OPENING STATEMENT:TERESE DRAJESKE
Recorded for inclusion in official Public Opinion records relating to Criminal Proceeding United World Government for Earth vs. Amerand Jireu, according to Justice Department Statute 4, sec. 5, para 9.
This record is official evidence. Any alteration is a felony.
I am Terese Drajeske. Obviously, in this format, there is no way I can offer you definitive proof of this. You must either take my word for it, or switch out.
I was the Guardian Field Commander during what has come to be known as the Erasmus Takedown. A lot has been said about that mission and my part in it. I don’t know if this will set the record straight, or add to the controversy, but this is my memory of that time. I cannot swear that it is accurate or unbiased, only that it is mine.
“We need you to come back. Bianca’s dead.”
That was how it started for me. A few words, and Misao Smith’s familiar voice.
I stood there, staring at my hand set while those words sank through brain and blood to tangle around my guts. Behind me, the noise from Allie’s twenty-fifth birthday dinner kept on. We were holding it on our glassed-in balcony. Outside, Lake Superior’s turbulent waters were as iron grey as the low blanket of clouds overhead. Allie sat at the head of the confetti littered table, laughing that odd hiccoughing laugh she’s had ever since she was four while Jo and Dale gave each other shit about…something.
Any second now, David was going to tell the two of them to calm down. Then they’d start giving the old man shit for treating them like they were all still four.
I hadn’t switched the screen on. I remember being vaguely grateful for the oversight. This way, my family wouldn’t see who interrupted Allie’s day.
I hadn’t seen Bianca for nearly four decades, but I hadn’t forgotten her for a single day. She was my first mentor in the Guardians, and my best friend for my entire service.
“Terese?” asked Misao cooly.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m still here.” Mostly. Part of me stood beside Bianca, seeing her toss her hair back over her shoulder, like she did when she was getting serious. Nothing could convince her to cut that hair, even though it constantly got in her way.
“I can’t tell you on this set.” Misao’s voice was flat, final, and annoyed.
I pinched the bridge of my nose hard, trying to get the pain to focus me. My hand started to twitch. In another second I’d be shaking. The happy family noises all fell away. David and the kids had noticed something was wrong.
I could hear Misao let out a long sigh. His trademarked sound of straining patience. “Will you come in?”
The thousand things I could say flashed through my mind. Misao, it’s my kid’s birthday, for God’s sake! What happened! Tell me what happened! No! I’m done with this. I promised them all I was done!
Silence behind me. Silence on the hand set. Pain setting in from how hard I was clenching the thing, covering over the pain that echoed back through my head from not enough years ago.
But I switched off and turned away. My whole family was staring at me.
My family. My life and heart distributed among four separate lives. Dark, intense Allie, back from Hong Kong on the space plane to celebrate turning twenty-five and getting her first independent design contract at the same time. Today was a private dinner, just the family. Tomorrow she’d be out with her friends doing things I suspect I still wouldn’t want to know about. Jo, our middle child, had dyed herself white to stand out in our little crowd. She affected a sharp and cynical tongue while delving more deeply into bioethics at university than I would have believed possible. Dale, my youngest, my son, the earth-brown image of his father with his father’s eyes set in his handsome, young face. Just accepted into Berlin Polytechnic, Dale had decided on ephemeral engineering and was attacking the program in his quiet, methodical fashion which leaves people either impressed or mystified.
It never ceases to amaze me to see the blend of David and myself in these three. Like most of humanity, I have dusky skin, a color somewhere between forest earth and shore sand. My brown eyes have gold flecks that I had been born with, although nobody believes me. I’ve always been short, and never really felt the need to do anything about it. When I left active duty as a Guardian, I’d let my body go. Deliberately. Happily, until I became a woman of ample thighs, soft hips and generous bosom. Unlike Bianca, I kept my hair short because I didn’t like the bother, but not so short that it wouldn’t curl. David liked to have something to run his fingers through. It was still black. I’m not vain, I don’t think, but I’m not a naturalist either, so I wiped out the grey. I’d kept all my facial lines though: the laughter and frown lines, the bags under my eyes from sleepless nights, and the crinkles at the corners from the smiles that came with all the children. Those lines were my living map of thirty years of peace and plenty. Thirty years of calm and healing, with David at the center of it.
