Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Gardens of Demos Attina (Story)

Another short story in the same universe as The Desolation of Vesta (all part of the back history of my novel in progress - The True Size of the Universe). This one is for Ren and Nadine, who said they liked the first one and asked for more :-)

The Seven Climate Gardens of Demos Attina are the first, and for me, the most beautiful, of the seven wonders of the Star-Free worlds.

Taking up fully a quarter of the City dome in the capital city of Demos, Queen of Moons, the gardens represent an achievement so exquisite, so complete, so utterly nostalgic, as to render them almost plastique in their perfection. One to represent each major climate from poor dear Mother Earth, before the Vandals ensured that our natal home has only one climate, and that a barren one.

I have loved them all in equal measure in my time. The Garden of Hot Desert, with its oases and bright, startlingly soft sands; The Polar Garden, for which entrants must sign a disclaimer and hire expedition gear for the gruelling slog over ice sheets to the summits.

The Rainforest Garden, smelling like life and like vegetable rot, burgeoning with colour and the screech of monkeys high in the canopy. The Plains Garden, a wheat-light savannah stretching as far as the eye can see (or be tricked into thinking it sees, in any case).

The Mediterranean Garden, apex of delights, with its falls of grape vines and its cool, misting morning rains. The Cold Country Garden ("merry olde England", my grandfather used to call it), the most built-upon of all the gardens, with its stables full of riding mammals regenerated from DNA stocks, its tea rooms, its lightly forested bridle paths.

I loved then all, yes; but it was to the Subtropical Garden, smelling like jasmine and river water, wet with monsoon artfully generated from the intricacies of the algorithms operating the subdomic controls, that I brought my wife to kill her.


The LEO looks at me thoughtfully over the table.

"You don't wish to access your right to counsel?"

I shake my head; no, no. As I have done many times already in this small, cold room.

"You understand we'll be charging you with murder, then."

I say, "I do." My hands are folded in front of me, and they are still. The LEO frowns. I think she is more accustomed to agitation, unrestfulness, fury, in her arrestees. But then, most people protest their innocence, I believe. I have no such protestation to make.

She pushes a mug of coffee towards me, not ungraciously. "Your wife was a senior Master with the Guild. Rosinta Swann."

"Yes," I say, and I think my voice is affectless. "She was a person of importance, here in Attina, far beyond. That is true."

The LEO scratches at the ear where her mike is tucked in tightly; it must be ill-fitted to chafe so. Or perhaps she just doesn't like the orders she's getting from outside.

"Miz Gynt ... or can I can you Nadine?"

"If you prefer," I say. It doesn't matter. Not now.

"Nadine. Well. The Guild wants to know why you killed your wife. It's important to them to know."

I shrug indifferently, and speak aloud my earlier thoughts. "It doesn't matter. Not now."

The LEO's gaze is steady, so it takes me a minute to realise that her hands are moving under the table, out of sight of the cameras. I flick my eye, ever so slightly, and what I read from her fingers stiffens my spine like a bolt of electricity.

She says: "Perhaps you would feel more like talking if we took you back to the scene of your crime." She invests her voice with all the venom and promise that storybook old-world cops could, but I am still responding to her long brown hands and I merely say, "As you like, of course."


Three LEOs escort me back to the gates of Climate Garden 6. The sign announces: Subtropical Monsoon (Beware Biting Insectoids) - Earth Analogue South-East Asia, Pacific Islands, Northern Australia.

The gates, normally left ajar, have been sealed with a laser LEO tag marking an active crime scene. There are clumps of people gathered, muttering, pointing, but no-one comes near as we alight from the hovercar and break the seal to enter. I think I hear one woman say, "But that's her wife, surely - the artist, the immigrant from Copernica Luna?" but we have moved inside the gates before I can hear her companion's reply.

Inside, the micro-climate takes over quickly. The three LEOS' stiff white shirts are sweat-softened and drooping within minutes, and my interrogator's round face is reddening alarmingly. She grunts a command and one of the group drops back to the gate, no doubt to discourage curious onlookers.

"Nadine. We found the body on the banks of the river; is that where you killed her?" My interrogator's face is serious, but her hands are twitching, just slightly but I can see them.

"What is your name?" I say. It suddenly seems like something I should know.

She pauses. "Ah. My name is Adjunct Yellowlees. Attina Serious Crimes Division." She nods her head towards the young boy in uniform beside us. "This is Recruit Yui."

I say nothing with my mouth, but my fingers move, as quietly as carp in the water. Her eyes dilate the merest fraction, but she says, "Yui. Can you scan the perimter, please?" The boy lopes off, his stunner held in a loose-gripped brown paw.

Yellowlees looks at me and says, "Hala. You can call me Hala."

Welcome always, sister, my fingers say.

