Principality Governor Chastaine looked over the Consul’s recommendations, eyes glittering at his fortune. “Seems a Serf shall be our savior.”
“Governor, you can’t possibly be considering this.”
“Lieutenant Joplin, I know your crop is twitching in your hand, but please, control yourself.”
Lieutenant Joplin’s ice-blue eyes narrowed, his ever-present crop indeed tapping against his thigh, small sparks dancing along the black body armor which fitted over his dress greys. As one of the most decorated Enforcers in the Principality, he had a reputation not only for his brutality, but for the sheer ice in his veins when it came to enforcing the Edicts and Laws, earning him the moniker Gelid among his peers.
“Her request is like providence falling right into our hands. She does the legwork, and we get the glory.”
“But for a Serf to be without escort in the Outlands is outrageous! What if she falls prey to those Apostate scum and their propaganda?”
“You haven’t taken your meds today, have you, Lieutenant?”
“I need no meds to reason why a Missionary excursion to gain a census of the Outland populous could very well blow up in the System’s hallowed face!”
Governor Chastaine raised his eyebrows, regarding the Lieutenant with a measure of contempt as well as intimidation – how dare he question the System’s prosperity, let alone his own ruling, yet the blue eyes had become almost silver in their intensity, the sculpted perfection of his face glowering with the essence of an enraged deity, causing Chastaine to almost shiver under his gaze. Still, his voice took on calm, deadly tone, one used often in the presence of those who would question his station, answering the Lieutenant’s challenge not with rage but with the authority of his title.
“You dare speak heresy against the System, as if it were to be brought down in one fell swoop by a mere Serf? You dare question my authority and ruling at the expense of your thirst for a brawl with Apostates? You will have your Cull, Lieutenant, but not before the Serf has her census. That way we don’t go shooting blind in back alleys, risking the anonymity of the true purpose of her mission and the Principality’s autonomy.”
Lieutenant Joplin took a deep breath, swallowing the rush of emotion, fighting with clenched teeth the feeling of being cowed like a lowly A Class. “I defer to your wisdom, Governor, yet please note that her refusal of escort is greatly opposed.”
“Duly noted, Lieutenant, you are dismissed.”
The Commissary buzzed with activity, people lining up to get their midday meal, laughing, talking, some singing to the songs the band played on the makeshift stage. People from all walks of life in the Sector – woodworkers, metallurgists, Healers, teachers, all mixing together in a cacophony of sound and scents in stark comparison to the orderly routines of the Principalities. It was loud, at times the smells overwhelmed the senses, but Shiya relished every bit of it as he sat picking apart the chicken on his plate, his mind swimming with the intel his two comrades had just given him.
“That’s what our sources say, Shiya.”
“Don’t you mean Missionaries, Zax? Those louts liked to travel in packs, you know.”
“Nope, Ry, just one. She arrives tomorrow.”
Shiya raised his eyebrows – this was certainly an unusual situation to say the least. The Principalities had quit sending out Missionaries to the Outlands over eight years ago, leaving the peoples to their own devices without any relief efforts. Not that they wanted or needed any help from the System that had basically shunned them, being more than capable of surviving on their own. Yet the recent measles epidemic spreading through all Sectors of the Outlands had left some to question whether they should beg the System’s pardon and acquiesce with their Laws, but all knew that was a death sentence for everything they stood for. The disease hit the children the hardest, and with no medicine, many sadly had perished, resulting in talks of raids on System clinics and pharmaceuticals to supplement the herbs that had proved increasingly in short supply, but Shiya had balked at the suggestion, deeming it too dangerous even though some in his camp stored weapons despite the System ban on such items in the Outlands.
“Escort?” he asked.
Zax twirled her blue bangs around a perfectly manicured nail, something she often did when in deep thought. “See, that’s the strange thing, Shiya, she specifically requested no escort. Said she didn’t want to scare the rebels with an armed presence, so…..”
“What is she? A Patriciate?” Ry snorted, taking a drag off his cigarette, savoring the leaves of the home-grown tobacco and clove.
“L Class Serf, Ry, quit being so snarky,” Zax replied.
“Pardon my snarkiness, Zax, but this smells worse than the trenches in high Summer.”
“Perfect reason for you to go meet her, Ry – your snarky senses will sniff out any shenanigans that might be afoot,” Shiya smiled. “Besides, I’m not letting an unarmed woman wander into my Sector alone.”
“Sir, yes Sir!” Ry stood in mock salute, and walked out of the Commissary, inclining his head for Zax to follow, which she did but not before sticking out her tongue at him.
“No escort, and under the ruse of a census. Damn, Sovereign, what are you up to?”
Ry stood at the Sector gate, leaning against the guard post, purposely blowing smoke so it entered the open window, causing the Enforcer inside to cough and curse. He stood straight when he saw the transport stop just short of the entrance and smirked at the woman in a long, plain taupe skirt and white blouse exiting the doorway with knapsack and net pad in hand. Her hair was tied back into a high ponytail, and her face was devoid of any makeup whatsoever, yet her skin was remarkably soft-looking and fair, certainly no one who’s seen even a hint of the sun. She walked up to him with a certain confident demeanor that spoke of arrogance and self righteousness, and Ry decided that he wouldn’t like this woman, wouldn’t like her at all.
“I told them no escort,” Maeloryn said rudely, her lips set in an expression of annoyance.
Nope, not gonna like her at all. “Forgive me, Milady, but the Sector Chief specifically requested – no, demanded – I see no harm come to you during your stay, so, here I am. I am Ry, at your service.”
Maeloryn observed his exaggerated, courtly bow impassively. “Well, you can tell whoever this Chief is that I require no babysitter and I am to go about my activities unmolested.”
“That is what I’m here for, Milady, to prevent such atrocities upon your illustrious person,” Ry smiled.
“I highly doubt the Apostates would assault a Citizen of the Principality and risk calling down the justice of the entire Enforcer Task Unit.”
“Look, lady, this isn’t your precious bubble of Law and order here, this is the Outlands, so trust me when I tell you that there are too many places to hide a body and not enough Enforcers to squeeze these turnips into giving up who ganked you. My estimation? You did or said something to make the Governor want you out of his hair bad enough to grant you this absurd request anyway!”
Maeloryn regarded Ry with a mixture of trepidation and disgust. Such high levels of expression, such arrogant displays of emotion with absolutely no decorum whatsoever. These poor souls needed to hear the Laws and Edicts of the System worse than she thought.
“Fine.” Maeloryn handed him her knapsack, walking toward the gate. “Take me to your leader.”
“Wow, did she just say that?” Ry giggled, taking the knapsack as only a true gentleman would do, following Maeloryn as she flashed her badge to the Enforcer in the guard house.
The gates opened and she was assaulted by sights, sounds, cars that hadn’t been in production for decades, scents that were at once sweet and nauseating, colors that stung her eyes and people that defied the edicts of fashion in every sense of the word. It all caused her head to spin with the enormity of it all, washing out the perceptions that the Outlands were a dreary, sad world full of uneducated, unclean scum. This realization it was quite the opposite was intimidating, confusing, and she just stood there in a daze mesmerized by the bustle around her as the gate closed and a new world unfolded before her.
“Welcome to Sector 9, Milady,” Ry smiled, enjoying the impact the swell of Unconditioned humanity was having on her, “or as we call it, Sacellum.”