David stood up and walked round the table. My husband. Tall, lean, with clear golden skin, a full mouth, and eyes that got him through college as a photo-original for people looking for avatar models. His black hair is going grey, and he’s letting it. Closet naturalist, that’s my man. My heart ached with the sudden painful overflow of love that sometimes comes when you see the lynchpin of your life.
“What’s happened? Who was that?”
I couldn’t answer. I just held out the set and he saw the name. He sucked in his breath sharply. Behind us, all the kids cast glances at each other. There gets to be a kind of telepathy in a family. There are words you stop needing to say. In ours they were “the Guardians.”
“They want me to go in tomorrow,” I said.
“Terese…” He drew my name out into a warning.
I tried to dismiss it. “Misao won’t let me alone until I hear them out, David. The sooner I do, the sooner I can tell him to…bug off.” My voice was far weaker than I wanted it to be, a fact which David did not miss.
“What else did he say?”
I met his gaze, oddly helpless. “Bianca.”
And he knew the rest. Family telepathy is strongest between husbands and wives. Especially after thirty years. Now he knew as much as I did, because he heard the catch in my voice and saw the tears at the corner of my eyes.
David folded me in his arms. His hand rested on the back of my head to hold me that much closer. I closed my eyes, breathing in his scent, willing myself to sink into his warmth and remain solidly in the safe, whole present. But my mind wouldn’t let go. I kept seeing Bianca; dark, stout, stubborn, Bianca, with her gleaming eyes. Smart, fast, ruthless, fearless. Canny in ways I couldn’t begin to match. Where had she been deployed? I didn’t know. I’d lost track. When the hell had I started losing track?
“Come on.” David kissed the top of my head. “We haven’t cut the cake yet.”
“Right. Right.” I wiped at my eyes and attempted to smile at my children, none of whom smiled back. I sat down at our table and handed Allie the knife. The cake was hyper-traditional in the old North American style, with pink icing and roses and HAPPY BIRTHDAY spelled out in red. But the party was really over, and we all knew it.
Even then, before anything had really happened, we all knew it. Family telepathy.
Four in the morning. I couldn’t sleep and I was back in the dining room. We turned off the noise filters at night, so I could hear Lake Superior’s waves rushing up to the shore. The late November wind muttered out there, piling up the heavy clouds. The weight of the air told me there snow rode on the back of that wind. The moon had gone down, and the windows were utterly black. I could see myself clearly; a faded ghost in a satin robe wavering in the depths of the black glass. I smiled grimly at the thought. By rights, I should have been a ghost by now. I lifted my hand and rubbed behind my ear; the very bottom curce of the skull. There was nothing but smooth skin there now, but I still carried the harsh memory of the wound and the pain, where they’d cut out my Companion.
The Companion is the tool and back-up each field officer in the Guardians is given just in case they are captured in a war zone. The Companion is a friend, a reminder, a helper and, if you’re extremely unlucky, he or she is the witness to your death.
They are also one of the few secrets the Guardians actually keep. I should say kept, I suppose. They’re certainly not a secret anymore.
Four decades ago, I was captured and I was tortured in what we refer to in the Guardians as a “hot spot,” in my case, the Ressurection Uprising. I was tossed in a dark cell and dragged out on occasion so I could be made to experience a lot of pain. My captors managed to detect my Companion and when they did, they cut it out of me, quickly, brutally. Then they tossed me back into the dark.
It was Bianca who rescued me. She pulled me out of that black hole of a cell. She saved my life. That’s what made this so bad. Bianca was dead, and not only was I not there to save her, I didn’t even know she had been in danger.
The sound of Dale’s snoring cut through all my heavy thoughts, and accompanied by the soft breathing of the heat pump. Something beeped in the kitchen. Something in the living room pinged as if in answer.
Night noises. Home noises.
When does a house become home? It isn’t just the passage of time. It isn’t even how the memories accumulate like a layer of dust on the shelves. It comes when the walls behind you have, without real planning, become the place for the pics, certificates, diplomas, and mementos that are the journal of family life. Even then there’s something more, something in how a nick on the edge of the plain wooden table can make you smile, or how you feel pride in looking at the china cabinet because you remember hauling it home from the reuse sale with the help of three overly-enthusiastic kids.
