Tourmaline: Authority Weighs In (conclusion)
The largest prison complex, converted by the G.R.A., was still in use. It had acquired the name Sedtok: from Southeast Department, target population 20,000. The harsh sound resembled a Hidtha epithet. The Utdrife guardsmen had learned to use it with a smirk, as a verb or a noun. But they had been permitted, bargaining back a corner of the marshlands, to build a settlement of their own here. Canal-lands, now.
And this was how they’d come to purchase prisoners…to indenture laborers, in official parlance. Here in Sedtok were block buildings with metal roofs, arranged in courts, fitted with new insulated windows, chain link fencing, HVAC units on concrete patios at the back. Inside were refrigerators and microwave ovens, televisons, shower stalls. Planted between sidewalks and streets were hedges of ilex, trimmed flat across the top, kept that way.
And through haze across lowland hilltops, wire cages bumped, protecting from birds espaliered grapevines; another industry, new and burgeoning.
Sedtok was a city, the life easy, the language English, the population Utdrife. Not all the wives were Hidtha. But the young women of the tribe had found possibility here too.
The Ftheorde had set the two soldiers at the center; his own men, about thirty in number, treading the path ahead, the Utdrife company trailing. He’d glanced with a faint smile at Byrnes, making to tuck her pistol away more snugly under her arm, inside her parka. Byrnes had looked up into his face…and her boldness proved something other than the usual bigotry, ingrained among the soldiers by minds like Hyde’s. She’d looked at the Ftheorde, then over her shoulder at Mary.
Why is she different to you?
Herward was sure this was his corporal’s thought.
The Ftheorde placed Mary in front of himself; at once she said, warm-voiced, “You see, there was no bargain.”
As though a conversation between them continued: You know, and I know.
They’d walked, an hour or two, got down below the storm, into sun and onto a road. The road surprised Herward, its being leveled at this place. Some other herdsmen met the Ftheorde’s men, and more surprising, rode half-track snow buggies, wore goggles to shade their eyes. An innovation—or further erosion of the cultural lines between traditional Hidtha and Utdrife.
And this was how they’d come down to the foot of the mountain, perched behind Hidtha Vrahc’eorde (a class of border watchmen), boarding there a truck that carried them into Sedtok. The Ftheorde’s entourage was reduced to about half a dozen.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)