|Infinity Hold Series
|Keep The Law
Keep The Law
Book 3 of the Infinity Hold Trilogy
by Barry B. Longyear
AN EVENING WITH BANDO NICOS
I took a sip of water and gnawed on a thing bar as I looked around at the camp. A third of the whacks were on guard, and the remaining two thirds were dug into positions on the camp perimeter. Jak was wrapped up in his desert sheet zoning out, Deadeye was nowhere to be seen, and Jontine was watching her own vidcam, working on her story. A reporter right in the hell middle of a convict planet; who says God didn't have a sense of humor. The stinking six-legged lughs waited patiently for food, death, or sunlight, whatever came first.
When I placed the remainder of my thing bar back in my pack, I picked up my rifle and started cleaning it. Once we got going, I wouldn't have another chance. Jontine Ru faced me and asked, "Are you ready?"
A piece of bad memory reminded me that I had agreed to be interviewed. "I guess. Where's Deadeye?"
"He's checking up on the guard while Jak sleeps." She shut down her camera, removed the micro disk, replaced it with another, and aimed it at me.
"Lets try a few warm up questions to relax, okay?"
"Relax?" I jerked a shoulder in a minor grant of permission.
She grinned and asked, "Your name is Bando Nicos?"
"Is that a Spanish name?"
"By way of Mexico and Philly. My family was in Philadelphia."
"Was it tough being a Spanish-speaking kid there?"
"I wouldn't know. I only know enough Spanish to order a taco on Broad Street." I shrugged at my lame joke and looked at her while I twisted the auto nut on my rifle to loosen it up a bit. "On the streets there were two schools of thought. One held that we were from Philly and belonged there. So we rejected the customs and speech of our fathers. That way we couldn't talk to anybody at home. The other school held that Philly sucked like a black hole. They rejected everything local, including the language. That way they couldn't talk to anybody except at home."
"This was on Earth?"
"Yeah. Earth. America." I pointed at myself with my thumb. "American."
"What's an American?"
I stared at her for a second, then laughed. "Hell, I don't know. I don't think there are any Americans anymore. There's nothing left on Earth but gangs. They call them nations, tribes, clubs, guilds, unions, teams, professional associations, churches, races, sexes, ins and outs, straights and not so straights, but they're all gangs. Americans died out a long time ago. Anyway, if they ever existed, they were just another big gang, like the French, and the Arabs. You understand?"
"A word here and there. What about my question?"
"I forget what it was."
"Was it tough growing up?"
"Yeah, it was tough growing up. Are we going to use up your micros wandering down aphasia lane?"
"Does it make you uncomfortable to talk about your childhood?"
I laughed out loud until my head was again splitting. "Jesus, I hate that word. Uncomfortable. When the hell was it that they started saying uncomfortable instead of pain, hurt, afraid, angry?" I sat up and wrapped my arms around my knees. "A crowbar dentist back in Greenville, he asked me that, once. It felt like the hook was running a thousand volts into my jaw, I'm putting permanent finger prints into the armrests of his chair, and he wants to know if I'm uncomfortable. I should've crushed his nuts and asked him back, `Hey, man, is that uncomfortable?'"
She pulled out an extension from the bottom of the camera and stuck it into the sand. The camera's lens continued to follow me. She got up, sat next to me, and continued. "I understand that Nance Damas made you the head of the Razai Cops."
It seemed like a hundred years had passed since then, but in reality it was only a few weeks. "Yeah." I bobbed my head back and forth just to see the lens track me. "That's sharp."
She reached out a hand to restrain me from moving about. "How did that happen?"
"Nance making you head cop."
"Yeah. Sorry." I searched the remainder of my head for a good answer, but there was nothing in there but echoes. "I always figured it was because I was last in line. Maybe you should ask Nance." I glanced at her, caught her expression, and sighed. "Okay. There weren't any cops. Nance was having an orgasm handing out orders, and when she got down to the bottom of the barrel she needed someone to take out the garbage. She told me to settle a beef that was holding up the column. I took in Stays to help. We took care of it. There was a killing soon after that. It was turning into a salt 'n pepper thing quick time, and Stays and me took in Marietta to help."
