Read A Covenant of Justice Online
Authors: David Gerrold
Tags: #Science Fiction
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A Covenant of Justice: Trackers, Book Two
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A Covenant of Justice: Trackers, Book Two Copyright * 1994, 2014 by David Gerrold
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For Wilma and Wes Meier
When they finally pulled Lee-1169 off of Sawyer, both men had multiple minor cuts and abrasions, and Lee had blood streaming from his nose.
“I can't believe your audacity!” Lee shouted as he struggled in the grip of Drin and Tahl. The two larger men held him firmly back. “The rebellion will have a death sentence put on your head. To hell with both of youâ”
Sawyer spat back, “A death sentence from the Alliance of Life? The same Alliance that believes in the sacredness of all life everywhere? At least, now you betray your true colors. Life only for those who believe in it your way. Now you know why we don't give our allegiance. We hate hypocrisy.”
“Both of you, shut up,” said William Three-Dollar, stepping between them.
Lee tried to shake free. “Don't you talk to them, goddammit! These two trackers don't even have the decency to stay bought.”
William Three-Dollar reached out and grabbed Lee's throat. For the first time since they had met him, his face clouded with emotion. He looked furious. He spoke in a voice as ferocious as any Dragon's, “Don't
tell me what I must or must not do. I walk my own path!” He released the smaller man. Shaken, Lee fell back, his face ashen.
Three-Dollar turned away from him. He lifted his gaze to study Sawyer and Finn Markham. Finn let go of his brother then; so did the other man holding Sawyer; Tuan loomed larger than Drin and Tahl together. He shoved Sawyer quickly away, leaving the two trackers alone in the center of Three-Dollar's scrutiny. The TimeBinder approached them slowly and looked mournfully down at them.
The TimeBinder looked from one to the other, with very real disappointment in his eyes; but even though he looked as if he had volumes to speak, he remained silent. He just stared at them ruefully. He looked so disappointed that neither Sawyer nor Finn could meet his penetrating gaze for long. Finally, Three-Dollar turned his back on them and returned to the others. Sawyer and Finn felt more than dismissed; they felt
“Let me instruct you in the way,” Three-Dollar spoke patiently to Lee-1169. He spread his hands wide to bring in the other three rebels as well. Drin, Tahl, and Tuan moved closer to the TimeBinder. “We might describe these two trackers who share our imprisonment as ethically retarded, except that in their case, such an appellation would serve more as compliment than epithet.” He put his hand on Lee's smaller shoulder and spoke in soft gentle tones. “My son, you need to learn the compassion that extends beyond those who deserve compassion. Real compassion goes out to all, whether they deserve it or not.
“These two men
undeserving, and so we feel justified in withholding our care. But if you could look at them from a compassionate context, you would see that these two poor assholes have simply never learned the same loyalty that you have. They have no vision larger than their stomachs. Because of that, they have no
humanity. They can never truly understand the nature of justice. So, for you to expect or demand behavior consistent with such training only demonstrates more foolishness on your part than theirs.”
“Excuse meâ” Sawyer started to interrupt, insulted.
Three-Dollar turned and looked at him calmly. “Please don't interrupt. This conversation doesn't concern you.”
“Yes, it does!”
“Soyâ” Finn grabbed his brother's arm and pulled him back. “Shut up.”
“But he saidâ”
“I heard what he said. Shut up.”
Three-Dollar turned back to the Alliance rebels. “We can only speak to them in their own language. We can only speak to them in terms they will understand.”
Lee held up his clenched fists. “Then why did you stop me?”
“Because you didn't understand.”
“Eh?” Lee shook his head, as if to clear it. But he closed his mouth and swallowed hard, and allowed the TimeBinder to educate him.
“Watch,” he instructed. The TimeBinder turned back to Sawyer and Finn. He spread his huge bony hands out in a calming gestureâas if smoothing the troubled waters between them. “I will offer you a contract,” he said. He turned his palms face up as if to demonstrate his good will. “Indeed, I'll offer you the only deal you appear capable of understanding.”
“Good,” said Sawyer, showing a pleased smile. “Let's talk terms. How much?”
“Your lives in exchange for your service.”
Sawyer's smile collapsed. “I hate deals like that,” he said.
