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Freehold: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Thursday, September 11, 2003 00:17 EDT



    "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." -Anatole France

    Kendra was in the embassy ten days, slowly going insane. She played interface games until disoriented from the feedback, found herself unable to concentrate on vid or books and got angry at the tedium of doing nothing. After three days, she spent some money she couldn't spare to have one of the Freehold technicians hook up a phone patch with a shift for her voice. He assured her it was untraceable and she decided it must be; the embassy didn't need the complications it would bring if her presence were discovered.

    Her parents' lines had to be monitored, so there was no way to call them. She tried Janie's personal number first. No answer. Her own duty number was answered by Lieutenant Moy. Kendra disconnected without a sound. She called Tom's personal line.

    "Hello?" she heard a harsh, unkind voice ask. It was not Tom's voice. She mumbled and disconnected. She realized now that she had, in fact, burned all her bridges. On the seventh day, Kendra was taken to see Ambassador Maartens again. This time, Jelsie acted more like an escort than a guard. She left Kendra at the door and departed with a smile and nod. Inside the Ambassador's office she was invited to sit down and Maartens said, "If you are still serious, we can have you out of here in three days."

    "I am," Kendra said. Everything suddenly took on an icy clarity. She realized she wouldn't see Earth again for a long time, if ever.

    "Okay. Here's how it looks. One of our less reputable personnel, coincidentally from logistics," Maartens said with an ironic smile, "managed to part out your car for about ten thousand. You have slightly less than a thousand in cash. The staff threatened me with mutiny if I charged you for your stay here, which we ordinarily do, so there's no boarding bill. They also took up a collection of fifteen hundred. I don't know how you feel about charity, but I advise you to take it. Our chief of security was extremely impressed by the courage you displayed and the speed with which you acted. In his opinion, you probably would have been snatched the next time you stopped for any purchase. He passed the hat for you himself. From sources I am not at liberty to discuss, there is a grant of four thousand available. So, you have roughly sixteen-five in assets.

    "Now, there's a Freehold registry commercial transport departing in three days. It's an Earth crew, but the ship is registered out of Station Ceileidh in Freehold space because we have less bureaucracy. The crew doesn't know who you are and might try to turn you in for the reward if they ID you. We'll get you aboard and manage the adminwork.

    "After that, you are going to pretend to be sick for twelve days. Your meals will be delivered and you'll stay in your cabin. That's not too unusual; lots of travelers do that, anyway. We'll also give you additional cover. Once in Freehold space, you're safe. You'll be met at Station Ceileidh and transferred in-system.

    "Transit fee is fifty thousand. Residency fee for planetside is five hundred. I believe your best chances are in Jefferson. Local residency fee there is one hundred. That's fifty thousand, six hundred total. You need thirty-four-four."

    "I don't have it," Kendra said with a grin as a façade.

    "Of course not," Maartens agreed. Her expression was not discouraging and it was clear she had an idea. She continued, "So the problem is raising it. Which is no problem at all. Now, let me explain this before you say anything.

    "We have a system known as indenturing, but it's not the historical system you may be thinking of. A Citizen will be assigned to your case, and you pay a fee to the government for his service. He will arrange for you to find employment and a payment will be deducted from your wages. You are free to change jobs or make other arrangements for payment. You are responsible for your own lodging and food, so you are not going to be assuming a spiraling debt. I'm sure you'll have no trouble locating work in a city like Jefferson."

    It took Kendra a few moments to sort through the statement. She was only peripherally aware from her schooling that indenturing had existed, but its context was clear. The rest was plain enough after some thought.

    "I don't have a lot of other options, do I?" she asked rhetorically.

    "No, not really," Maartens said. "But you've come this far. Otherwise, we'll give you your assets and slip you out the gate late tonight. Your presence is potentially very embarrassing to us."

    "I'm sorry to be a burden."

    "Has anyone complained? Look, Lady," Maartens said, her face softening, "You are about to enter a system that's totally out of your experience. It's bound to be a shock. We're trying to be honest and give you as much help as we can. If you're willing, we'll get you to a new home. If not, we need to protect ourselves."

