“Never confuse civility with civilization.” — Grandfather Twofeathers
Sweat trickled down Logan’s neck and crawled inside the collar of his shirt, the passive cooling in the building not nearly enough to combat the savage heat of a Baltimore summer. The whir of fans droned like a lethargic swarm of insects, stirring the fetid air ineffectually. He shifted position in a plastic chair clearly molded to provide zero comfort, his hands moist against the abrasive surface.
A heavy door to his left swung open. A man in a dark suit emerged, nodded to the secretary at the desk opposite, and hastened toward the exit. Logan jumped to his feet and strode after him.
“Mr. Twofeathers!” the secretary called after him. “I’m afraid Representative Campbell has left for the day.”
Logan hurried after Campbell as best he could. Five months since returning from Kwelengsen and his injured leg still bothered him. Campbell was quick, darting through the throng of people bustling around the USP regional offices. The large clock display floating above the main foyer showed three in the afternoon. The representative was apparently looking for an early finish. Despite his limp, Logan’s long stride allowed him to close within a couple of meters of Campbell.
“Mr. Campbell?” he called, as they approached the wide vestibule entrance. “I need a word, Representative.”
Campbell glanced over his shoulder but didn’t stop. “I’m sorry, I have an important meeting. Arrange an appointment with my secretary.”
Logan’s temper snapped, and he tapped Campbell’s shoulder. “I’ve tried. Whenever I ask, I’m told your calendar is full. I’ve been sitting outside your office every day for over a week, and you will talk to me.”
Campbell finally stopped, turning to face him. “Who do you think you are? You can’t simply accost someone in this manner. Why, I could have you detained.” His features twisted into an even more dour expression.
“My name is Logan Twofeathers.”
Campbell’s mouth opened slightly, then closed again. “You’re that one. The settlement. Kweleng-something.”
“I want to know what plans there are to recover the people we had to leave behind.” His voice was tight, his chest constricting at the thought of Aurore and the others they’d inadvertently abandoned on Kwelengsen. “Everyone tells me I need to talk to the USP. You’re the district representative.”
“That’s outside my remit.” Campbell squeezed a smile across his narrow face. “Take it up with CESA.”
“I did. They directed me to the World Congress.”
“Then I suggest you contact them, Mr. Twofeathers. Good day.”
Before Campbell could move, Logan grabbed his arm. “I’ve done that too. They told me it was an individual jurisdictional matter and I should contact my USP representative. So here I am.”
They were as stationary as rocks in a river, while people swept by like the tumult of a stream flowing around them. Logan released his hold on Campbell, but only after stepping around to block his way out.
“This is outrageous. This isn’t some backward colony. There are procedures and rules here, Mr. Twofeathers.”
“I’d rather you didn’t use that word.” Logan’s jaw tightened. “We were a settlement, not a colony. And there was nothing backward about how we managed our affairs, or the illegal invasion by Corporate forces.”
“I’ve heard of you. You’ve been causing trouble for quite some time.” Campbell’s lips were a tight line. “Trying to drum up a stink to embarrass the administration. As you are well aware, negotiations with the Corporates over the Urafiki system and Kwelengsen are ongoing. This is a delicate matter. You would be smart to leave it to the professionals and not make further waves. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to meet my wife and attend my granddaughter’s ballet recital.”
So much for the important meeting. “Do you love your wife, Mr. Campbell?”
“Of course I do. What game are you playing now?”
“I imagine you wouldn’t want anything to happen to her.”
“Is that a threat?” Campbell’s eyes widened. “What have you done to her?”
“I haven’t done anything. My wife is stuck on Kwelengsen. For all I know she’s fighting for her life, or possibly a prisoner being tortured by Corporate soldiers. How would you feel if your wife was in that position?”
“Guards!” Campbell glanced around. Several people had stopped to watch the quarrel. “Security!”
Logan looked over to the now-empty security desk. Two burly men in gray-blue uniforms were already pushing through the crowd toward them. “I guess I’m not smart.”
One guard marched up close, while the other held back, his hand on the grip of his Shock-Wand.
