Authority Weighs In: Sixth Tourmaline (part three)
This largest prison complex was still in use. Converted by the G.R.A., it had the acquired name Sedtok: Southeast Department, 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 new canal lands, to build a settlement of their own here.
This was how they’d come to purchase prisoners…
To contract work-release 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. Inside were refrigerators and microwave ovens, televisions, shower stalls. Planted between sidewalks and streets were hedges of ilex, trimmed flat across the top, kept that way by the redeemed wards of the state.
Through haze across lowland hilltops, wire cages bumped, protecting grapevines; another Utdrife industry, new and burgeoning. Sedtok was a city, the life easy, the language English, the population peninsular. Not all the wives were Hidtha. But the young women of the tribe found possibility and escape here too.
The Ftheorde 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 a faint smile on Byrnes, making to tuck her pistol away inside her parka. She looked up into his face…her boldness something other than refusal of protocol, that disdain ingrained among soldiers with minds like Hyde’s. She 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 walked an hour or two, got below the storm, into sun and onto a road. The road surprised Herward, its being leveled there. Some other herdsmen met the Ftheorde’s men, and more surprising, rode half-track snow buggies, wearing goggles to shade their eyes. An innovation, or further erosion of cultural lines between traditional Hidtha and Utdrife.
And this was how they’d come to the foot of the mountain, perched behind Hidtha Vrahc’eorde (a class of border watchmen). There, they’d boarded a truck that carried them into Sedtok, the Ftheorde’s entourage now reduced to half-a-dozen.
For Mary’s sake, Anton had been found…or someone the Ftheorde knew of, who could tell what had become of him.
They came to the sentry box, and gate.
“Is Herward there?”
He woke, in a way, hearing this, his name shouted.
He had fallen under the spell of the Ftheorde’s power, for an afternoon had let the Father herdsman order things; and when they approached the checkpoint, Herward sat still playing passenger.
He dragged himself to a squat, eased at speed between the two seats, limboing under the steering wheel to land on gravel. He put his heels together and straightened his back. He was outranked.
But not caught napping…
Wrik at the rendezvous to learn why his sergeant had given license over duty to Mary Wainwright’s mission. SEDCampA sat above the prison where Anton’s Utdrife cellmate supposed himself to have made a purchase.
“Let Byrnes go with Mrs. Wainwright.” Wrik swung a hand, index finger rigid. “You get back inside!”
The driver jumped behind the wheel. The truck, and his clothes, cap pulled to a low angle, were civilian…but the face seemed not Utdrife. And here, at these close quarters, Herward lost his cool, scrabbling round the passenger seat to the place he’d left a moment ago. He had not noticed at all, on the way down.
Wrik bounced in beside her, all anger. The Ftheorde bringing Mary back to his doorstep, when his notion had been disposal of this nuisance. The first troublemaker foisted on him had engineered a roundelay, and now (Herward, with another attitude that would enrage Wrik, pitied him) here were two charges, Anton a third, special to the G.R.A.’s plans in some way.
The major’s grievances were ongoing.
He would stall at the camp for life; stall (by psychologically parsed mechanisms) at the rank of major, forced to administer, to worry over…to find himself inadequate to…things he despised. He despised sergeants who could bollocks up orders, protected from paying dearly for it. He despised playing docent to the latest in ad hoc committees, showing them round the camp and prison grounds, waiting for their defunding recommendations. He despised seeing the Utdrife prosper. They were lazy…they could not be taught. They got undeserved breaks.
Wrik was a Jocelynist. The G.R.A. knew his sympathies.
Herward contrived to touch the tattoo at the nape of Jovie’s neck. She grinned, but didn’t look at him. And the question of whether she was meant to be Jovie, or someone else, Herward left alone.
They were waved past a second gate, one at the top of an incline Jovie bumped the truck along, cheerful and reckless as any Utdrife mercenary prowling the coast. The camp was row on row of barracks, airfield, hangars and maintenance buildings, small houses exactly like those of Sedtok, a central complex: gym, cafeteria, theater, offices and meeting rooms.
Authority Weighs In
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(2017, Stephanie Foster)