I suppose I should get on with my story, then.
It stems from my adventures with a friend I met in my early days working odd jobs around the port in Kobnhavn. His name is spelled Johan, so at first we would tussle when I called him Jo-Ann, but it’s pronounced “YO-hahn,” so I just started calling him “Yo.” “Yah” means yes in his grandmother’s Auld-Earth language, and he has this uncanny vocal skill he calls yodeling (kind of like singing, but loud and in a wildly-varying high pitch), so we’ve had a lot of fun and interesting conversations.
Since I seemed to have a better grasp of the duties that he did, I often found myself tasked with teaching and supervising him in order to take some of the burden off of the Portmaster. I nearly killed Johan once after he appeared to have killed himself by ignoring my directions and grabbing a live wire before I could shut off its source. I will never forget his blackened face amid the putrid, rolling smoke as I pulled his helmet off while he lay there limp.
I thought he was dead.
All I could say was “Yo?”
Well, the jerk surprised me with an enthusiastic, smiling “YAH!” The contrast of his white teeth and the whites of his freakishly-wide-open eyes against the sooty blackness of his skin and the smoky inside of his suit was startling enough that I nearly shot him. In retrospect I sometimes muse that I probably should have given him a zap from my taser, but I was so happy his anti-electric suit had done its job, and I think it would have stopped the taser too.
You have to understand something about Johan and me. You see, he’s younger, but he’s not. In theory, I’m somewhat more mature according to my body’s aging process, but Johan grew up in the Wrecks of Kobnhavn with his grandparents who survived the Catastrophe. He remembers his childhood and has learned the way I once thought I should be learning, in classes with teachers and through life’s experiences. His grandparents often tell of the Before, although they insist on speaking their own language and that it is the tongue of civilized and educated discourse. My arguments fall upon deaf ears and mocking smiles. They smugly call me “Lilly Dreng,” which is most likely something diminutive or otherwise insulting. I have resigned myself to tolerance of their somewhat pompous patronage. The one thing I hear most often from them is “Don Scary.” I wonder who this Don Scary could be that he would command such reverence from these proud, self-righteous ancients.
If their stories are true, I can understand how they came to be so officious, as they once presided over an interstellar corporation called Stjernehandel, which apparently means Star Commerce. They owned ships, BIG ships, and not just a few of them. Their company had its own bank, hospital, residences and even a construction division to build storage and shipping facilities. All of it had disappeared, been destroyed or taken away, or become hopelessly entangled in some form of politics or litigation, along with most or perhaps all of their employees, in and since the Catastrophe. The remains of many of their ships, they said, are now among the scrap piles at Gadani. Anders, Johan’s grandfather, even showed me a control console he had pulled from a burned-out hulk before selling the wrecked ship to a scrapper. Most of what he could find of his former fleet already had salvage claims on it. The rest had simply vanished into the dark, hostile expanse of space.
At many points in one of his most empassioned monologues, between references to Don Scary, he would gesture wildly, often toward me while repeating the terms “Unge oprere” and “Tomova day-day-born”. . . Again, I was certain these were not polite, and when I asked Johan, he didn’t want to tell me. A few rounds of wrestling persuaded him to disclose that his grandparents were referring to almost all current shippers, including me, as youthful, arrogant, incompetent, clumsy imbeciles.
I do like to know where I stand, but it bears mention that the old man claiming (without a shred of convincing evidence) to be a great, epic, interstellar shipping magnate was hiding behind his wife’s skirt among the ruins at a major shipbuilding station, scraping out a living, not participating in any industry himself, while this young, arrogant, ignorant, incompetent, clumsy imbecile was out traveling the stars, networking throughout the galaxy, trading, learning, building a fleet and often teaching or even employing the grandmaster shipper’s precocious grandson. That gut feeling, deep down inside, the one that told me to run from the unseen swamp monster at Amazon, the same one that told me to duck when Void was targeting me with his rifle, urged me to avoid that mention. This time, I listened to that feeling.
All of this, though, I had heard before. I knew his grandparents disliked, distrusted and disparaged me. I knew they regarded themselves highly and all others as nothing. No news here. Why had he summoned me here under such a call of urgency? What could possibly be that important. Well, as I feared, I would regret having asked for an answer.