“Is there a problem here, Representative?”
“This person has assaulted and threatened me and is keeping me from an important appointment.”
The security officer looked Logan up and down, as though he were examining a piece of unsightly trash that had blown in off the street. “You can leave now, sir. We’ll take care of this gentleman.”
“You haven’t heard my side,” said Logan.
The officer sneered. “I’ve heard all I need to. We don’t like troublemakers here. Especially noisy boys who think they have a special right to throw their weight around.”
“Thank you, Jerry.” Campbell side-stepped Logan and started toward the wide entrance.
Logan tried to follow, but the security guard blocked him, his name tag flashing in the sunlight coming through the high glass windows.
“Officer Bortoft. I’ve been waiting to speak to Mr. Campbell for a week, this is—”
“Well, I guess you’re gonna have to wait another week.” Bortoft’s square face contorted in what was possibly meant to be a smile, but made him look like a bulldog chewing something unpleasant. “Behind bars, if you take one more step.”
“Everything okay, Jerry?” The other guard moved closer, hand ready on the Wand.
“My dad used to tell me he could sniff out punks from the far side of a room. Think the old guy was part coonhound, you know.” Bortoft leaned forward. He was tall, but not enough to look down on Logan. “Think I musta inherited it. ‘Cos this boy sure smells like a crim to me.”
“I’m not your boy,” Logan said quietly. “If you’ll step out of my way, I’ll return tomorrow.”
“You think you can just wander around threatening people?”
“I didn’t threaten anyone. It was a misunderstanding.”
The second guard edged closer. “You know something, Jerry. This guy looks familiar. I’ve seen him somewhere before.”
Bortoft took a step forward, his chest hitting Logan’s and forcing him to stumble back. “Why would that be then, boy? You on the wanted lists? That’s the only place Randy might have seen you.”
“I’m a Kwelengsen refugee.” Logan’s words were soft. He needed to be careful. Getting locked up would help no one.
“Well, really?” Bortoft scoffed. “Seems we got ourselves a spaceman. Do you believe that, Randy?”
“Heard every excuse under the sun when I was in the PD.” Randy laughed.
“Well now, Mr. Spaceman, why don’t you jump back on your spaceship and head out to the stars?”
Bortoft pulled his Shock-Wand from its clip and butted the tip firmly into Logan’s stomach. The wand wasn’t activated, though the security guard’s thumb hovered over the button.
Logan stood his ground, but his eyes narrowed. “I’m not looking for trouble. All I wanted was to talk to the representative.”
“Too bad, sonny.” Randy moved alongside him. “‘Cos it found you.”
Randy appeared older than Bortoft, and similarly beefy, though his face was turning jowly. Logan spotted a faded BPD shield tattooed on the man’s forearm. An Argus microdrone buzzed close, flying around the trio as if looking for the best viewing angle.
“I’ve committed no crime,” he said, knowing the drone would be recording them. “Nor am I resisting, and as a citizen of the USP, I’d like to leave.”
“Thought you were a spaceman?” Bortoft sneered.
“We should take him in,” Randy said. “This guy seems confused. I think he’s a full-on bean catcher.”
Bortoft cocked his head to one side. “That so? You like the old Neo-Nuggets, boy?”
“I don’t do drugs, and I’m displaying no signs of intoxication. If you—”
“On your knees,” Bortoft snarled.
Before Logan could object, he crumpled to the floor as an agony-filled blast ripped through his thighs. Randy had pulled out his Shock-Wand, and whipped it across the back of his legs. He was dimly aware of Randy brandishing his Wand above his head, ready to strike again.
Raising his head, Logan tried to speak, but a searing burn tore through his neck and left shoulder as Bortoft jammed the Wand against his neck and activated it. Logan instinctively lashed out, catching Bortoft in his midriff and sending him sprawling.
Randy’s response was slow, perhaps as a result of his greater age, but he stabbed his Wand at Logan’s spine in an attempt to subdue him fully. Instead, Logan grabbed the Wand, avoiding the terminals, and tore it from the older guard’s grip, sending him tumbling back.