    "Well," Kendra said, "I came here to get away, so I suppose I should finish the job."

    Nodding, Maartens said, "I'll get to work."



    The vertol was sitting on the roof of the main embassy building. Standing near it, Kendra was seeing the suburbs of Washington from a completely different angle. There were still a few details to take care of, so she took the chance to look around. The old city really was pretty, especially when seen through the murky morning haze.

    "Hey!" Kendra head the yell subliminally over the howl of the aircraft and turned to see Jelsie come up the stairs. She waved. A few seconds later, the two of them were hunched over, trying to hear over the whipping wind and the roar of turbines.

    "You need some candy money," Jelsie said, handing her a palm-sized folder of Freehold currency.

    Kendra pushed it away. "Thanks, but I can't take any more. You've been so generous already."

    Jelsie grabbed her with powerful arms, stuffed the money into her chest pocket and said, "Then take it as a 'thank you' for not making me shoot you. You've got a great attitude for back home. You'll be fine. I'll be back in about a year and I plan to look you up. Pay me then, if you wish."

    Smiling, Kendra said, "I'll do that. Thanks again."

    "Sure. You owe me. We have a saying in Freehold Military Forces. 'Friends help you move. Real friends help you move bodies.' Next time I have a mysterious corpse, I'll be calling."

    Tears leaking, Kendra promised, "I'll be there." She hugged the shorter woman, was almost crushed back, and turned quickly. She climbed in through the vertol's broad hatch and waited. It was a basic transport craft, not a diplomatic courier with appointments, and it was loud and stark.

    Two men joined her, personnel rotating home, and the hatch slammed as the craft lifted smoothly and angled toward the south. She spent the flight nervously rubbing the small scar on her hand, where her implant ID had been removed. The chip was used to locate people during emergencies. It was also used to locate criminals. Once out of the embassy's heavy shielding, it would have been an immediate giveaway, as there was an open warrant out for her arrest now and they would be looking for the trace.

    The flight was smooth, brief according to her watch no matter how subjectively long it seemed to be and there was no interference after they landed. She was getting away clean, so far. With a hundred kilometers down, she had only thirty-four light years to go until she'd be safe in the Iota Persei system.



    Kendra and the two embassy personnel simply walked through the scanners at Kennedy Spaceport. She was wearing a hat, had her hair darkened and tucked into her collar and her skin slightly darkened with a nano. She reminded herself to slouch a little. Slouching was very un-Freeholder, but it disguised her height. By Earth standards she was tall; by Freehold standards she towered over people. Taking a cue from the others, she flashed her diplomatic pass at the guard. Unlike the others, she was sweating.

    She needn't have worried. He gave the brilliantly forged document the most cursory of glances, nodded imperceptibly and turned back to his vid. No one paid much attention to diplomatic personnel, she realized. Certainly not to determine if they might be administrative criminals trying to flee the system. Kendra almost felt insulted on behalf of the specialist who'd doctored the pass. She grinned inwardly at the thought of walking back and demanding that the guard examine it in detail. It kept her spirits up as they entered the shuttle and took couches. She had no trouble with the familiar safety harnesses, having done this before only a few months previously. She adjusted the lumbar support, angled the neck pads for comfort and nodded briefly to the attendant, who glanced over to ensure everything was secure and moved on without a word.

    By prearranged plan, Kendra was feigning a sore throat, ostensibly from shouting at a concert. She rasped some favorable comments in a whisper. The two men with her did most of the talking, both to her and to each other. They kept a cheerful conversation going, interspersed occasionally with comments about going home, until the final count before lift.

    The ride was familiar. Three gees tapered off slowly as they headed into low orbit. Kendra found herself undisturbed by microgravity. She fell asleep, relaxed by the condition, even though she was not out of danger yet. One of her escorts nudged her awake as they docked with the station.

    A small, rather ugly tug took them to the Shamaya. She wondered about the name. Some person of historical significance? The ship was old but sturdy and smelled adequately clean as she swam through. The three of them were given cabins in the same passage and Kendra relaxed considerably as the klaxon sounded and thrust began with gentle gees, building to slightly more than Earth standard as they headed out. It would be her second and quite possibly last trip out of the Solar System.

