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Messengers of Vida flying on membranous wings to the aid of the sick. As a
child Aiah had always been afraid of the stern-faced statues with their bat
wings, rain-pitted hair, blank eyes and gaping, wordless mouths. Inside, the
smell of disinfectant cannot entirely conceal the sad scent of age and
despair: too much sickness, too much pain, over too many years.
Aiah catches a heel on a broken tile, stumbles, recovers. She makes a turn
into a room, and here is her family standing round one of the room's four
occupied beds, and a situation she needs to deal with.
'Hi there.' From the bed her cousin Esmon waves listlessly, hand bulky with
wrapped finger splints. His face is badly cut, his eyes masked by swollen
Aiah remembers the rain of boots and fists in the trackline station, the blast
of plasm fire that brought an end to the beating. Esmon hadn't any plasm
batteries to protect him. It looks as if his attackers went at him very
Aiah approaches Esmon and bends over to carefully kiss each cheek. She looks
to clasp a hand, but one is splinted, and the other, and with it the entire
forearm, is strapped into some kind of tape-swathed box. She runs her hand
over the top of his head, and her nerves flare as she sees him wince. Even
there, he's sensitive.
She remembers Esmon at the Senko's Day celebration, proud in his
green-and-gold sequinned coat, his plans to join the Griffins for next year's
parade . . .
Aiah looks up at the rest, sees her mother, her grandmother Galaiah, Esmon's
witch-lover Khorsa. 'He was attacked?' Aiah says. 'What happened exactly?'
A call from Esmon's brother Spano had come late in her work shift, and she'd
taken the rest of the shift off and rushed to the hospital, but the summons
had been short on details.
'Don't want to go into it again,' Esmon says in a thick voice.
'Gangsters,' says Galaiah in a fierce voice. 'Gangsters did this to him.'
Surprise stiffens Aiah's frame. She looks from Esmon to Galaiah and back
again. 'You've got mixed up with the Operation? Or who? The Holy League?'
'Longnose gangsters,' Galaiah says.
'Don't know it was them,' Esmon insists.
'Let's talk outside,' Khorsa says. 'I'll tell you the story.'
Doubtfully Aiah lets the witch take her arm and lead her from the room.
Another woman follows, a stranger in a red turban. As Aiah passes into the
hallway she notices that the door has gone from the hospital room, that the
doorframe holds only empty hinges. Who would steal a door} she wonders.
'This is my sister Dhival,' Khorsa says, nodding at the other woman.
Dhival, Aiah remembers, is a priestess, whereas Khorsa is a witch. She does
not know the practical difference between the two, if any.
Tiny Khorsa looks up at Aiah, bites her lip. 'It all has to do with us,' she
Aiah is not surprised. Her contact with mages of the caliber of Constantine
and Sorya has made her less impressed with back-alley witches than ever.
'Before anything else,' Aiah says, 'how is Esmon?'
Khorsa nods. 'The two men who attacked him gave him a very thorough working
over. He's sedated right now, so he's not in much pain.'
'What are the doctors doing for him?'
'We-' Khorsa corrects herself. 'I - I can afford plasm treatments, so he'll
get them starting tomorrow. The only reason they're waiting is they want to
make sure he's perfectly stable before they begin.'
There's a bitter taste in Aiah's mouth. She remembers Khorsa at the Senko's
Day party, the witch's suspicious reaction to Aiah's question about the
Operation . .. anger burns hot in Aiah's heart.
'So how have you two got involved with the Operation?' she asks.
Khorsa's eyes widen. 'We haven't,' she says.
'They've got involved with ws,' Dhival says. Her tone is bitter. 'There's this
street captain, Guvag, he's been trying to push his plasm on us, and we won't
take it. So he's had some of his thugs attack Esmon.'
Aiah isn't sure she believes this. 'You're not in debt to them? You don't
'No,' Khorsa says. 'And Esmon doesn't, either.'
'You've never bought the goods from this man? Or sold them? Or walked the
streets for him? Or anything that would give him a foot in your door?'
'No!' Khorsa insists. 'Absolutely not! That's why we wanted to talk to you -
you work for the Plasm Authority. Is there someone you know in the Authority
police that we can talk to?'
Aiah thinks for a moment. The Authority creepers, the Investigative Division,
are a separate jurisdiction that report only to the Intendant.
'No, I don't know anyone specifically,' she says. 'But I can make some
'If you could?' Khorsa says. 'And soon?'
Aiah reaches for her notebook. 'What's the man's name again? And do you have
an address for him or anything that would help me track him?'
'I don't have an address, no. But he hangs at the Shade Club on Elbar Avenue
with the others in his company.'
Aiah writes this down. 'I'll see what I can do. But the question is: will you
testify?' Khorsa and Dhival look at each other. Dhival licks her lips.
'People don't testify against the Operation,' she says.
'What if I could get you protection?'
'We'd still lose everything, wouldn't we? You couldn't protect us forever. We
couldn't keep the Temple going with the Operation after us. We'd be in hiding
for the rest of our lives.'
Aiah looks at the two. She knows what their choice will be: testify and lose
everything at once, or submit to the Operation's demands and lose everything
slowly, beginning with pride and independence and eventually everything else,
the Operation slicing off one bit after another, their money, their
possessions, eventually the Wisdom Fortune Temple itself.
'We were hoping,' Khorsa says slowly, 'that we could get Guvag arrested for
something else other than threatening us. He deals illegal plasm  maybe if we
alert the authorities to his activities he can get arrested for selling it to
someone else.'
Faint hope, Aiah thinks. She puts away her notebook. 'I'll see what I can do,'
she says. 'In the meantime, I want to see Esmon get the treatments he needs.'
Khorsa looks up at her, eyes wide. 'Of course.'
'And you might also talk to a lawyer. Find out what your options are.'
The two sisters look at each other again. Lawyers, Aiah knows, are not a part
of their world. The impersonal mechanism of the law is not something that
would ever enter their life unless they'd either been arrested or maybe
evicted. Lawyers are the enemy, as are the police and the judges, and the
thought of having one on your side is something that is perfectly alien.
Aiah puts away her notebook, i need to make a call,' she says. 'Do you know
where I can find a phone?'
Khorsa points down the hall, and Aiah follows the pointing finger. She has to
tell Constantine that he needn't send a car to pick her up for her plasm
lesson. Family emergencies, unfortunately, come first.
When Aiah leaves the hospital she returns to her office. There are fewer
demands on plasm second shift, and there's only one person in the office,
Vikar, the plump Grade Six who's inhabiting Aiah's chair during the service
shift this week. She greets him and takes Telia's chair. She jacks in her
headset, calls Compilation and Billing, and asks for Guvag's records. When
they complain, she tartly reminds them that she's working Emergency Response
and she needs the information now. Forty minutes later it arrives, tightly
rolled plastic flimsies in two message cylinders that thunk out of the message
system into her wire tray.
She reads the records and doesn't find much: Guvag doesn't use much plasm, at [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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