer up,” said Enioreh. “Not all correspondents are good at dying.”

“All of mine are,” Rey snorted. “The rest of the guild can go get plagued with rotting feet disease.”

“Bigsets,” Enioreh shrugged. “They think just cause they’re rich and free and friends with the emperor and not allowed to be murdered or charged with crimes that that makes them special. Seriously, I don’t know why more papers aren’t like The Herald – sending people out to the front and then verbally abusing them when they get back to the station. It’s, like, the best.”

“Which is why The Herald will survive longer than any other. We are the only ones left with roots before the war.” Rey looked snooty about it. “My great-grandparents owned it before all this…” She made a small gesture around her office, taking in the photos scattered over walls and desk.

Enioreh’s eyes landed on a blood-stained rag doll, smiling up from a picture on the floor. She didn’t look away. “It’s been a hundred years, already! We all know where it’s going to end. The only reason the Offgrids’ve made it so long is because the Bigsets get too cocky. What with the fuss over Adnikemos and all the other stupid– They should have won ten times over, with the funding and people they’ve got! And now they have invisibility. When they made the announcement a month ago I thought for sure the Pettyland would see sense and call it quits, but they’re still at it! And they think the Empire’s going to offer them a truce? Yeah, right! You know what they’re saying in the city, right? About the Emperor’s secret weapon? And if that’s what tonight’s announcement is about, and the Petties don’t give up…I swear I’ll quit myself! There’s no story there, there’s no surprise – just long, drawn-out, massacre after massacre, until there’s no one left to fight, and the world can go back to the way it was before. Don’t know what the armies are gonna do when it’s all over, but one way or another this has to end – ” Enioreh spluttered in surprise as cold water slapped her in the face.

Reyolpme tossed her the empty drinking glass. “Cool off, you. We’ve got a job to do.”

Enioreh shook her head and slid a palm over her forehead, pushing off water. She snorted to clear the droplets that had got in her nose. When she breathed again, all she smelled was rain. “Yes,” she coughed. “I know.”

Reyolpme had already hopped off her desk and was retrieving the memory cartridge from where it’d landed on the floor. “Well, let’s see what you have for me today.”

Reyolpme plugged the memory into the wall, and Enioreh gave a whoop as an image shot into the air. It looked like it had been over-sterilized, as she’d feared, but the saboteur hadn’t been quite thorough enough; a supersonic image remained, vivid and surreal. Reyolpme knew a really good engineer, who beefed up their equipment with fail-safes like that. It would take a little time to restore the data to usable bites of sound and silhouette. But the memory was there.

Reyolpme smiled, a glimmer of grudging hope coming into her eyes as she buzzed for the decoders. If she could get it cleaned up and onair within the next three hours, there was a chance Enioreh’s life could be saved.

“See?” Enioreh cheered. “You worry for nothing. It’s good stuff on here, wait till you see it, you’ll be proud. Maybe you’ll even give me a raise.” Enioreh laughed.

Reyolpme chuckled, as well. “Raises! How profoundly absurd!” Unexpectedly, the old woman drew Enioreh into a waist-grip, then let her go so abruptly she stumbled. Life’s Purpose right here consider first the chicken or the egg at one point a chicken had to be another wrong Reyolpme sighed there’s no such thing as chicken…

“Go get your face cleaned up,” the old woman tried to growl, but the sound of threat didn’t come.

Enioreh went, feeling like part of another world already. Two waist-grips made it final. There was not a chance in hell she’d be coming home.

Like to read the first half of this adventure?  Book One of the Glow series is up on Amazon for 2.99 right now (unless it’s one of the days when I randomly put it up for free)!  Feel free to click this link to help your starving writer get paid and/or discovered!  🙂