Read Dreamfall Online

Authors: Joan D. Vinge

Dreamfall (page 5)

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Workers were still moving around the site doing the setup.They all wore the same heavy maroon coveralls; they looked up at us as weentered the camp, with nothing much in their eyes but dull resentment. Iwondered what they had to feel resentful about.

And there were more Tau vips waiting for us. That didn’tseem to bother anyone except me, until Kissindre’s uncle stepped out of thecluster of bodies. Sand was with him.

Perrymeade gestured at me. I glanced at Kissindre, saw thesurprise on her face, and then the confusion as he shook his head, signalingher to stay where she was.

“What now—?” Ezra muttered behind me.

I started across the open ground toward Perrymeade and Sand,not looking back, not looking ahead, either. I had no idea what they wanted; Ionly knew that if they were here in person it had to be something I didn’t wantto know about.

“what?” r said to Perrymeade, barely able to keep my voiceeven, with nothing left to make the word civil.

“ft’s about last night. The kidnapping,” he said, lookinglike a man with a gun to his head.

I stopped breathing.Shit.I met his eyes, saw theblank incomprehension as he registered what showed in mine. “Let’s get it overwith,” I muttered, feeling a dozen sets of eyes holding me in a crossfire.

“I thought you couldn’t do that,” he said.

“What?” I said again, probably looking as confused as he didthis time.

“Read minds. I thought you were dysfunctional.”

I felt the blood come back to my face in a rush. “I am. Whatabout it?”

“Then how do you know why we’re here?”

I shrugged. “Because it only makes sense that you’d want toget rid of me.”

The look on his face got odder. “That’s not it at all,” hesaid, and suddenly he looked relieved. “We want your help in dealing with thekidnapper you encountered last night.”

“Jeezu—” I turned away, not sure whether it was relief or angerthat made my brain sing. I looked back at him. “Why?” I said. “Why me?”

“The Hydran Council is being ... uncooperative,” Sand answered.‘We think maybe they’d talk to you, as 4n”—[s glanced at my eyes—“outsider.”

“A freak,” I said.

He shrugged.

“They all know that you were willing to help a Hydran womanyou thought was in trouble,” Perrymeade said, looking self-conscious.

“,She set me up. She used me. She thinks I’m stupid.”Sheknows what I am.I shook my head. “I can’t do that. The Hydrans aren’tgoing to trust me.”

“,I don’t have many options here,” Perrymeade said. ‘And unfortunately,neither do You.”

Kissindre came up beside me. “Is there a problem?” she said,matching the look on Perrymeade’s face as it turned to annoyance. she foldedher arms, standing on her own ground, the team leader and not the dutiful niece

“No problem,” I said, meeting Perrymeade’s eyes. “I’ve gotwork to do.” I started to turn away.

“.Borosage has issued a deportation order on you,” Sand saidbehind my back ... If you don’t cooperate, the Tau government will revoke yourwork permit. You’ll be off this project and off the planet inside of a day.”

I turned back, slowly, and looked at them: sand with his inhumaneyes, Perrymeade hanging on invisible puppet strings beside him.

“you miserable bastard,” Kissindre whispered, so far underher breath that even I barely heard it. I wondered which one she meant; hopedfor her sake it was Sand. “What is this?” she asked. “Uncle Janos—?”

“It’s about the kidnapping.” I jerked my head at Sand. “Theywant me to be their cat’s-Paw.”

Kissindre started, the only one of them who got thereference.

“.Go-between,” Perrymeade said. “Our go-between with theHydrans, Kissindre. We’re not getting the cooperation we need from the Hydrancommunity to ... to rescue the kidnapped child. Under the circumstances, itseems that Cat is the logical person to help us—the only person who might havea chance of gaining the Hydrans’ trust or cooperation.” He turned back to me. “Wereally need your help, son.”

“Right,” I said.

“Damn it! This is asinine—” Kissindre’s fists settled on herhips as she looked from Perrymeade to Sand. “You brought us here to do work foryou. I thought that was important for Tau’s ‘rehabilitation.’ How in the ninebillion names of God are we supposed to do this work if you’re alreadyinterfering with it?”

