Drake's Sword Part Three

Two Moons

 

“Come on.” Sherry motioned for Raymond and Drake to go ahead of her while she sprayed the ground a few times before spraying the bridge step by step.

The Cheron Bridge was a flat wooden walkway with metal guardrails on the side. It was wide enough for several people to walk side by side but it was only a few feet above the river.

“What is that stuff?” Drake asked as the pungent scent reached his nose.

“You don’t want to know.” Sherry said matter-of-factly. “Lets just say it attracts male banderlats for up to eight hours. Males are fiercely territorial and will fight for dominance over the bridge until the scent wears off, then they run back to their burrows.”

Still exhausted from their ordeal, Drake fell silent for a moment. He used the silence to get a good look at Sherry. She was about his height, with long blond hair tied back in a ponytail. From what he could tell there was nothing that suggested she was a dangerous criminal.

“If it’s not too personal,” He broached the subject cautiously. “What were you sent here for?”

Sherry stopped spraying to look directly at him. He couldn’t tell if she was offended or not, but he knew there was no backing out now.

“I was born here,” she said simply. “My ancestors came here to colonize this planet over one hundred years ago.”

“Oh…” Drake scratched the back of his head. “So who runs City 5? If what they told me is true they cut this planet off from the rest of the Earth Territorial Alliance.”

“We have a council of five members. Judge Gellar, Doctor Bourne, and my mother Doctor Noel to name a few.”

“Your mother’s a doctor?”

“She’s a computer scientist. Doctor Bourne is the Chief Medical Practitioner.”

“Is any one from England living here?” Raymond asked out of curiosity.

“We have a few people who were sent here,” Sherry said, spraying down the bridge a few more times. “Some from England, Wales, Scotland. A lot of the people that get sent here join one of the gangs or roam the country side until someone or something kills them off.”

“Like the man I killed shortly after we arrived,” Drake looked at his sword. Blood was now encrusted on the otherwise pale white blade. It was no wonder Sherry reached for her blaster when she first saw him. “I wonder why they chose to land us near City 5.”

“Who knows? I don’t know why they bother designating the different continents if they won’t over see the transfers here. Were you supposed to end up in Acheron?”

“I was but…” Drake looked at Raymond who was now a few steps ahead of them. He spoke in a lower voice. “Is Vanity necessarily any better?”

Sherry understood his cue and lowered her voice. “Probably not. Orphans aren’t the only people they send there.”

At the end of the bridge Sherry sprayed the remaining liquid over the ground and pocketed the bottle.

“When they began sending people like Ely and Grover to Epsilon we had to take measures like this,” She explained as they walked a beaten path through another dense forest of green and red coral trees. “There are several check points along the border of the city, all manned by armed guards twenty-eight hours a day. Every so often we try to risk a trip out beyond Ely’s territory, to escort new comers who need our help, but he’s a manipulative little bastard as you all ready found out. Those two guys I shot down? He’ll find others to replace him.”

Drake was about to ask something else, until he noticed a hut at the end of the patch of trees. Beside it there was a hoversled and two guards wearing gray vests and pulse rifles.

“They’re okay,” Sherry said as they approached. “This is Raymond and…”

Sherry looked to Drake. It hadn’t occurred to him until then that he never gave her his name. He gave it to the guards, lowering his sword and holding up his free hand to show peace.

“They’re new comers. Drake helped me get away from Ely and his gang,” She told them. “Can you take us to the Town Center so we can get them settled in.”

“Sure, come on.” One of the guards motioned them to follow him. “He’ll have to leave his sword for now.”

Drake gave the sword handle first to the second guard. While the guard went inside to secure it, he hopped into the back seat of the hoversled with Raymond.

The ride was smooth and the air was nice and warm against their faces. Drake’s hair flew in the breeze as he fought the urge to fall asleep. As his aching joints settled he took in the buildings of City 5 as they grew closer, popping out of their pale blue backdrop like three-dimensional drawings as they sped towards the city.

At first they glided across a grassy field where they saw a few small crops vegetables, some from Earth and some they had no name for. At the edge of the fields was a white house with an authentic red barn; only instead of chickens and cows, there were between fifteen and twenty pink skinned animals that ambled along on two clawed feet and flapped useless leathery wings. From the distance Drake could recognize a curved beak before entered the paved road.

“What are those?” He asked Sherry. “Those animals in the farm back there.”

“Those are female banderlats.” She answered, shifting sideways in the front seat so she could talk to him. “We keep them for their eggs and their meat.”

“And their scent?” Raymond asked, yawning before he could say scent.

“That’s right,” Sherry looked at him. “You getting tired?”

“Yes, very much so.”

“We’re getting pretty close to the Town Center. Soon as you two get washed up and something to eat you’ll be able to get some sleep.”