Apparently, a Kyarr leader, known by title as Okumichosan, had sent out many of his warriors to find and capture Johan because of an unforgiven offense against Okumichosan’s favorite grand niece, Midorichan. My friend at Seishu sought me out and sternly warned me to stay out of that issue and avoid Johan at all costs.
This was not one of the times I listened to good advice (VERY good advice, mind you). I felt I knew better. I had been there when the incident had occurred. All Johan did was fling noodles indiscriminately, haplessly splatting some of them on one of Midorichan’s bridal servants. Midorichan held no grudge, but her new husband, Osasakisan was a different story entirely, and his service in return for her hand had endeared him to Okumichosan.
Every time Johan would venture out to work in the ports or the cloning stations (I chastised him for the latter), he would have to spend a large portion of his salary on bodyguards to fend off the Kyarr. In a surprising display of cunning and resolve, which impressed me enough that I agreed to help him, Johan arranged for me to meet in secret with him and Midorichan. The sum of it was that he had discovered where Osasakisan’s clones (he had four, no more, no less, and Midorichan raised an eyebrow as she told us this, as though the number were significant in and of itself) were kept, and together, we negotiated a deal, arranged by Midorichan herself (she had become displeased and dissatisfied with Osasakisan), to carry out certain unmentionable actions involving all four of Osasakisan’s clones... She had made it quite clear that Johan and I were forbidden from speaking her name among the Kyarr, so in front of Okumichosan's messenger the next day (Okumichisan would never consider meeting with one who was "nothing but a speck on the anus of a housefly"...), I was constantly wondering who else’s name I should avoid. Mostly I just kept my mouth shut and my nose to the floor as instructed, especially as I had been quite forcefully directed to get on my elbows and knees and hide my face in my hands. After the messenger left, when I was allowed to get back up on my feet, I tried to keep my eyes off of the many warriors with their hands on the hilts of their swords. As I walked away backwards, bowing in accordance with Kyarr customs, a sick feeling came over me and I began to regret making this bargain.
What had those clones done to deserve this?
Still, what would they become, and what would they do?
Could the same be said of me?
What about my son?
As I returned to Taungoo, I stepped out of the fuel-hogging Porsche as I thought about all that has happened, who I am, how unthinkable it is that a “defective” clone like me would have been allowed to live. I couldn’t shake the guilt of knowing that soon, there would be yet more blood on my hands, the blood of four of my own people.
Grim determination showed on Johan’s face as he joined me in the cloning center. We both knew what must be done. I hated what I was about to do, but we had ignored my friend’s words of wisdom, become entangled in the affairs of the Kyarr and made a bargain with a petty despot. Johan’s life (and perhaps my own) clearly hung in the balance.
An unsettling thought filled my mind as we took turns, one standing watch while the other carried out the dirtiest of deeds. I can’t even say what I did to them, and they had never harmed anyone. How was I any better than a Kyarr enforcer? Have I not become one?
It gets worse. This was all too easy. If we could do this, who else might be hired for such a task? Would this Okumichosan honor the promise of his favorite grand niece? How would we know?
The next morning, the news came out over the vid-terms in my hotel room that “a high ranking member of the community” had been killed in a traditional fashion by a rival, and that a “rare and embarrassing failure at Anima’s most famous center” had left his wife as one of the wealthiest widows in the known history of Taungoo Station. She married that rival three tenspans later, and I received a message through my friend at Seishu that “The unforgivable has been forgotten.”
“I too was once brave and foolish,” he told me calmly but angrily as he pointed his partial finger at me. “You are young today, but you will not grow old unless you learn to listen.”
“I only seek a brighter tomorrow,” I replied.
“Tomorrow?” he scoffed as he shook his head dismissively. “Tomorrow is a mystery no man will ever solve.”
Then he motioned for me to follow him, and we went into the kitchen, where a tray of noodle dishes awaited me, and with his usual blinding speed, he filled them, steaming, hot, all expected soon, as his smile returned. I pondered what I had done as I took comfort in returning to business as usual.
79 - Tomorrow is a Mystery (Part 2 of 2)