"The one you call the Magic Mountain?" she asked.
"Yeah, but not to her face. Only the Magic Mountain calls the Magic Mountain the Magic Mountain. The RCs grew out of that."
The questions wandered around like that for awhile, and a couple of the whacks sat in to listen. At one point I told Jontine that cop meant either constable of the people or constable on patrol. One of the whacks said that he'd heard that cop meant conscience on patrol. Jontine had another theory to throw in. She said she'd heard that early stains back on earth had copper badges, and the name came from that. It was something else to add to my growing library of worthless law enforcement lore. That was when she asked, "How do you feel about killing the Siamese twins, Nuris and Peris Rhadmajani?"
I must've jumped like a bug. Talk about shots from left field. "I didn't kill them. Nuris murdered, and I only collected Walt Hurack's payback. If Peris dies it'll be because he committed suicide."
"Meaning, he played a game to keep his brother alive. He lost. When his brother bit the grit, he had a chew, too." I shrugged. "Besides, maybe the Wolf can snip Peris loose from the deadmeat."
"What if he can't?"
I looked her in the eyes. "Then that's the end of Rico. If you murder in the Razai, you die. If you have your wagon hitched to a murderer, when the killer goes down, you go down, too."
"Even if it's not a person's choice, as with an unborn child?"
"That doesn't sound like justice to me."
"It sounds like justice. What you don't like about it, Show Biz, is that it doesn't sound nice, kind, and fair to the goo goo, da da, poo poo, ca ca crowd. It doesn't have a bag of loopholes for the cutie poos to slide through."
"But an unborn baby —"
I pushed myself to my feet. "Here an unborn baby is not Razai. A Razai can go wherever he wants. Unborn babies can't do that. So either they're prisoners or not alive. Since we're forbidden to hold prisoners, that only leaves one thing: they're not alive enough to be Razai. An unborn baby that can't survive free of its mother is still a part of its mother, like a big toe. When a killer collects the max, his big toe dies too. If the mother is a murderer, that's the end of Rico."
She looked down for a moment. She shook her head and looked up at me. "It sounds so cold-blooded."
"Jam it to Jesus, lady! I didn't say I liked it! The law we got is just the way it is, that's all. It seems to work for us. It doesn't have to work anyplace else. Here in the middle of Hell, it seems to work. That's why the new exiles who hear about the Law join the Razai."
"I've read it, Nicos. Did you know that you have rules in there that would require the execution of an entire jury if it makes a bad decision?"
"Yeah. I put those rules in there."
"There's a Mihvihtian attorney back with the main column named Lewis Grahl. He thinks you're a monster. How do you react to that?"
I gave her a bad look. "It makes my scrotum sweat." I pointed a finger at her. "If you've got a better way — if that cockroach has a better way — drop it in the nearest suggestion box."
I got to my feet, turned my back, and slogged my way through the sand into the darkening desert. "We're not finished!" She called after me.
I didn't want to sit there and jaw law, defending myself like some cockroach caught with his fingers in someone else's jockstrap. In fact, I didn't want anything to do with the damned Law. All I wanted to do was get Alna, Nance, and Mercy Jane back from Kegel. I reached the top of a dune, looked up at the Eyes of the Spider, and prayed that Alna was watching them, too.
What if Alna got pregnant and wound up in front of an RC for murder? What if that was Bando Nicos's baby that would be sauced along with Alna? How would old Rule 2 be interpreted then?
Something came to me. It was sitting there like the original granite turd. To be protected by the Law, you had to be alive, or at least had to have been alive at some time. And what's "alive" in the Razai? Ask Peris Rhadmajani. Rule 2 protected every Razai's freedom to follow whatever leader he wanted, including himself. We had any number of decisions that interpreted the Freedom Rule to mean that every Razai is free to go wherever he wants. The very first law we voted on was Rhome Nazzar's No Prisoners Rule. So, a muffin still in the oven is not Razai; it's not alive.