Drake blushed, though he knew it was true. Even he was starting to notice his own stench, and Raymond’s wasn’t much better. With his heavy blue blazer in the warmth of the twin suns on top of all of the walking and running they had been doing, it was a wonder he hadn’t thrown up a second time.

City 5 was like any city on Earth. The streets went up and down, people lined the sidewalks. Signal lights controlled the traffic. Drake was happy to notice a movie theater but frowned when he noticed that the only movies showing had been out on HVD for a couple months. Small restaurants, bookstores, antique shops, and other businesses also lined the streets. There were a few larger buildings towards the center of town and Drake recognized these as the ones he had seen from beyond the river.

“This is nothing like I imagined it,” Drake said, unable to hide his awe.

“It’s almost like Manchester,” Raymond observed. “Look, there’s even an arcade.”

“We don’t have too many of the advanced games,” Sherry told him, sounding more than a little apologetic. “Mostly a few basic VR simulators and some of the ancient quarter machines.”

“So they exiled Pac-Man and Area 51 here too, eh?” Drake joked, trying to lighten the mood.

The Town Center was the largest building, standing at least two hundred feet from the bottom to its lightening rod tower at the top. Drake wondered if there was ever any actual lightening or if it was built purely for sentimental value.

“Thanks for the lift,” Sherry shook the guard’s hand before getting out.

She led Drake and Raymond through a crystalline set of sliding doors, into a lobby furnished with obsidian tile and black marble walls that swallowed the fluorescent lighting. A round polished wood desk was situated at one end of the building, and behind it a woman sat at a switchboard reading something intently. The woman looked up only to smile and wave at Sherry as they entered an elevator.

“I’ll take you to the Temp Wing first. That’s where we bring all of the new comers until we can figure out what to do with them.” Sherry wrinkled her nose, trying to remain civil. Drake avoided eye contact trying not to seem embarrassed.

The showers were hand operated, which made it hard to find a comfortable temperature setting, but at least there were no preset water limits. Drake stood beneath the hot water letting it soothe his aching muscles while Raymond used one of the adjacent stalls. Dry towels hung from a plastic rack on the linoleum wall across from the shower stalls. Drake wrapped his waist and went out to the locker room where someone had left clean clothes in his size.

The Temp Wing was basically one large floor with several cots in rows from wall to wall and along the tinted bay window, which overlooked the City 5 sea line. Each bed had a small bureau in front of it, though what anyone who would have to stay here could put in there was anyone’s guess.

Clean, toweled, and now dressed in clean clothes, Drake threw himself on one of the beds nearest the window. It creaked a bit beneath his weight, but it was comfortable and he fell asleep just as Epsilon’s first sun was touching the horizon.

***

Raymond snored. It was the first really annoying thing he had ever done since they met. For a while Drake considered suffocating him with a pillow, but thought better of it. Unable to get back to sleep, he got up and left the Temp Wing.

There was a small hallway from the Temp Wing to the elevator and Drake considered trying to locate the kitchen. But since he was unsure of the rules involving food in the middle of the night, he decided to go up to the roof and get some fresh air.

Stars filled the clear night sky and a cool breeze made Drake shiver slightly. Much to his surprise, Sherry was leaning against the metal railings, gazing out at the giant red moon as it eclipsed a smaller blue moon.

“So those are the moons?” Drake said, startling her only slightly. “I’ve never seen more than one before.”

“Yeah, they shock a lot of people at first,” She responded, returning her gaze to the stars as he stood next to her. “But they’re beautiful though. I couldn’t imagine a night without them.”

Drake leaned against the rail beside her and looked up. Seeing the alien sky and the unfamiliar constellations gave him a chance to try and get to know his new home.

“I wanted to thank you for saving me from Ely,” Sherry broke the silence. “I shouldn’t have been out there without one of the guards at my side, but I was on the trail of a female banderlat and well…it sounds stupid.”

“No problem.” Drake didn’t know what else to say. “I’m sorry if I offended you earlier, when I asked what you did to get sent here. I wasn’t implying anything, really.”

Sherry grinned. “It’s okay, you were just curious. Anyway we’ve had so many new comers within the last five years it’s a shocker to find people anyone who was born here…even to me sometimes.”

“Well if this planet has become Earth’s dump it’s impossible to tell from where I’m standing.” Drake sighed, gazing out at the city.

“You’re lucky they didn’t leave you in the north western parts of Acheron. From what I hear the gang wars are fiercest there and most new comers don’t last five minutes after the landing craft takes off. Even Ely was lucky enough not to get sent there.”

“What is the story with Ely anyway? I mean, not how he got sent here, he told us that part himself. But…it seems like he has a history here.”

“It’s a long story.”

“My calendar appears to be clear for a while.”

Sherry laughed.

“Well, Ely came to us about two years ago. At first he was just as scared and unsure of his surroundings as you and Raymond probably were. He had been dropped off with twenty other people, half of whom scattered. The city sent out a patrol to invite them to come with us. Ely and a few of the others agreed to come peacefully.