This wasn’t the first place David and I lived together, or even the third. We’d married in the middle of what you could call unsettled times in our lives. We were both well into our second centuries, that time when most people had officially launched from their second families and were starting to build their third. David had left his birth family and tried a marriage family, but it hadn’t gone anywhere and he hadn’t tried again. I’d just gotten back from the unmitigated disaster of the Resurrection Uprising, and was trying to create something I could call normality as fast as I possibly could. He found me fascinating, in a wounded-bird kind of way. I found him wonderful, in a life-line kind of way. It was mutual need that passed for love, and we got married.
Under those conditions, we’d moved around a lot. Bangkok. Moscow. San Francisco. We had an apartment up the Adas Apaba cable for awhile, and then there was the year down in Marianas. It was there, we, or rather I, hit bottom literally as well as figuratively. David threatened to leave, which finally got me into the kind of treatment, both mental and physical, that I’d been refusing for years.
When I got out, we found this place in the middle of Lake Superior. Whitecap was a new, small town on a new, small island. We both craved the peace and quiet, but just for a little while. We didn’t think we’d stay. This time, though, the need broadened and deepened. Against the odds, all the tumultuous feelings turned into real love, for this place and for each other. We built and added and accumulated and stored. We found out which restaurants we both liked and where the good doctors and stylists were. There were more exciting places to be, and some even more beautiful, but we were settled. Settled enough that when the house-doctor put up the flag one morning that I was carrying our first child, we did nothing but celebrate.
I heard a step on the bare floor and straightened, instantly alert, even though I knew there was no physical danger for me in this place. Some instincts do not go away. David’s ghost moved to join mine in the black glass, getting closer, until I could feel his warmth against my skin and his breath as it stirred my hair.
“Do you think it’s because of the Erasmus System?” he asked. Picking conversations back up, even after hours of silence, is something he’s always done.
“It’s got to be. There’s got to be at least a dozen hot spots out there right now, but that’s the only one I’m doing analysis on right now.” I’d completely failed to hold any other kind of job since I left active duty, but could manage a decent living for the government as a historical analyst.
We were silent for awhile. There was only one question in his solemn eyes, and I waited for him to ask it.
“Why are they calling you in? You could give them all your current analysis over the set.”
“I don’t know.” What I didn’t say was how much it scared me that Misao had called at all. If things were stretched so thin that the Guardians were calling in thirty year retirees…it meant that somewhere in one of those dozen hot spots I knew about, plus any new ones I might not, we were close to the brink of actual war.
War. The nightmare we’d banished from the solar system with the Pax Solaris, the Common Cause Covenant, and the Laws of Humanity. The ancient, perverse, pervasive nightmare I’d dedicated my life to preventing as human beings spread themselves out into the living galaxy. The effort nearly took my sanity and my life. I’d tried to retire, to enjoy the peace I’d helped to keep, and now it had come down to find me. I looked up at the clouds, and wondered what was behind them. I shuddered.
“You could refuse,” said David. I didn’t even have to respond to that. David’s mouth twisted up. Distaste, or just frustration? I couldn’t tell, and that bothered me.
“I’m sorry, David.” Sorry for being what I was. Sorry for not having worked harder to crush that last little stone in my heart that still had the word DUTY carved on it. It hurt, that stone, and I wanted it gone.
I faced David, putting my back to the darkness outside the house and inside my own thoughts. My husband was a little sad, and a little worried. I had to tilt my head far back to look into his eyes and my chest constricted. I love you. I told him silently. I love you so much I don’t know what to do.
“Maybe it was always borrowed time anyway,” I murmured. “Maybe we should just be grateful for what we’ve had.”
“Don’t you say that,” he whispered fiercely. “We did not borrow our life together. We earned it. We fought for it.”
He wrapped me in his arms and I leaned against him so my ear pressed against his heart. It beat in a soft, steady counterpoint to the rhythm of the waves outside. He reached into my pocket so he could hold my hand. As he felt how cold it was, he squeezed it gently.
“Come back to bed,” he breathed in my ear.
“Hon, if I haven’t slept by now, I’m not going to.”
