“He can’t be trusted.”
Bandele regained consciousness just as this declaration was uttered. He resisted the temptation to touch his aching head or open his eyes; he soon discovered he couldn’t do the former because something bound his hands behind his back. He tasted something awful in his mouth and realized he was gagged.
“Why not?” said another voice.
“Because he’s one of them!”
“I’m one of them!”
He realized they spoke Anglic, the common tongue of the Union. He had been speaking Shoresi almost exclusively for the last six years, so to hear his first language was a bit of a shock.
“He’s one of the few on Jala that can help us,” said the second, who used the native Ral name for the planet, rather than ‘Akaisha’.”
“Did you work with him?” said the suspicious one.
“Some. I was just assigned to Gunnarsson Outpost when he got transferred to patrol duty. His service on Jala was some sort of prison sentence.”
Do I know him? His voice does sound a little familiar.
“You mean he’s a criminal? How can we trust a criminal!?”
“You’re a criminal! Anyway, rumor has it the Union hung him out to dry as part of some sort of cover-up, so he has some motive to help. He did decide to stay on Jala after his sentence was finished. That must be worth something?”
“He’s probably a spy.”
“For the love of Fala! He did his work as assigned, and just walked out the front gates when he finished his sentence.”
“He did work with the Imperial Army patrols as a consultant, hunting us down.”
“That’s because he was supposed to. If he didn’t do what he was told they would have thrown him back in prison. Would you just relax? How much harm could he do? He looks eighty years old!”
“Well, wake him up.”
Bandele felt a splash of water over his entire body. Angry, he struggled, and realized they had tied him to a chair. He fell sideways and hit his head on a dirt floor, stars filling his vision.
“Get him up.”
Two figures appeared in Bandele’s blurry vision and he felt himself being pulled upright. One took the gag out of his mouth. The place was dark with a dirt floor, but he saw a faint light filtering in through gaps in the walls. It was a shanty, little better than the shack he called home, and the place was cold.
Bandele coughed and spit for a few moments. “Who the fuck are you?” He looked around as his captors slowly came into focus. One was obviously Human, but wore the common costume of the Ral in this part of the continent, a heavy colorful tunic over shirt and trousers. He had shaved the sides of his head, and a long braid hung over one shoulder. The other was a Ral, one of the native Hominins on Akaisha. He wore similar clothes, but had tattoos all over his face and arms and his shaved head. Even in this light Bandele saw the green tinge of the Hominin’s skin, the long skull and the wide jaw.
“He doesn’t blend in too easily, does he,” said the Ral. “He’s dressed like us, but with that black skin he sticks out like a hair on an ukur’s ass.” The Ral stepped closer. “Why are you in Kularin? You’re a long way from Akintola Spaceport. What are you doing here?”
“I live here, fuckwit. For the last six Earth years. Now, do you and your colleague want to untie me?”
“Why would we do that?”
“So I can ring your fucking neck, that’s why.”
“Just calm down, Bandele,” the Human said, “we’re not going to hurt you. In fact, we need your help.”
“Ah! The good guy bad guy routine. Am I supposed to know you?”
The two men looked at each other for a moment, then the Human spoke. “I’m Gary Tibilov. We served together for a few weeks back at Gunnarsson. Do you remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. You’re the snot-nose moron I trained to do my job. You still Exploration Service?”
“No. I walked away, like you did, and I think for the same reason.”
“And what would that be, Mr. Tibilov?”
“You know what the Union is really doing on Jala.”
There it was, tickling the back of his head: his conscience. Bandele sighed. “Untie me and bring me some water, okay? I promise not to kick both your asses.”
The two men laughed. Tibilov stepped forward and untied Bandele’s hands; he pulled a canteen from a pocket of his tunic and handed it to Bandele.
Bandele drank deep, sighed, and rubbed his wrists. “If you two wanted my help, why didn’t you just ask for it?”
“We don’t know if we can trust you,” the Ral said.
“What’s your name? From your tattoos I see you’re a high ranking member of Jala Resurgent.”
“I am Jala Resurgent. I am Morka Valans.”
