Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen

Zena tried to distract herself by telling stories to Neo about the gods, but she couldn’t keep her mind on it and he soon fell asleep. Once the sound of her voice had cleared out of the room, Zena could hear some commotion outside. She opened the door.

The Ledges were so named for a reason, and that reason was two-fold. First of all, the area was on the eastern side of Mt. Yenin, the opposite side of the one that the Kenazians were currently rounding. The Ledges really were such, with varying levels. They were not big changes in elevation, no bigger than a step, but they meant a lot in the Usomian society, because the higher up you lived, the bigger your house was, the nicer the streets were, and the more alcohol people owned.

This was unfortunate, Zena knew, because the more alcohol people had, the more there was to drink when things went wrong. She lived on the second level, meaning second from the top. Only a few houses were on the top level, and those were the people who ran against each other bitterly in every possible race they could come up with. She knew for a fact that they had tried to outdo each other in how much they tried to bribe the soldiers to leave them behind, which was pointless anyway, because they had done so using Usomis, money usually only accepted in Jerel and certain high-end Usomian shops in any other major cities. The official currency of the colony was the Kana dollar, but everyone knew that if you really wanted something, rations worked just as well.

Anyway, three of the four couples had no children or none under seventeen, and those houses stood empty. The other one only had a son Zena’s age. Her parents had been trying to get her interested him for years, knowing what a good connection it would be, but both of them would have none of it. If he had wanted to run against her in the thrown-together election he would probably have won, but he hadn’t shown his face for days after the draft. Zena later found out that the first thing he had done after his parents left was summon the two most famous prostitutes from the bottom level.

The three houses had been freely used by poorer Usomians for free booze of all kinds ever since. Zena was sure that’s how they had gotten so drunk the day of the wedding. And that’s what it looked like they were doing now.

There was no need for them to break into the houses; that had already been done, so a group was calmly pulling bottles out and handing them around when Zena opened her door. She joined the crowd, which was only made up of about fifteen people so far. “Isn’t it a bit early to drink?”

“Not if we just want some color to help track those Irkas down.” Someone handed her a bottle. She looked at him, confused. It was one of the haters from way back at the election. “Ah, we’ve forgiven you, Zena,” he said. Slowly she smiled and took the bottle, studying the seal. “Like this.” He showed her, “besides, we’ve got bigger problems. You coming?”

“Nope.” She took a swig from the bottle, carefully trying to balance her Council duties and the pure relief—no, bliss—she felt finally talking straight to a member of her community. Yes. This is what I wanted.

“How come?”

“It’s not my problem what they do. If they want to go, fine. They’ll either run out of food and come crawling back or they’ll eat tree bark and snow and we’ll be rid of an obnoxious group of people.”

“They can’t just walk out on the colony!” he took the bottle back.

“Well, it isn’t like they were helping it,” she said. She didn’t really mean it seriously, but some people nodded.

“Doesn’t mean we can’t rough ‘em up a bit before they go.” He nudged the person next to him. “That is, if Councilor Zena doesn’t have any objection.”

Zena’s happiness faded as she heard the title. Already it’s gone, she thought, make one statement they don’t like and you’re the enemy again. I won’t be the enemy. I can’t. “I don’t care what you do.” She held out her hand for the bottle.

“I do,” said a new member of the group. Nora.

What is she doing here? “This is my area, Nora, they can do what they want. What I say they can.”

“Sure about that?” her new drinking buddy laughed. “Looks like you’re getting voted off.”

“Who says we listen to you?” another added. The wine was snatched from her hands.

“Hey, look, I’m the only one who’s taken any initiative around here!” she protested, “If Parez over there,” she pointed at the only occupied house, “wasn’t too busy getting laid he could have done it. But I did, while the rest of you break into houses and get drunk.” They laughed and offered the bottle again, but she didn’t want it anymore. If these are my people, they don’t deserve to be. I’ll come back when they’re sober.

They turned away from her and talked of the Kenazians again. “We can still chase ‘em down,” someone said, “they won’t stand a chance against us.”

“You can’t. I mean, they won’t. We won’t let you.” Nora had stepped up next to Zena.

They watched her for a minute. “Sheen, Jacques, and I issued amnesty toward all of them. They’re under our protection.”

“And I wasn’t in on this because…” Zena was pretty put off by this.

“Well, I was coming to tell you, but we didn’t think you’d agree. And we have a majority.”

“Seems you’d need a super for something that big.”

“In a council of four?” Nora said wryly, “We just don’t want anyone hurt for now. We don’t know where this is going. Let’s see what happens before we bust heads.”

“Like that would ever happen.”

“If they try anything sketchy, it will.”

“Like what? Leaving the colony?”

“Like coming back and raiding the trade. Or pulling some kind of attack on you guys here.”

“I still don’t think you’d do it,” Zena said with one eye on Nora and the other on the crowd, which was starting to migrate away, absorbed with the alcohol, “you’d make them the victims.”

“I’m sorry, have you met Sheena? If she were in charge, the word ‘Atkin’ would already be taboo. She’s not going to let any of them get away with anything for a long time.”

Zena found herself suddenly on the defensive. “I’ve met Sheen. And Jacques. And you. And quite frankly, none of you have any idea of what we’re doing.”

“Maybe not, but at least we’re doing something called communicating. You know, words? They come out of your mouth. You use them to tell people stuff and decide what to do.”

“I very well know how to communicate,” she snapped, “I started the whole Council thing, if you don’t remember, and you had to be dragged up on the stage. You were nominated.”

Nora stepped back as if she’d been slapped. “I grew! I try now, I try to survive. You stay up here on your fancy ledges, only talking to your people to get them to like you. I bet you never even come out of your house in the daytime. I’ve had meetings outside of Council. I’ve formed alliances!  So—so beat that, miss Feminist Council Member.” With that, she marched off, pretending that she’d scattered her words carelessly, secretly reveling in the phrases she’d nurtured for weeks.

Zena watched her go. An apology, or some kind of confession, some acknowledgement nearly ripped through her lips, but they were sealed too tightly. The group she’d come to join seemed to have lost interest in the idea of the Irkas, more fascinated with the wine and the inside of the abandoned houses.

Trudging back to her house, Nora’s accusations making a lovely ball of her insides, the girl who had been told she couldn’t communicate could only think of a chilly night and a conversation on either side of a door frame. It was the only completely true one she could recall.

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