“So we won’t sleep. Come back to bed.”
I let him steer me back to our room, past the sounds of our sleeping offspring. I let him thumb the privacy screen into place, turning the threshold opaque and sound-proof, and come to me. I let him peel my robe slowly off my shoulders and send it whispering down to the floor so we could be skin to skin with the sound of the wind and the waves all around us. I let him stroke me and touch me until I didn’t care what was waiting on the other side of night’s darkness, as long as I had this moment now and David’s warmth beneath my hands.
And in the end, I did sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I’d managed to deal with the guilt and fear by becoming righteously angry. What the hell did Misao think he was doing, calling me up on my daughter’s birthday and then not telling me the full reason why? If he thought he could just interrupt my life any time he felt like it, he’d learn different. He could just wait until I was damn good and ready to see him.
So, I lingered with my family. David made a his classic slow-recovery breakfast: waffles with butter and maple syrup, or ice cream, if you wanted it, which the kids invariably did, except for Jo who ate her waffles naked to prove one of her more esoteric points. Don’t ask me which one. There was also bacon, and stewed apples. Not even Jo turned those down. I drank a third cup of coffee while talking about nothing much with the kids.
I felt Bianca’s eyes on me the whole time. Her dead gaze made a pressure that started right in the back of my skull, all the way through to that black hole behind my eye. I ignored it as best I was able. If I wasn’t successful, the kids didn’t say anything. Neither did David.
Jo was leaving that day. Allie and Dale were staying over. Jo and I would take the cable to Ashland. I’d say good by to her at the ‘port there, and then catch bullet train down to Chicago. That would put me at the office at about five o’clock. If Misao wanted to badger me for an extra long time, he’d have to go hungry to do it, and serve him right…
I’m a liar.
This is what was really going on:
I was scared. I was doing everything I could not to admit that. I was afraid of what would happen once I walked back into that building, of what I would think and feel once I heard what the emergency was, and how Bianca had died. I didn’t want to leave my family. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I would have looked any of them in the eye and sworn this was true, as we sat around the chipped, stained dining table, stuffing food that was going to mean an extra cholesterol-flush for me and David, and laughing at jokes that were over a decade old. I would have meant it with every fiber in my being. I would not leave them.
But there was that stone in my heart and Bianca’s cold gaze on the back of my neck, and neither one would go away.
“Your eye’s twitching.”
I jerked my head around and stared at Jo. She pulled an “oh, MO-ther!” face back at me. We stood on the transit platform, waiting for the cable bus with our small packs on our shoulders and our luggage piled around us. The lake winds whipped outside the station’s transparent shields. In here, we were toasty warm and could safely watch the gale raging across Lake Superior. Jo and I had the platform to ourselves. The nervous wouldn’t take the cables on a day like this, but I sort of liked it. I liked the iron grey sky and the waters dancing beneath the wind. I liked seeing the rebirth and survival, plenty and peace that all that water symbolized.
Wars had once been fought over the water in the Great Lakes. Nasty little wars, with smuggling and sabotaged pipelines, and starving locals and slave labor. Now my family lived peacefully on an artificial island in the middle of it, where the architects went in for tempered glass and molded wood, because you only lived out in the middle of Lake Superior for the view, so they wanted to make sure you got as much of it as possible.
The grey waters surged below us, but in the distance we could see the deep greens and reds of forested cliffs. Soon, they’d be white with snow, like a line of clouds caught between sky and water. The crystal winter days were the most beautiful to me. Even more than the blazing colors of autumn.
“So, are you going to tell me who Bianca is?”
I had to stare at Jo again. This was no good. I was drifting. I needed to focus, keep angry and separate. Not sink into my surroundings.
Jo folded her arms. She wore red and black to contrast with her starkly ivory skin. Her long white hair was piled in elaborate red-tipped ringlets on top of her head. She’d eschewed a hat, but was muffled deep in a black coat. Slim red boots encased her legs and a red scarf did more to call attention to her slender throat than keep it warm. I wouldn’t call the look beautiful, but it was arresting, as arresting as her words.
“Dad always told us never to ask, about the Guardians, about anything,” Jo went on. “He told us to let you make your peace with it. That was your business. Making peace.” She cocked her head. “How’s that working out?”