But what about a brand new baby? Is a bugger fresh down the shoot free to go wherever he wants? I shook my head at the cockroach game and pulled some wisdom from an old CSA meeting. Stay in the present moment, don't cross a bridge until you get to it, or, for the morons, one day at a time. Since Bando Nicos was a moron, I repeated it several times, "One day at a time."
The Law didn't have to deal with any what ifs, and neither did I. My present had all of the balls in the air it could handle, and we were rested up enough. It was time to get moving.
As I was climbing on my critter, Show Biz reached up and handed me her camera. "What for?" I asked as I took it.
"The interviews I did with the posse. I thought you might like to look at them."
"Why would I want to do that?"
Her eyebrows went up. "Do you know anything about the men and women you've got behind your back carrying machine guns? Do me a treat and check them out."
I scratched my head as I admitted to myself that I hadn't even known that there were any women in the posse. "Thanks. I'll look at them. How do you work this thing?"
She explained the simple controls. I moved off behind Bug Eyes and Jak Edge, my right eye screwed into the camera's tiny viewer.
THE POSSE FROM POPCORN
"Gomo, how do you feel about being part of this posse?" she asked him.
The corners of his mouth turned down and he shrugged. "It's important, getting back the boss from Kegel. This is a real job. An important job. It's good not being treated all the time like I'm crazy." He raised his eyebrows. "Well, like I'm not too crazy."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, Bando's crazy, isn't he?" Gomo grinned and filled the tiny screen with acres of gums and bad teeth. "I mean you have to be at least a little funny in the head to go after a thirty thousand man army with only fifteen guns, don't you?"
"You've got a point. And you think Bando Nicos is crazy?"
He shrugged and looked into the camera. "I'm not a wig picker; I do fires."
"Let me try a different question. What do you plan to accomplish out here? How do you see your job?"
Gomo held out his hands as he shrugged again. "Cap Brady told me not to start any fires and to keep Bando Nicos alive."
That caused my eyebrows to jump. Did Cap think I needed a dozen cracked nursemaids to keep me out of trouble? Probably. I checked back in on the interview. Jontine was asking, "What about killing?"
"What about it?"
"Considering your past, what does the possibility of having to kill someone on this job do to you?"
Gomo shrugged again. "The only way I'm supposed to kill is with this gun here. It's a job." His face came suddenly alive. "You see, it's not fire."
I shook my head and moved to the next interview. By the time I was finished, the cold was shattering and I was almost convinced that Cap Brady was trying to get me killed. That posse was made up out of the biggest concentration of dimension flippers I'd ever seen. To put it another way, Bug Eyes was looking pretty normal by the time I switched off the viewer.
They were all homicidal maniacs. I'd gotten used to that idea. It was their specializations that kept me twitching. We had another fire starter who got off on capturing persons at random, dousing them with something flammable, and giving them a head start while he set a match to the drip trail. After Head Start, there were two cannibals, one from Teheran and the other from Beijing. Teheran Man was carrying an extra load of guilt because of an Islamic dietary law, while Peking Man was a population control freak and compulsive overeater.
One guy who really gave me the chill was a former soldier whose nasty habit of sneaking out at night, cutting off enemy heads, and bringing them back with him to eat their brains only became noticed once peace was declared and the Brain Drain started working on the friendlies.
A Maine woman nicknamed Mummy ran a bookstore and museum on the coast, and she had this thing about tourists. She really hated them. Her hobby was to make nighttime bogus pizza deliveries at motels. Once the turistas had succumbed to the extra cheese and cyanide, she and her idiot son would bring the bodies back to the museum where they were cleaned, treated, stuffed, and costumed, becoming obscure figures from Maine history. Idiot Son was also a member of the posse.
The Prophet was from Boston and he looked like something out of the Old Testament. He was a religious and racial purity whack who had taken it upon himself to eliminate everyone who he found to be impure, which included just about everybody except himself.
I got a kick out of the Exterminator. His only offense was an irresistible urge to strangle cockroaches; that is, lawyers. I could really relate to this guy, and even envied him some. Before the juicer on Cumaris dropped him into the rubber hotel, he had managed to eliminate thirty-one lawyers, including his own, and before paying his bill. It showed me that some people really are just victims of the system.
