The streets were a blur of twists and turns. The few Moungren men walking about on their own errands, wrapped in the same long, puffy work coats gave their little group curious glances but said nothing. Cael led them to a seemingly random door and announced they had arrived, and Ilya looked around to find no sign or distinguishing features around the entranceway. She also couldn’t recall any signs in the train station or at any street corners. How were people expected to know where they were if there were no signs? The impulse to ask flashed briefly in her mind, but was quickly smothered by exhaustion and the breather shell strapped to her face.
Once the poor bike was folded, they were inside. The office was a small, empty lobby to the left with a bulky kampdator hanging in the far corner, and an open window and counter built into the wall on the right with a miserable looking Novafolk woman sitting behind it. They all walked up to the window but as Cael and the rigid woman spoke, it became apparent that Ilya and Alberich could sit back for a while.
The kampdator was off, and though the room was brightly lit with fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling, it was also warm and Ilya could breathe without the mask. She found herself nodding off with Alberich among the lobby chairs while Cael dickered with the woman sitting behind the counter.
“Nothing available? There must be a vacant apartment somewhere.”
The Novafolk woman looked to be in her 60s. Her narrow frame was further restricted by the stiff material of her high collar and coarse jacket. Her thin graying hair pulled tightly back into a hard bun, and her craggy skin had a few hints of freckles under its sallow coloring.
“There are vacant apartments, yes, por sulpueli. However, per Manana policy they are only assigned to Manana employees.” She pursed her lips, gathering a fresh set of wrinkles, and the shadow of a mustache.
“Per Manana policy?” Cael’s eyes widened and he struggled to keep his voice calm. “You just had a revolution. I think you can relax on the policies.”
The woman folded her hands in front of her and sat back. Her room behind the window was a shallow space with a kampdator to one side and a wall of archaic, metal file cabinets lined behind her.
“I’m only asking for one night. We just need a safe place to clean up and sleep.”
The woman looked past him to the bruised and bloodied, giant and the tiny woman swallowed in her tacky, green fur coat.
“I’m not running a brothel here. You want a room for the night, you’ll have to look elsewhere. These apartments are for Manana miners, administration and support staff only. If you have no identification, I can’t help you.”
“But you don’t work for the Manana Corporation anymore! That’s the whole point of a revolution isn’t it? Look….”
Cael pulled back his coat sleeve to reveal the rectangle levali skin. An envelope icon lit up to indicate he had received a message from Sieffre.
“Ah, I have plenty of credits.”
We need to talk – Sieffre.
“I, ah, just need to….”
No – Cael.
Cael swiped it away the conversation away and pulled over the Zhouwen Gate Icon, its two stick characters leaping out of a vertical oval.
“It won’t help you.”
“I can pay you, I can…” the Zhouwen Icon was pushed aside by another message from Sieffre, which it should have been able to do.
Mari is in trouble – Sieffre.
The woman shook her head, “Do not insult me with a bribe, sir.”
“Not a bribe, just compensation to the Manana Corporation, or the, um….” He pulled up the Zhouwen Icon again, “People’s Rebellion? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be calling it now? Compensation to the people since we are not, ah,” the icon glowed red to indicate no connection, “of the people. What?”
“Spin it, as you like, I do not deviate from policy.”
“No, that’s not right. My accounts, the gate, I can’t access….”
“It wouldn’t matter, sir. I think it would be best you move on, now.”
Cael stared blankly had the red icon. It was pushed aside by the glowing envelope again.
“Sir, you and your friends need to leave.”
He grunted in frustration as he tore off the levali skin and threw it behind him. It landed on Ilya’s lap, startling her out of her dozing.
“And where are we supposed to go?”
“Back to where you came from, I would assume. You must have come on some ship.” The woman cocked her head.
Ilya picked up the flimsy laveli and could see a blinking square within the opaque skin. She adjusted the rectangle flat on one hand and ran a finger over the glowing icon. Three lines of words popped up in a language Ilya couldn’t read. She looked to Cael but he was hunched over the counter in a test of wills with the stern woman in the window. She touched the message and a keyboard floated up with matching characters. To one side she could see a list of words, each in a different language, “Sakhimi” was second from the top. She tapped the word and the message rewrote itself.
Mari is in trouble-
I kept her in the jail because I knew you were coming. She’s going to die-
We may all die soon if we can’t get off this moon – Sieffre.
In Sakhimi, “Not now, Ilya.” In commons, “YOU people aren’t even Manana employees anymore. Do you see what I’m saying? So, you CAN’T stick to this policy. It makes no sense.”
Ilya typed out a message of her own.
This is Ilya. We can’t find a place to stay – Cael.
She pinched the Send icon dangling from the laveli that stretched past her hand. The reply was instantaneous.
Ilya! I’m so happy to hear from you! Where are you? – Sieffre.
Not sure. Housing office. She won’t rent us an apartment for the night. Is Mari okay? – Cael.
We have a room! Come to us, yes? Here is a map to lead the way – Sieffre.
“I told you, not now, Ilya!”
“I’ve found a place!”
“Wait, what?” He turned from the window to face Ilya. Even Alberich peaked an eye open.
“Sieffre, he says they found a place and we can stay with them.” Cael frowned and began to shake his head. “You said Mari could take care of herself, but Sieffre says she’s in trouble.”
“Well,” Cael shrugged, “that’s also normal for her.”
“He says she’s dying.”
He took a breath. “He’s… probably exaggerating.”
“No, look.” She stood and shoved the laveli into Cael’s hands. “I think she’s sick. She fainted when we were first breaking out of the jail, and she’s strong, Cael, not weak like me.”
Concern replaced the skeptical look on his face. He rubbed at the thick stubble of his cheek.
Alberich cleared his throat. “At the very least, it seems we’ll have a place to sleep for the night. What’s the harm?”
Cael looked from Alberich to Ilya and back to the laveli hanging limply in his hands.
A sigh of relief exhaled from his two companions as Cael turned back to the woman in the window.
“Okay, we’re leaving. I just have one more question for you.”
“And what would that be?”
“Just out of curiosity, do you have a sister?”
“Yes, who works in the constabulary building? Interviews suspects?”
The woman squinted up at him. “No.”
“My mistake then. Come friends, best be off.”