“Jo…” I began, but the cable bus pulled in; a string of colorful, flexible cars hung on the white spider web that stretched from tower to tower over the choppy waters.
The doors slipped open and a few passengers climbed out. We stepped in, presenting our palms to the door monitors to register our IDs and deduct the fare from the appropriate accounts, and make sure our luggage got checked through to our ultimate destinations. I made my way to a spot by the window, took off my small pack and tucked it in the holder in front of me. No crystal clear day outside today; just grey. Rain drops smacked against the window, showing minute ice crystals in each tiny puddle.
Ugly weather, settling in for the long haul. How metaphoric.
“You were saying?” Jo plunked herself down beside me, resting her pack on her knees.
The pain was starting up; a steady throb behind my right ear. “Never mind.”
The car lurched slightly and started forward. In less than a minute, we were gliding above the waters, heading swiftly and smoothly toward the shore.
I love travel. I love the space between actions, and the suspension of responsibility that comes from being no place real. But my daughter was in no mood, it seemed, to let me be loose for even a minute.
“Never mind your never mind,” she snapped. “Are you going to tell me who Bianca is?”
I sighed. Stubborn girl. Stubborn woman. How very like her mother, David would have said, had said, more than once.
“Bianca is…was…a data tracker.”
“What, like an analyst?”
Annoyance pricked me. How could she not know this? Then, I remembered. It was because I had consistently refused to talk about it with her, or any of the others. And while the guardians make a great show of not keeping any more secrets than is strictly necessary, we also don’t go around advertising our ranks and specialties.
They don’t. I meant they, not we.
“A data tracker is a kind of analyst,” I said, lacing my fingers together. “Bianca looked at data flow, ephemeral or solid, in context. A whole world’s worth of it, if she had access. Years of it, if necessary. When she was done, she could locate the critical decision points in real time; people, news sources, gossips, whatever. If you could control or turn the points she gave you you’d cool down any hot spot within a few weeks. She was always right. Always.”
“You didn’t have an AI that could do that?”
“Not the way she could.” I smiled a little, remembering the glint in Bianca’s eyes and the knife-sharp twist to her grin that came when she finally had the answer.
Got’cha, she’d whisper to the screen, or the page. You’re mine now. “Bianca could practically feel the current of human thought. She knew who was listening to their kid, their husband, their lover. Give her a week in a place where she knew the language, and she’d know which gossip influenced which listener, and how the listening line tracked to the center of the power structure, no matter how deep the real power was hidden. It was spooky.”
It took Jo a moment to digest this. She scrunched down into her coat, and watched the evergreen-crowned coast getting closer. “Were you friends?” she asked at last.
“What?” I’d heard every word and I still somehow couldn’t manage to understand what she said.
Jo leaned forward, thrusting her chin out, and speaking very, very slowly. “She did what she did, and she was really good at it. Okay. Got that. Were you friends?”
I blinked. How did you explain your relationship with someone who had been under your command for more than two decades, even though they were older than you, and better than you?
How do you explain your relationship with someone who saved your life?
“Yes,” I said, because it was easiest. “We were friends.”
“Then I’m sorry you lost her.” Jo slumped back, satisfied, for the moment.
“Thank you,” I said with overly-bland graciousness. I watched Jo jiggle her leg up and down, tapping her heel on the floor in uneasy rhythm. She wasn’t done yet.
“Was that what you did? When you were in the Guardians? Were you a data tracker too?”
I sighed. I had no one to blame but myself for this interrogation. “No. I was a Field Commander. A coordinator.”
“Dad never told us,” she said pointedly.
“No,” I agreed.
Her leg bounced up and down, and the red boot heel went rat-a-tap. My eye twitched. Another sound hovered on the edge of memory. I felt it grate against my eardrums and on the tip of my spine. Rat-a-tat. I smelled burning.
“It never went away though,” Jo was saying. “The Guardians. It just sort of hung in the air all the time, like when you can’t figure out where that smell is coming from.”
That smell. The burning. I knew where it came from; from the past, and it threatened to pull me back. Stay here. Stay here with your daughter. I sighed. “All right, Jo. You’re right. We should have told you. I’m sorry.”