I cannot see you freed. I cannot do much at all, her fingers reply, her frustration and grief adding sharpness to the movements.

No matter, my friend. I will free myself, when the time comes. You must only carry the tale, and let it be heard.

"Shall we proceed to the site, Nadine?" says Hala Yellowlees, her voice formal. I incline my head slightly and allow her to lead me to the place under the weeping tree where I laid my wife's body down when I had stolen her last breath into my mouth.

"We found Master Swann ... here." She touches the marked outline with her toe. "She had been poisoned, apparently with food or drink that you served to her on a picnic -"

"It was in the wine," I say absently. "A soporific. There was no pain." I pause. "We were on a boat. On the river. When she drank the wine."

Dutifully, Hala activates her 'corder and notes this detail. "Did you move her from the boat before after her death?"

I consider this. "Before," I say. What's the point in lying now, or to this woman? Even if there is one secret I will keep tucked away in my heart.

"So she was sleeping when you laid her here?"

"Yes. Sleeping, but sinking. The narcotic was well underway by then."

Hala opens her left hand, the one she's been clenching tightly beside her, and a scatterbomb frolics up into the air, fizzing and popping as they are wont to do. That buys as much as five full minutes free of surveillance, here in the gardens where the sensors are widely spread and difficult for the repair-bots to access. Maybe more in Garden Six, where the ambient humidity plays merry hell with the wiring at the best of times.

"We can speak freely," she says, and takes my forearm. "You are Resistance, yes?"

"Of course," I say. "Of course, I am, as all people of conscience must be." I reach up to touch her smooth brown cheek. "You also, little sister. Why, for you?"

She gives me a sad smile. "I was born on Luna, too, but not in Copernica like you. I was born in Bailly." I take an involuntary breath in. "When you have seen your home, your family, so devastated by the Guild ... oh, it was good economics, they said, but not for us. Not for us."

I nod. "Trade does not count the human heart in its balance sheets," I say. "Nor consider that all life is life, not tradeable commodities."

"What brought you to it?" she asks. "I know we haven't the time, but -"

I look out, towards the river, its waters lapping the roots of the weeping tree. "I have seen too much," I say, finally. How can I explain thirty years in a moment? The words are inadequate, but they will have to do.

"Why now? Why kill her now?" She needs to know this, the Movement needs to know it; it matters, so the fact that it hurts is immaterial.

I say, "Because she was leading a project to drain Ceres dome of its atmo and repossess it. Because a new, massive deposit of mixed uranium and radium had turned up right under the dome, and it's worth more than the last twenty years' worth of Belt scratchings combined. Because the Council of Ceres has resisted all attempts to evict them and their citizenry and has declared themselves outside of the Guild. So she was going to asphyxiate them. All of them. Then they were going to claim it was an accidental system failure, very unfortunate, so sad." I pause. "They would've built a beautiful monument to the lost souls of Ceres, on the edge of the mine pit."

Hala's face is slack with shock. I feel sad as I see her horror. Contemplating the mass murder of 2 million people isn't an easy thing, after all. How can I tell her that, in my thirty years of marriage, this is not the worst thing I have witnessed, nor heard my wife tell of, encased in the armour of her own conviction that wealth is the same thing as worth? Not the worst, but simply the final straw.

"Will they still do it? Now?" she says, almost whispering, as if to belay the disgust churning below.

I shrug. "My wife was instrumental to the Project, so not quickly. If you get the word out, not at all. It only works if they have plausible deniability, you see? The Guild is not built of fools."

She nods, brisk now. She knows what she needs to do. It's a boon, having her here; I need not, now, go through the laborious and chancy process of getting a message out from prison through the Resistance networks. This is much cleaner and more sure.

I say, "Hala." Her eyes are sad as she asks me, fingerswift now: Are you sure?

Oh yes, little sister. Let me free myself, now. Carry the word. Let the people see, and be free.

She presses my arm tightly as she hands me her weapon. "You're a hero," she says, her voice shaking. "A true hero, to have endured thirty years ... and now, to have saved a whole City. Blessed be, mother."

"Blessed be, daughter," I murmur, and watch her walk away, her back stiff with purpose.

Now I stand on the banks of this perfume river, my ocean-green eyes clouded over with the past, and inhale the good scent of the blossoms falling like snow into the water. I think how wrong Hala was, so young, so idealistic. I think how I bent to kiss my wife into her final sleep, drawing her breath into my lungs, filling myself with her.

I think how I am no hero at all.

Oh, Rosinta. I did not stay with you to do the work of Resistance. I stayed because I loved you too much to go.

I can see a heron rising from the shallows. I follow it with my eyes as it spirals up, up, up, and I raise the weapon.

The sky lights up.

No comments:

Post a Comment