There was one sweet little haystack thing who the others called The Victim. Her pastime was to make herself as beautiful and vulnerable looking as possible and take long walks at night in lonely parks and rough neighborhoods. She was a martial arts student with a knack for mechanics and irony. When a would be rapist would leap out of the dark, she'd bounce him around until she had him in the proper position, then her hand would come out of her purse wearing a strange glove that looked like a bear trap. She'd sink the teeth of that thing into the perp's groin and remove the whole assembly down to and including the roots. Just thinking about her made my scrotum shrivel. She was sent away to Happy Valley after she pruned an undercover vice officer who mistook her for a hooker.
Then there was the Keeper. I'd read about him back in the Crotch. He was a real zoo keeper on Cumaris who supplemented the diet of his carnivores by feeding them the dismembered remains of children who he caught teasing the animals. No one ever did get an accurate count, but there'd been over a hundred and seventy children reported missing at that zoo. He was caught because the accountant couldn't understand why they had such a surplus of funds at the end of the fiscal year. Eventually someone investigated the food situation, discovered that the usual rations were mostly intact, and looked into the meat locker where Verna, Vic, Vivi, and Vito were still hanging by their heels. The Keeper also had an alphabetical thing going.
Bringing up the rear was a guy they called Power Tool. Before listening to his interview it had never occurred to me what a torture chamber one of those haystack basement hobby workshops could be. After a few seconds of his story, I zipped to the end.
Everyone of those popcorns had been sworn by Cap Brady to keep Bando Nicos alive. I didn't know what Cap had promised them, but for the moment they appeared to be committed to me being alive. What good they would be in getting Alna back, if any, was still to be seen. According to the interviews one of the reasons Cap picked them was because they were all expert shots with an automatic rifle.
The last interview was with Jak Edge. Show Biz asked about Boss Kegel. What kind of man was he. What kind of fighter. Jak looked at her with unblinking eyes. "Deke Kegel's no saint. You don't boss a gang on this planet by being mush. He's strong enough to keep the Hand at bay. He knows how to fight, and won't hesitate to do it. That's why Carlo T. don't tangle with Kegel, even though he's got an army twice's big."
"What do you know about Anna Tane? You've heard the rumors about her influence over Kegel?"
"I heard." He shook his head. "My patrol'd been away from the grass close to ninety days when we tangled with the Razai. I remember that she was a patrol leader, and I saw her a few times at Kegel's patrol leader's meetings. As for the rest, I've listened to the taps same's everybody."
"They say she's very beautiful."
Jak cocked his head to one side and shrugged. "She's a look, if reptiles are your fix."
It went on for a few more minutes, then Jontine asked about Jak's wife and son. Jak got up and walked away. He didn't want to talk about it. There was no interview with Deadeye.
Just before Alsvid came up and bloodied the sky to start my thirty-ninth day on Tartaros, I pulled back my critter until Jontine Ru was riding beside me. I handed her back her camera and asked, "What do you think?" I asked her.
"Are you kidding?"
She stuffed her camera into her pack and faced the south. "I think the first chance one of those popcorns gets to stick an edge in you, you'll be yesterday's maggot meat." She picked up the language fast. With a glance at me and a knowing tone in her voice she added, "And you know what yesterday's maggot meat is."
Yeah, I knew what yesterday's maggot meat was. Okay, so the folks on the posse didn't have great records. Who on Tartaros did? The popcorns did seem determined to keep me alive and get Alna, Nance, and Mercy Jane back from Kegel and his goons. I made up my mind to trust the process and make the best of what I had, despite my lead allergy making the space between my shoulder blades itch.
There was a stretch of riding alone, which I preferred. It let me alone with my own thoughts, it kept the racket down, and it kept the whacks away from me. The period ended abruptly when I saw the Prophet rising on my left. He had fierce eyes that peered out from beneath bushy gray eyebrows. His long gray beard hung down almost to his belt. His eyes never seemed to blink.
"Bando Nicos, have you been saved?"
"Yeah, man," I answered. "And for just this moment." I thought he was joking.
The popcorn stroked his beard with his left hand and nodded toward the south. "This woman, the one you have been fornicating with?"