She didn’t believe me, but she went quiet, and for the moment that was all I wanted. I’d be sorry for this later. I was sorry for it now. I should have gone alone. My family had no part of this. Misao had no business calling me when I couldn’t keep it secret from them.
The cable bus let us off at the Ashland International Transit Port. The port surged with people, robot carts and security drones. The rumple and roar of the ‘planes pressed down against the tidal-rush of thousands of voices.
I hugged my white daughter at the archway covering the space between the train platforms and the entrance to the ‘plane gates. Jo hugged me back, pressing her face against my shoulder, and I felt the love surging out of her, warmth into my cold. I held her there for a long moment, and she let me.
Then, she pulled back, holding me at arm’s length. You could see the little girl who was still inside, if you knew how to look behind the sophisticated shield in her pale blue eyes.
“You’ll call, right?” she asked earnestly. “You won’t go without calling?”
“I’m not going anywhere, Jo.”
I regretted my words instantly, because her face twisted up in disbelief. Without another word, she turned away and waded into the crowd, finding her way confidently and not looking back once.
I stood where I was while all the warmth from her embrace turned to an extra layer of ice inside.
I could have turned back then. I could have said it wasn’t worth it and gone home. I was retired. I was free. This war, if it was a war, was for other people. I was too old, too wounded, too long retired.
I got onto the bullet and sat in the lounge with a cup of coffee and a shot of bourbon and watched the green and grey blur of the scenery streak by.
Was she a friend?
People don’t talk much about the power and the need of friendship. It all gets hung up with sexual expectations. We don’t talk about the hundred thousand delicate threads that connect you to another person, the connections that mean you are not alone, that allow you to carry your past comfortably and enter the future easily; the bleary conversations at four in the morning that you’d rather forget about; the sudden emergencies where others rallied round for you, the times you teamed up to help a third friend; the housesitting and the lunches, the moves and the help with tests, and troubles; the vacations and the parties, the way one face, one personality becomes completely woven into the fabric of your life..
It is its own kind of love. It doesn’t need sex to make it steel strong, diamond strong.
Bianca was my mentor when I joined the Guardians. I did my first Grand Tour with her, where we made a circuit of the colonies, stopping on all the worlds there were humans. Just to check in. Just to see. Mostly we were doing oversight on the Guardian outposts, the aid agencies, or the embassies, while at the same time checking up on our own to make sure they were not cooking the books, or taking bits off the local economy. At her side, I learned about the widening expanse of humanity, about what happens to us when we go back to the beginning, about what happens to us outside the framework of the Pax Solaris.
It turned out Bianca had timed her tour so she’d be getting back just in time for her Turnover. This was her fourth, and part of the purpose of the tour, she said, was to see if she wanted to stay in the Guardians enough to take the required cuts in pay and rank.
There are a lot of problems with functional immortality. Among them is the risk that rank and wealth, and consequently privelige will concentrate in the hands of people who will never let go of it. So, we set conditions. Every human being gets 300 years, if they want them. Some don’t. I never understood the short time philosophies, but okay, your choice. After that, every one hundred years, you must go through Turnover. You assets are sold, or given away, outside your family, or the are seized. You must resign your job. If you want to take the same post up again, it is at a junior rank, with the pay of that junior rank. The audits on Turnover are strict. Whatever the XPs make it look like, what David and the other Immortality Infractions Investigators spend most of their time going over accounting minutia.
At the end of that tour, Bianca took me aside and told me she was going to stay in the guard, and when I got my assignment, she was going to put in for my unit. Would I mind?
I remembered how my throat closed down and I had to swallow several times before I could speak.
She did it too. It took us some time to find our feet again. Some time, and one amazing scene where I had to dress her down like a greenstick academy grad. I have always wondered if she had arranged it so I would stop being terrified of giving her orders. She denied it, and continued to do so for years, but I still wonder.
On the other hand, Bianca was perfectly capable of acting like an idiot. She had the downside of immortality and had it in spades. There were days when she thought she really did know better than the rest of the universe, a fact which had gotten her, and me, into trouble before. But I had gone where she led, each and every time, even when I could see what was coming, because she would have done the same for me.
I drank my drink and stared out at the world and wondered what the hell my friend was leading me this time.