CALMANAC: High Opps/Peak -64 Days
It took Dirck a while to figure out what the source was for that silent, ongoing tension he could feel building up between his parents. Obviously coming to Cyraria was not working out as expected, an understatement too ludicrous to express. However, it was more than that, and all he could figure was it had to do with ‘Merapa sending Creena back to Mira III. Clearly his mother was having second thoughts, or so it appeared since it was after that when he first noticed it. It was subtle but different than any behavior he’d ever seen in her before such as that faraway distant look she’d get or the way her shoulders slumped whenever Creena was mentioned.
It finally heated up enough that ‘Merapa told her about the timebump and their glimpse of a grim future back when they were searching for her. He left out Win’s observations, however, and of course the lasomag, which on top of everything else, was now illegal. Conversely, Dirck felt it was time she knew the whole story, so the next time she and Deven went to see Zahra, leaving him and ‘Merapa alone, Dirck presented his case, once and for all.
His father had been working on an efficiency factor for the p-crawler so they’d know how much they’d need to insulate the ballome. He’d been holed up in his sleeproom most the day but when he came out for a drink Dirck cornered him by the sink.
“’Merama has a right to know,” he said. “She's taken everything we’ve told her just fine. If anything, she gets more upset when we don’t tell her things. She’s going to find out anyway. Zahra probably knows a lot.” So far his father had listened with no more reaction than that stiffening in his jaw that he’d noticed far too often since leaving Mira III.
“And she also has a right to know about the lasomag,” he went on. “Especially since we’re violating territorial law.”
‘Merapa finished his water and drew some more, then put the tumbler down firmly on the counter beside him. “Listen,” he said, “Number one, you owe it to your sources to protect them. If your mother knew Win was leaking information, she might let that slip to Zahra. Don’t forget as a regional employee she works for Troy. She could be a plant.”
Actually, she's a jendak, Dirck thought wryly, but wisely kept silent.
“We need to compare anything she gets from Zahra to what Win says,” ‘Merapa went on. “Most of it is probably gossip. The last thing we need is to add to it. Most of all, you can’t jeopardize Win. Or trust him too much, either. He’s a government employee, too, remember? To access the data he does requires at least a low level security clearance. So be careful.”
‘Merapa took another long drink, paused for a breath then finished it in another greedy gulp. With that he straightened his shoulders, set his glass in the basin and pointed at Dirck’s face. “And as far as the lasomag is concerned, you stay out of that issue, period. I never should have let you know I have it.”
Dirck backed up a step and swallowed. “Yeah, well, I wish I didn’t know, too. But I do. And having that thing around jeopardizes the entire family. If you’re not going to comply, then the least you ought to do is hide it, somewhere away from the ballome.”
His father’s dark eyes held him like a vice. “Right. A commando shows up to haul us away and I ask him to hold on so I can dig it up. That defeats the whole purpose! What do you mean, it jeopardizes the family? It protects the family! Not all compliance is good, Dirck. The wrong kind can cost us our lives. And if you can’t see that, then you haven’t learned as much as I thought.”
Something inside urged him on, even though he felt guilty arguing. It was contrary to everything he’d been taught about respect, and he really did respect his father. He was even beginning to understand the delicate balance between choices, blind compliance and higher laws. But somehow this was different and he found himself pursuing it, regardless.
“I think you ought to sell it,” he said, trying not to raise his voice. “I know Win has connections and we could sell it then use the credits for the compressor.”
“You think that's not against the law?” ‘Merapa replied. “Selling a weapon on the black market is worse than having one! Trafficking in weapons, oh, yeah, great idea. Wake up, Dirck! And we don’t know Win is clean. Troy validates his compensation voucher. Can’t you get the picture?”
“All right, all right,” Dirck muttered in angry defeat. “I never said it was the perfect solution. And I can even see keeping it. But I still think you ought to get it out of the ballome. I just have this really bad feeling about it, ‘Merapa. A really bad feeling.”
After that, several days passed uneventfully except for the nearly-visible tension still between them. They’d added a total of six layers of p-crawler to the ballome and set up the fan in the roof to bring in the cooler air when both suns were low. They talked as necessary when working, then fell to silence at meals and in the evening, avoiding each other. ‘Merama asked repeatedly what was wrong, but Dirck denied having any disagreements, as he was sure his father had as well, blaming it on worry about the =CC= situation.
That evening at supper, one of the few times when the entire family was together, ‘Merama brought up her visit that day with Zahra.
“She was acting differently, even a little strange,” she said.
“She's a jendak, Sharra,” ‘Merapa said dryly. “They’re always strange.”
“No, it’s more than that. She really helped me when Deven and I were alone. She tried to send messages to you in Troy’s ship, and helped me trade for the highest =CC= value when I was trying to keep food in the ballome. She’s my friend. I know she is.”
“So what did she do that makes you suspicious?” Dirck asked.
“I mentioned that we’d probably have another item for the Barterboard soon. I didn’t tell her what it was, but I was thinking of the p-crawler. I knew we’d have to apply for the slot and wanted to get it started, but Zahra was evasive.”
‘Merama sighed, scowling. “She said we shouldn’t put so much on there. When I asked her why, she said that sometimes the smartest thing you can do is play dumb. I can’t imagine why we shouldn’t post anything else. She knew we owed Troy, which I didn’t tell her, and told me we should be careful—very careful—and compared him to a sweeper.”
Dirck thought of the direct assault of the yraglian lizard as opposed to sweepers. Birds of prey, they’d capture a fuzzball, an indigenous rodent, then taunt and tease it, letting the creature think it was getting away before finally grasping it in its sharp beak, tossing it in the air and swallowing it in a single gulp.
“But the creepiest thing she said didn’t even make sense, “ ‘Merama continued. “She’s always had this uncanny ability to predict the future. I’ve never known her to be wrong. Today she told me there would be a ‘double dark of endless days’ which would bring ‘violent storms of nature and man.’ She said the conqueror and destroyer were opposed in evil mansions, which was very, very bad. I have no idea what she meant, but she really scared me, Laren. A lot.”
“Don’t worry, Sharra,” ‘Merapa said without looking up from his food. “You know how superstitious they are. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
But even as he said it he glanced over at Dirck with a strange look of his own and Dirck could tell he’d taken it much more seriously than he’d let on. Later when his mother and Deven went for a walk he approached him again. He was at his usual place, working pressure calculations with his c-com.
“I still have a really bad feeling about having that thing in the ballome,” Dirck said. “I really do. Especially after what ‘Merama said about Zahra.” He braced for a lambasting that never came.
‘Merapa looked up and sighed. “I do, too, son,” he agreed. “I've been thinking about what you said, and I’m trying to figure out how to secure it, even for a while. If you have any ideas, let me know.”
Dirck stared at him in disbelief. “Okay.” He nodded, relieved. “I will.”
Then he checked the comcon. Another bulletin had been posted. Weapons of any sort were to be surrendered immediately to a repository set up near the comcenter. Again it cited problems with the local culture and environmental concerns. It assured regionists that government storehouses had more than adequate provisions and that there was no need to hunt to provide food, given that there wasn’t much out there, anyway, and that the primary danger they faced was from the weather.
“Hey, ‘Merapa, look at this.”
His father joined him from his workdeck and read it, several times. “We better move on that project first thing in the morning,” he said. “I don't like the sound of this at all.”
“Me, neither,” Dirck said, his father’s grim acceptance far from relieving his anxiety.
But as it turned out, morning would be too late.
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