The leader of the planetwide insurgency! But Bandele’s fear quickly gave way to anger. “How many people are you going to kill today? Will it be a stand-up fight? Or are you gonna bomb another market or school?”
Valans just smiled.
Bandele looked at Tibilov. “Have you thrown your lot in with these terrorists? If so, kill me now. I’m not going to help you.”
Valans looked at Tibilov. “I told you. He’s still one of them.”
Bandele spoke in Shoresi. “No. I’m not one of them. I’m me! And I’ve had enough ukurshit to last the rest of my life, short though it may be. Let me go and live in peace; I want no part in your revolution.”
“And you!” Bandele turned to Tibilov and spoke Anglic. “You’re a fool for walking away. The only reason I’m still on Akai-, Jala, is because I’m not permitted to leave. The Exploration Service, the USS, the Union, they all fucked me. They’ll never let me leave because of what I know, and believe me, I really want to get off this shitball of a world. So, unless you can find some way to get me off Jala, I’m not going to help you.”
Tibilov pulled up another wooden chair and sat on it reversed, his arms on the back. “And with all they’ve done to you, you still cower in fear.”
“That’s right! They’ve got all the power; they can lie and manipulate events to their favor with impunity. There is no way to fight them.”
“And so you’ll die on this shitball of a world, alone. Is that what you want?”
“Of course not. I’ll get off this rock on my own.”
“Escape plan, hmmm?” Tibilov smiled. “What if I were to tell you we can fight them. We know what they’re doing here, we just need to reveal that information to the rest of the people on this planet. Once that happens, revolution will be inevitable, but we need proof.”
“And how do you propose we do that?”
“You were stationed at Forward Outpost 39 for a Jala year.”
“You know the layout of the place, the guard deployment, security features, that sort of stuff.”
“What the hell for?”
“We can get in and tap the Imperial network; input a tapeworm virus, gather information, and then get out.”
“Stupid idea. As Valans so eloquently pointed out, I stick out like a turd in a salad. The USS is watching me; I’m sure of it. One dumb move and I’m back in prison getting my ass violated. No way.”
“We can take care of the USS long enough for you to help,” Valans said.
“What about the collaborators? The Akaisha Union Militia? They have informants everywhere.”
“He’s right,” Valans said. “The Imperials stick to the garrison around Akintola, or hole up in the forward outposts, but the militia will spot him easily. It’s better he not come along; he can just give us the information.”
Tibilov sighed and looked at the Ral. “I thought you didn’t trust him?”
“Wait a minute,” Bandele said, rubbing the back of his head, “I told you, I’m not going anywhere. I need to stay here; it’s my only way off Jala.”
“Expecting rescue?” Tibilov smiled. “What would you say if we told the Union Militia or the USS you were already helping us? Or that you were planning escape? What then?”
Bandele felt the anger press against the backside of his eyeballs. “You motherfuckers!”
“We will inform on you if we need to,” Tibilov said, “but we don’t want to do that. We want you to come willingly.” He stood. “Come on, you know what the Ral have gone through and how they’re getting fucked over by the Union, just like you did. Get a little payback, Bandele. It’ll feel great.”
“I don’t want to kill anyone.” Bandele looked at Tibilov. “Do you hear me? No killing!”
“We’ll take care of that,” Valans said, “I guarantee you.”
God-damn it! How do I get mixed up in this shit! It’s true, Bandele did have some sympathy for the Ral. United Earth abandoned the Ral as soon as they liberated the world from a century spent under the claw of the Snirr. Eighty percent of the population had died during the occupation, and the Ral had to begin rebuilding their ecologically destroyed planet alone. Then the Union came and demanded loyalty, and soon were exploiting the Ral for commercial profit.
The Ral had exchanged cruel masters for rapacious ones.
But it was one secret policy that pushed some of the Ral into rebellion, a policy in direct contradiction to the very founding act of the Hominin Union.
“Fuck! Okay. I’ll help you fuck those bastards; it seems I really don’t have a choice. But you gotta help me get off this rock when the time comes. Alright?”
Tibilov smiled. “You won’t regret this, Bandele.”
“I already have, believe me.”