“Kissindre ...” Perrymeade said. He glanced at Sand too, asif he wasn’t sure about what he was going to say next. “The kidnapped child isyour cousin.”

“What?” she said. “‘Who?”

“My nephew Joby. My wife’s sister’s son.”

“Joby? The baby, the one who was—” She broke off.

He nodded. “He was taken by the Hydran woman who worked ashis therapist. I set up the exchange program that gave her the training and puther in that position.”

Realization filled her eyes. “My God,” she murmured. “Whydidn’t you tell me last night?”

He glanced at Sand again. “I didn’t even find out myselfuntil this morning.” His voice was even, but there was resentment in it. “Thiswhole situation is one that the Tau government wants played down, for ... anumber of reasons.” He glanced away again, not looking at any of us this time.I followed his line of sight to the spot where the two Feds were standing, outof earshot, listening to Ezra lecture them about the equipment. “But especiallybecause they believe the boy was taken by a radical group. His safety dependson our keeping this quiet. If it becomes public knowledge, there couldbe—incidents that would endanger Joby’s safety and hurt people on both sides ofthe river.”

“And make the Feds ask questions you don’t want to answer,”I said.

He frowned. “That is not the point.”

“Yes, it is. It’s keiretsu.”

“Don’t make judgments about situations you don’t understand,”Sand said irritably. He turned back to Kissindre. “I am extremely sorry forthis intrusion. You will have no further interference from us, I promise you.But your team will have to function without one of its members for now. Whetherthat is a temporary or a permanent situation is up to him.” He bent his head atme.

I scratched my face, winced. “So if I go, and I talk to theHydran Council, that’s it?” I glanced at Perrymeade, back at Sand. “If they won’tdeal with me, then you’ll leave me alone?”

Sand nodded.

I nodded, finally. ‘All right,” I said. I glanced at Kissindre.“I’m sorr1r.”

She shook her head. “No. I’m sorry.” She looked at heruncle; he looked down. I wondered what she was thinking as she walked away andleft us standing there.

Wauno raised his eyebrows as Perrymeade ordered him to takeus back to Tau Riverton. But he did it, not asking any questions. Maybe he wasmore of a company man than I’d thought, or maybe he just didn’t give a damn.

When we were over Riverton again, Perrymeade gave Wauno anaddress and told him to take us down.

“What are we doing?” I said. “I thought we were going tomeet with the Hydrans.”

“We’re making a stop here,” Perrymeade said, acknowledgingmy existence for the first time since we’d gotten into the transport. “I wantyou to meet the parents of the missing child.”

I stiffened. “You didn’t say anything about that.”

“I want you to meet my sister-in-law,” Perrymeade said. “Iwant you to have some sense of who she is and what she’s been through.”

I felt my face flush. “No.” Wauno glanced back at us andaway.

“If you really understand what she’s going through, then itwill be easier for you to make the Hydrans understand it.”

“Or would you rather have us drop you at the Corporate Securitystation for your escort off the planet?” Sand murmured. Wauno glanced back overhis shoulder again.

I folded my arms across my chest, my hands clenching on theheavy folds of my jacket.

“I really hope we don’t have to do that,” Sand said.

I looked out the window and didn’t say anything.

Wauno landed us on a public access, and we got out. Hetouched his forehead with his fingers in a kind of salute, nodding at me,before he sealed the hatch again. I watched the transport rise out of reach anddisappear into the cold morning sky.

Perrymeade led the way across a perfectly landscapedparkspace to a high-rise plex. Sand stayed a little behind me without seemingto, ready to step on my heels if I lagged. I didn’t see a single piece oflitter or dog shit anywhere as we walked.

The residence complex reminded me of my hotel and everyother building I’d been inside of since I got here. Maybe it looked moreexpensive. Before long we were standing in front of a door on an upper floor.The security system took Perrymeade’s ID and let us in.

A small, neat, dark-haired woman met us inside. Her upslantingbrown eyes searched our faces, looking for something—a sign, hope. She didn’tfind it. Her own face was colorless where it wasn’t red and swollen, as if she’dcried for a long time, recently. But she wasn’t crying now, and her facesettled into resignation. “Janos,” she said. “There’s no news.” It could havebeen a question, an answer, or just something to say.