    As she placed her meager possessions on the lone rack in one outer corner of the pie-shaped cabin, there was a knock at the door. "Yes?" she rasped.

    "It's me," Kevin Sanchez said, sticking his head in. The embassy had listed him as a computer technician, but Kendra felt sure he was an electronic spy. He was the most normal looking, by Earth standards, of the personnel she'd met, with short blond hair and brown eyes and no exotic coloring, jewelry or tattoos. "Thought you should know," he said, "that there isn't likely to be any trouble. I've met the crew of this ship before. The captain-owner and his family are most of the crew. They maintain Earth citizenship because it makes smuggling, excuse me, trading, much easier. They don't have to worry about some of the bonding fees. They are good mercenary Freeholders at heart, probably haven't seen you on any loads and wouldn't care if they did. The reward would interest them a little, but they wouldn't want the Freehold Military Forces angry with them. Keep in mind, however, that there are at least six crew of unknown loyalties who might jump at it. So don't sweat, but don't flaunt either."

    "Got it. Thanks Kev," she acknowledged, feeling greatly relaxed.



    Kendra woke immobilized, stared at the grins on her captors' faces and tugged at her restraints. Nothing moved, and one of the Special Investigators stepped forward. He pulled his arm back, prepared to deliver a vicious backhand.

    Yelping, she woke for real and thrashed, getting tangled in the bedclothes. Her breath was ragged, the sheets soaked with sweat. Eight days of grinding tedium punctuated by eight nights of terror. She rolled out of bed, stood and walked to the lavatory to rinse her mouth. She stared into the mirror at her sunken eyes. Four more days, she told herself.

    Sleep would be a long time returning, so she sat up and turned on the cabin comm to find something to do. None of the thirty-odd channels she flipped through had any appeal, although she did spend a few minutes listening to the traffic between the Shamaya's bridge crew and engineering, which was interspersed with jibes between each other and at other ships in the queue of tonnage heading for Sol System Jump Point Six, all bound for Grainne, then perhaps elsewhere.

    She decided to do a bit more research on what was to be her new home and pulled up the Freehold's Constitution again. It was a bizarrely short document and effectively denied any legislative power to the government. The "Residency fee" she was paying was a head tax, but one so low as to be negligible. None of it made any sense to her. It almost seemed as if there was no government. She wondered again if she really knew what she was doing and switched over to an atlas.

    Grainne had one large sprawling continent writhing from southeast to northwest around two-thirds of the planet. There were a couple of continental islands and several archipelagos of smaller masses. The climate was roughly like Earth's, but that "roughly" was deceptive-with smaller oceans, greater solar influx and a longer year, it had seasons that swung the temperate zone from the Minnesota-like winters she was familiar with, to scorching summers akin to those in the American Southwest.

    She tackled the business analysis for the nth time and was confused in seconds, as she had been every time before. Nothing about it was comprehensible. It was an absolute anarchy in the economic sense, from her perspective. She sighed and shut everything down, called out the lights and selected some light soft dance music to ease her back to sleep. It was some time before her thoughts drifted into the warm comforting blanket of unconsciousness.

    The Shamaya's klaxon alerted everyone to the impending point jump. Kendra actually relaxed, knowing that most of her ordeal was over. The lights flickered once, her stomach turned upside down and they were in the Freehold system. In less than an hour, they were trimming into an orbit around Station Ceileidh, the roughly cylindrical rock that was the business, industrial and government office for Jump Point One. She was led into an office and someone drew blood from her forearm. They implanted a nano tracer in her thigh, handed her a flash ram bearing a label with her name and directed her toward a gate. She loped in the low centripetal gee of the station and she was shortly aboard an in-system craft bound for Grainne proper. It would be another ten days of boredom before they arrived.

    This shuttle, the Torchy, was new, built with travelers in mind, and was typical of those run by any large line. She took another small stateroom, strapped down and waited for launch. She was still nervous, but it was a different kind of nervous. The UN authorities couldn't touch her now, but she was still alone and without connections or friends. It felt almost like stage fright.

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