Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Celina cradled the cawfee mug in her hands. It was piping hot, bitter, and performed its task of keeping her awake and alert more than adequately. She wasn't likely to sleep much on this voyage, but at least the cawfee made it easier to stay up. The caravan to Khayr-ad Din had been on the road all day, driving through the dunes and mesas of the Karak Wastes.

It had been a humbling experience, Celina recalled ruefully. Both Tanya and Celina had never left Peace River, but Tanya, in her youthful exhuberance, had begun asking all sorts of questions about the places and people they passed, expecting Celina to answer as though she had accompanied Maia on all her travels.

"Now, I'm the one travelling, and Maia's staying in Peace River," she said aloud to no one in particular.

She got up, and steadied herself as the Longrunner trundled through the sand. Celina hadn't yet developed her caravan legs, so she walked holding onto a safety bar that ran the length of the cabin. Celina had seen many things in her line of work: the whole gamut of humanity suffering, healing, and dying. But now she was a rookie. Her first caravan trip (what kind of Badlander was she?!) was taking her to Khayr-ad Din, one of the quintessential Badlands city-states. It was overwhelming. But at least she knew she'd have a job waiting for her there. She imagined that they'd have great need for her skills at whatever passed for a hospital in Khayr-ad Din, but that thought was dismissed as entirely too melodramatic. She chuckled, and then turned the handle to the cabin door quietly.

Tanya was sleeping, curled up in a little ball on her berth. Celina smiled in the dim light, and listened to her daughter's deep breathing. She thought back to something Tanya had asked earlier that day.

"Are there Workers in Karrydin?"

"Well, people work, but there aren't any Workers Tanya."

"How about Managers?"


"But then," Tanya was exasperated, "who do the Executives tell to do all the work?"

"There's no Executives either. Everyone's more-or-less the same."

"Oh. That's fair." Tanya concluded.

Celina knew that she would never return to Peace River.


The photo in the smallish frame on Ana's dresser was the young woman's most prized possession. Every morning when she got ready for classes at the Paxton Management School, Ana offered up a prayer and burned some incense in front of the photo. It was not much of a shrine, but she figured it was the thought that counted.

"Beloved Ancestors," she began, kneeling, inhaling the incense, "please protect my family and keep them safe and prosperous. Let us be united soon." She sat in front of the dresser and the photo, her eyes closed, her chin touching her breast-bone. A moment later, she stood, composed herself, and went through the arithmetic: so much income, subtracting cost of living, tuition... then she tallied up the bureaucratic fees, the baksheesh, the transport fees, and of course the payment to the Emir of Skavara she'd have to make in order to free her family. She had a long, long way to go.

The last two days, however, had changed things. Suddenly Paxton's civil unrest became her problem, when Paxton men came to her apartment and accused her of being a party to espionage. They called themselves part of the Internal Revenue and Security Bureau, but after some research, she realized that they had to have been from PaxSec, working with that Doctor Chambers from the Free Emirates delegation. She saw them on the newsfeed. She knew they were PaxSec, tasked with keeping Lady Hiro safe from the Patriarch's killers. And they had their hands full.

So why did those PaxSec men end up at her door? She didn't really care. She figured that she was passing love notes between Ambassador Shan and that Xiphos woman, who was clearly unable to have an open affair with an Easterner. Ana snorted. Most Riverans prided themselves on being open-minded about their love lives, though compared to Easterners, they were prudish and tame. But PaxSec thought that the messages she was passing were something much more sinister. The thought made her stomach turn again, like it did when Mr. Smith began discussing how she had been an accessory to espionage. She knew that she did it because Tapa Shan was a high-placed solicitor in the Patriarch's retinue, and he could have her family murdered at a moment's notice.

Mr. Smith. She had heard that PaxSec members were automatically given Executive caste status. That explained his horrible insensitivity, but not the promise he made: go meet Xiphos, and the "IRAS" will help get her family out of Skavara.

Ana Balacan finished putting on her makeup and looked over at the photo on her dresser. She allowed herself to hope that maybe her prayers had been answered.


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.