Perrymeade shook his head. “I’m sorry/, Ling.”

The woman seemed to recognize Sand. Her glance skittered offhis face, landed on me as Sand gave me an unobtrusive shove forward.

“So far the Hydrans have been ... reluctant to give usinformation,” Perrymeade said, “if they actually have any to give. But we’vebrought someone with us who may be able to help.” He nodded at me as anotherman came into our line of sight. The man was tall and dark; he had on aCorporate Security uniform. I froze, not sure whether he was supposed to be thefather or one of Borosage’s goons. But his uniform had different datapatches—hewas in plant security.The father.He put his arms around the woman. Thegrief on his face matched hers.

They looked me over silently for some clue about what I wasdoing here, until their combined gaze reached my face, registered my eyes. Thenthey knew. The man shook his head. The woman’s mouth made a silentoh.

In the space behind them I noticed five or six other peoplewatching, waiting—friends, or family, maybe. One of the women came forward,touched Perrymeade’s arm, spoke to him. He nodded, distracted, and she movedaway again. She was small and dark-haired, with the same upslanting eyes as themother. I wondered if she was the woman’s sister, Perrymeade’s wife.

“This is Cat,” Perrymeade said. “He’s with the xenoarchaeologyteam. He was the last person to see the kidnappers last night.” I realized thatwhat he meant wasthe last human“I thought I should bring you togetherto ... share what you know about what happened.”

Sand gave me another hidden elbow; I had to move or falldown. I took one painful step and then another into the home of the peoplewhose child I’d helped kidnap. I groped through my memories of last night inBorosage’s interrogation room until I found their names. I seemed to rememberLing and Burnell Natasa. Their son was Joby. I wondered whether Perrymeade hadforgotten to introduce them to me because he really was as worried about theirchild as they were, or whether he was just being an inconsiderate shit. Isupposed it didn’t matter either way.

“Cat—?” the woman said dubiously, the way people usuallydid.

I nodded, still not looking directly at either of them.

They led us into a large open room that looked out on skyand parkland. Their other visitors didn’t follow. Everything in the room wasexpensive, spotless, and perfectly matched to everything else. I settled into amodular seat with its back to the view. The sight of so much open space made medizzy.

The parents sat down across from me, under a threedy screentuned to the endless drone of the Tau newscast. I wondered whether theyactually believed it would tell them something. The man ordered it off, andsuddenly the wall was a blank slate, white, empty. Sand and Perrymeade werestill standing at the limits of my vision, almost out of sight, but not out ofmind. I hugged my chest and waited.

“You saw Joby and ... and Miya last night?” the fatherasked.

I made myself look into his eyes and nod.

“Where?” he asked when that was all I did.

“In Fre—in the Hydran town,” I said, not sure why justsaying that made my face burn.

“You have relatives there?” the mother asked me, as if shethought that was why I could help them, or maybe because that was the onlyreason she could imagine for anyone going to Freaktown.

“No,” I said, glancing away.

“Yes,” Perrymeade said. “In a sense ...” as I looked up athim, frowning.

I looked down again, knowing that it was already obvious toeveryone here that I had Hydran blood.

“Did you try to stop her?” the father asked. “Did you seeour son? Was he all right—?”

Looking back at my memories, I realized the boy in her armscould have been dead, for all I knew. But somehow I didn’t think so. “It wasdark. I saw them for less than a minute. It all happened so fast.” My handsknotted together between my knees.

“He helped them get away from Corporate Security,” Sandsaid.

“For God’s sake—” The father half rose from his seat.

I glared at Sand. “She said it was her child! She said theywere trying to take her child.”

“So you ... you believed you were helping her, then?” themother asked, her voice thready, her eyes intent.

I nodded, biting the insides of my mouth.

“Is that what Corporate Security thinks?” the father asked,glancing from Perrymeade to Sand.

“They questioned him thoroughly.” Sand’s unblinking silvereyes glanced off the scabs and bruises that had made half my face look likesome kind of bizarre cosmo job. Everyone’s eyes were back on me then. Suddenlymy face hurt.

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