“I have no other offer to make,” the TimeBinder said. “Either take it or leave it.”
Sawyer looked to his brother. Finn's expression demonstrated no more enthusiasm for the contract than Sawyer's. Finn shrugged. “It sounds like a fair deal to me,” he said to Sawyer dryly. “Does it sound fair to you?”
Sawyer scratched his head. “I don't suppose we could discuss the hazardous duty allotment. . . ? I didn't think so.” He sighed and put on his bravest smile. “Okay, we accept.” He held out his hand to the TimeBinder. So did Finn.
“Done,” said the TimeBinder, clasping both Sawyer's and Finn's smaller hands in both of his.
“All right,” said Sawyer Markham. “
, we go to Plan B.”
“Plan B?” Lee-1169 approached the two suspiciously. Despite his smoldering anger, he had not forgotten the peril of their circumstance; they still remained guests of the Lady Zillabar's dangerous hospitality.
have a Plan B,” Finn said. “You can't trust
Three-Dollar laughed aloud at that. Lee looked at the TimeBinder, puzzledâthen he too got the joke and snorted in amusement. Finally, he turned back to the brothers Markham and said, “All right, tell us your Plan B.”
Sawyer held up a hand for silence. “Shh, I have to make it up.”
Abruptly, the floor shifted under their feet. It shuddered and began to tilt. The men looked at each other, alarmed. Only Three-Dollar remained placid. “We've lifted off,” he said. “Whatever the Lady plans for us, she wants to keep us close.”
To observers on the outside, the liftoff of the Lady's vessel presented an astonishing sight. First, the great sprawling structure of the palace lit up like a beacon. It became a gaudy confection of light. It glistened like a jeweled crown perched on the highest peak of MesaPort. Its gleaming spires sparkled and shone. It dazzled brighter than the Eye of God.
Then . . . a great deep note began to resonate through the city. It swelled and ebbed as a grand tide of sound, vibrating up through the rock itself. Now, the entire top section of the palace lit up in frosty beams of light. Glimmering in the night, the upper half of the palace detached from the framework of light that held it. It lifted off its golden cradle and rose gently into the sky above the city.
The people poured out into the streets, gasping, shouting, and pointing. Even the normally stolid Dragons stopped to stare upward. Shouts of celebration and joy rose into the air, rising like the Lady's bright vessel. The ship slid gracefully out over the desert and began gathering speed. It swung around in a great arc and pointed itself eastward. Then, it began rising straight up into the night.
Kernel d'Vashti watched the Lady leave without visible expression. He stood on the highest balcony of his tower at the opposite end of the city and watched as the pebble of light streaked away toward the stars. At last, a faint smile appeared on his face. His mouth tightened, his eyes narrowed. He understood the Lady's retreat better than she did. The males of his species knew this dance much better than the femalesâbecause the males had a lifetime of practice.
She danced away, thinking she danced in angerâeven she believed it. But in truth, her actions sent a much more tantalizing message. She dared him to follow and prove his worthiness. He would have to demonstrate his ferocity before she would surrender to his triumph.
d'Vashti allowed his outer face to wear the same expression as his inner oneâa grin of happy expectation. He had the strength, he had the will, and he had a clear track toward his victory. He had eliminated everyone who might have challenged him for the Lady's bed. The inevitability of his victory gave him a surging feeling of pride. He would topple the arrogant Lady Zillabar into his nest, and he would shortly father the next generation of Zashti children.
He waited until the distant mote had disappeared into the Eye of God
, then he turned crisply about and reentered his tower, shouting as he hurried down the corridors, summoning his aides, and spitting a stream of ominous orders.
Far above, far awayâthe great vessel climbed majestically above the sea of air, climbed out of the well of gravity, and headed toward an enormous spired web that wheeled proudly in high orbit. It sparkled even brighter than its counterpart on the crown of MesaPort. From a distance it seemed as graceful as a dandelion drifting on the wind, but as Zillabar's vessel approached its details became clearer and more deadly-looking. It gleamed like a golden weapon, all daggers and spears. Among its many towers stood many projectors, accelerators, launchers, and disruptors. The Lady had built a warship for her chariot and dubbed it
The Golden Fury
. Others, less respectful, called it simply, the Zillabargeâbut not in the Lady's hearing, of course.