“The policy is if the crime you were sent here for is severe-and we discover one way or the other whether or not you’re lying-you have to undergo community service and psychological evaluation. Ely was expected to do community service for about six years.”

“For what he did?” Drake was surprised. “Six years is pretty lenient.”

“Yeah well, what else are we going to do? I think being exiled from your home planet is a pretty severe consequence as is, especially the way things are here. And anyway, Earth cut the entire planet off, not just its exiles, so if it thinks we’re not going to at least try to peacefully coexist with the newcomers than-“

Drake threw up his hands in defense.

“Whoa, whoa. I’m not trying to step on toes. I agree I just don’t expect six years was enough to make Ely rethink his life.”

“It wasn’t, but the first year or so he was fine. His community service was mopping the Temp Wing and most of the other floors in the building, in addition to helping the farmers in the fields. Ely did both jobs every day without complaining, and he appeared to be showing signs of improvement as the years passed.

“His biggest accomplishments were in academics. Because of the nature of his offense the council decided it would be best to tutor him privately, and he turned out to be very intelligent. Mathematics, computer sciences, and even some languages proved to be his strength. Last year things started going downhill.

“Ely is utterly ruthless and as you discovered out there, he is a master manipulator. That whole year turned out to be him biding his time, trying to find the perfect time to start some kind of a resistance. He read up on guerilla warfare tactics and famous leaders-probably even listened to reenactments of famous speeches at the library.

“After we caught him trying to rally supporters in the city, Judge Gellar banned him from the libraries and forced him to live on the outskirts of the city, where the farms are run. Mrs. Garret was as nice as she could possibly have been to him, just like she was to all of the farm hands. But early this last year Ely used a knife from one of the tool sheds to overpower the volunteer night watchman and escaped into the fields.”

Sherry sighed and stared up at the red moon.

“I don’t know what half of them were told when he got them to follow him. All I know is Ely spent the year building his gang from newcomers.”

“What about Grover?” Drake asked. “Any story on him?”

“Only that he took one look at our patrols and somehow decided Ely was the better option.” Sherry shrugged. “I know he was somehow responsible for a civilian transport ship burning up on Mars. Who knows why he joined Ely, but all I know is he’s probably even more dangerous as a blind follower than a wayward soldier. In fact I’ll even bet my life on Grover being the only muscle Ely needs to keep his men in line.”

“He’s damn good with a sword I’ll give him that much.” Drake went back to leaning against the railing.

The streets below were practically deserted. Drake wondered if there was some kind of strict curfew in place or if everyone’s midnight oil just burned out at the same time. He thought of spitting to see if he could hear it splatter against the sidewalk, but decided against it.

“How did you get so good?” Sherry asked.

“I’m sorry?”

“With a sword I mean. You fought pretty well against Grover, even if you were exhausted.”

“Oh, well, my older brother and I took this course in Connecticut when we were younger. Some old guy was running a business and teaching people how to use swords. Just a hobby really, though I’m glad it came in handy today.”

“Swords and knives are the only thing Ely and his guys could get their hands on thank god. We have stun bolts and blasters here, but you have to qualify to use them.”

“Sounds cool. Maybe if they decide I’m okay enough to skip community service I could get myself qualified. What about driving, could I learn to operate the hoversleds and stuff?”

“Yeah, if you want to. Of course there are no more dealerships ever since Earth cut us off, so you have to wait for someone to sell theirs.”

Drake gave her a sidelong glance. “You’re joking.”

“I kid you not. But don’t worry; so many people give theirs up every day when they get older. Only thing you have to worry about is keeping it maintained.”

“And that’s the way its been going for…how long has it been?”

“Probably since I was born. That’d make it eighteen years.”

“Man. Eighteen years in this place.”

“Well its not that bad all of the time,” Sherry rested her weight on one shoulder and looked at Drake. “We have it pretty good in City 5. And so long as you do something with your time here you’re not that bad off. Sure, we don’t have the technological splendor of the Earth System, you know like the video games and the galaxy net. But we also have cleaner air and water, a pretty small population, and we’re a better example of humanity all in all. I tell you something, and I’ve never told anyone this before now…if I had the choice I’d take Epsilon over Earth any day.”

“Even with the gang wars?”

“Even if all of the gangs in Acheron were to join forces and try to take us by storm. Not that it would ever happen, but you get the idea.”

Drake scratched the back of his head. A yawn escaped his throat, and he hoped he could fall back to sleep over Raymond’s snoring.

“Listen, I’ll see you in the morning,” he said. He started to walk away, but thought of something else. “Do you think we could eat breakfast together or something?”

Sherry seemed taken aback. But she smiled and nodded.

“Sure. I’ll meet you in Cafeteria Three at about eight. It’s two floors down from the Temp Wing. Bring Raymond.”

“Cool. See you in the morning.”

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