"Forni —" I turned on the back of my critter and faced him.
"Impure," he declared. "Highly impure."
"Impure? How'd you like a lead swab in your left ear?" I quickly reminded myself that there is absolutely no point in arguing with a popcorn. Keeping the You Say It, You Pay It Rule in mind, it made even less sense to threaten one. "Prophet, was there something you wanted?"
"She is a Negress, is she not?"
"She's real brown. So am I. We been in the desert for awhile. Maybe we got one great tan. You got a problem with that?"
"Not with getting a tan." He faced me and said in a real fatherly tone, "I've seen her. She is very dark. Very, very dark. Perhaps she's even a racial extreme. If she is a true Negress, then she is basically pure. Her impurity would come from engaging in fornication with you. Latins are, after all, racial mongrels."
As he expanded on his topic, I felt my fingers wrapping around the handgrip of my rifle. If I was impure for being Hispanic, and Alna didn't measure up for sleeping with me, Nance Damas was really in trouble. Lesbian Hispanics were way down on the Prophet's purity scale. Mercy Jane, however, was something different. As far as any of us knew, she was pretty much one hundred percent haystack, but the prophet was especially admiring of why she was condemned to Tartaros.
"The authorities on Earth are as shortsighted as the ones on Cumaris. The so-called mercy killers are visionaries persecuted by antiquated laws and old-fangled minds. What could be more humane than putting suffering creatures out of their misery? Who suffers more than the impure? Can there be a more noble act than relieving the impure of their tortured lives?"
"Prophet, do you have a name?"
The beard shook his head. "Prophet is all I am called."
"Has Cap Brady explained to you that the authorities here on Tartaros are just a mite narrow-minded about all these favors you want to whip on the impure?"
"Yes." The beard wagged up and down just once. "He was very clear about that. There is a request I would like to make, Chief Nicos."
"If we manage to rescue the three women, make an effort not to fuck the nigger anymore. Do you understand?"
The night went bright red as I swung my rifle around, prepared to stitch the beard from his toes to his topknot. The Prophet hadn't noticed, however. He had turned away and had gone back to his place in the column. The red lights inside my head eased, and with a few deep breaths I managed to calm down to where I could remind myself that the guy was crazy. My job was to not become crazy myself. I removed the rifle from my grip, slung it, and wondered again if we had left the crowbars behind. How easy it would have been to kill him. How easy it would have been to find myself in front of an RC investigator getting ready to payback for taking a life.
I wondered which one of the RCs would find it the easiest to blow Bando away. I guessed Deadeye. He didn't like me at all, and me having executed his brother probably didn't help. If I was a real selfish bastard, though, Martin Stays would be the one I'd want to see on the other end of a justice shot aimed at me. Maybe I wanted the shark who thinned me to squirm some first.
We continued south, and in an hour or so the bone cracking cold seemed to ease up a bit. There was a strange swishing sound in the air that would come and go, and after a couple of hours the swishing sound remained steady. I couldn't figure it out, and not knowing what it was kept edging me toward the whack end of the spectrum. Even though I had given orders to make no noise or light, I pulled out a fire cube and was about to strike it and toss it ahead of me on the trail when Jak's voice hissed out of the dark. "Don't!"
"That sound," I said. "Don't you hear it?"
"I hear it. That's why I don't want you to toss a flame on the trail. You'd start a prairie fire. That's the sound of the lughs moving through grass."
"Yes. We're out of the desert. This is edge of the Big Grass."
I pulled up my critter, slipped to the ground, and knelt there in the dark, feeling the short, woody, blades of grass and the hard soil beneath it with my fingers. I drew a double handful of the dusty blades, pressed them against my face, and inhaled.
It smelled like hay, and I felt tears in
my throat as
I looked up at the Eyes of the Spider. There
had been a part of me that couldn't believe that the
had an end. There I was, though,
kneeling in the grass, rubbing my face with the truth. . . .
At present, Keep The Law is only available by itself in Kindle. A print version is in the works, but as of now the only print version available is as a part of the Infinity Hold\3 Omnibus which contains the entire series.
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