Logan pushed himself up from the ground using the Wand as support, then hobbled toward the door, his legs like rubber after the neural stimulation of the pain receptors.
“Stop him!” one of the guards called, but he couldn’t identify which. He shook his head to clear the buzzing from the blow to his neck. Luckily, there were no heroes in the crowd, and instead of stopping him, they cleared out of the way as he staggered forward. Several of them screamed as he approached wielding the Shock-Wand.
Outside was quiet, the panic and tension not having spilled from the building yet. The sidewalk was almost empty and reflected the heat back up at him in waves. Logan hurried across the scarred and broken blacktop and climbed the short banking into Patterson Park. The park had been a NeverSee refuge for decades. Hopefully, he could lose himself in the mass of hovels set up by the homeless who’d taken over the area after society failed them.
A thin pall of smoke hovered in the air from numerous small fires. Each trail carried with it the rancid smell of cooking food, like rotten cabbage. A shout sounded behind him, and he ducked left behind one of the larger piles of cardboard. A figure sat cross-legged on the other side, dirty rags and a grimy red hat making it impossible to see them clearly.
“Easy, big guy. This is my patch.” Red hat gestured wildly at the Shock-Wand. “Hey, man. No. Don’t want no trouble. Ain’t done nothing. Ain’t got nothing.”
Logan crouched low. “Don’t worry—only passing through.”
Several more shouts carried across the park. The security guards must be rousting the NeverSees, looking for him.
“Filth?” Red hat grunted. “You on the lam?”
“They’re looking for me, yes.”
A pair of shiny black eyes flashed amid the greasy hair and rags, then the man reached inside the cardboard hutch and tossed something out. It was a thin blanket, similar to those the red-hatted man was wrapped in. Logan nodded and threw it over him poncho-style. The worn cloth reeked of something unidentifiable and unpleasant, but he was grateful for the offering nevertheless.
“Now, beat it,” Red hat growled.
Rising to his feet, Logan ambled north toward Butchers Hill, keeping his head bent and hoping not to stand out from the NeverSees. As he moved, he reflected on the contradiction that it was often the people who had the least who were the most generous.
The park was long past its glory days. Most of the grass was gone, leaving large, bare patches of soil mottled with the remains of dead or shriveled trees. What once must have been a pleasant place for family recreation now a dried husk—a fading monument to a life that existed long before the ravages of uncontrolled climate change.
He passed the remnants of a broken-down pavilion, then turned left, heading toward the avenue that skirted the west side of the park, hoping to pick up a bus to take him back to his hotel. As he crossed a wider paved trail, he heard another shout and glanced back—Bortoft had come the same way and spotted him.
Tearing the rag away to make movement easier, Logan ran. Beyond the avenue was a nest of old brick buildings and residential streets offering the possibility of escaping the stubbornly persistent guard. He passed through another cluster of hovels, creating howls and cries of derision.
Behind him, Bortoft screamed for the NeverSees to get out of his way. Logan hastened across the road, slowing as the pain in his leg intensified. It hadn’t healed fully since he’d injured it on Kwelengsen. There was the buzz of a Shock-Wand and a sharp yell. He looked back to see Bortoft face down in the dirt, four NeverSees circling him.
One man dropped a fist-sized rock, then grabbed a bunch of items from a nearby hovel and sprinted away. After a few seconds, the others dispersed into the depths of the encampment. Logan limped back to the guard and bent to check him. There was a small amount of blood seeping from an abrasion on Bortoft’s scalp, but his pulse was strong. He was in no real danger.
Logan headed down the street opposite and made several random turns, only slowing when his leg threatened to give way underneath him. Once he was far enough from the park to not be immediately associated with any trouble there, he pulled out his Scroll and called an AeroCab company. He hadn’t committed any crimes, except annoying callous people puffed up by self-importance, but the Argus evidence would be against him. At least it would show he hadn’t hurt the guard. Despite that, he was out of options. The only one left was equal parts deranged, bold, and misguided. But he had no choice.