The Arrivals, Page 2Melissa Marr
“Are you feeling any better?” he asked.
“What were you thinking?” His sister stomped into the room, stopping beside the tiny table where he sat.
Jack gestured at the empty chair, but Katherine stood with her hands on her hips and her lips pressed into a tight line. When she didn’t move, he said, “Mary slept here most nights lately. It seemed right for her to wait here now.”
Katherine’s temper visibly deflated, and she sank into the chair across from him. “Damn it, Jack. You can’t ever let anyone help you, can you?”
He poured her drink and slid it to her. “So it would be easier on you?”
His sister let her breath out in a loud sigh. “No, but—”
“Let this one go, Katherine.” Jack concentrated on his whiskey, taking a sip and letting it roll over his tongue. It wasn’t precisely as bad as the swill they’d served up in saloons in California, but it wasn’t the expensive stuff either. He didn’t remember the last time he’d had truly good whiskey—or the money to buy it. The Arrivals worked mostly for the governor or for private citizens in the Wasteland. They weren’t ever flush with cash. That said, Jack took pride in the fact that they worked for the good of the Wasteland. The jobs they took were ones that bettered their world, paid next to nothing—and irritated Ajani, the power-grabbing despot who was steadily destroying the Wasteland.
“The brethren didn’t seem to take offense at anything before they opened fire,” Katherine said, pulling Jack’s attention away from whiskey, finances, and politics.
“I had the same thought when I was mulling things over,” Jack allowed. Even though death wasn’t always forever in the Wasteland, there were some things that were as predictable here as they’d been back in California. One unchanging truth was that meetings didn’t suddenly change from peace to bullets unless there was a reason—or treachery.
“So . . . ?” Katherine’s fingers tapped in an impatient rhythm on the table.
“I’m going to see Governor Soanes; he’s still over in Covenant for a few days. The lindwurm job will wait till after . . .” Jack glanced at Mary. “I’ll see the governor, be back here before the sixth day, and then we’ll get back to work.”
“You know I’m not going to let you go to Covenant without me.” Katherine stared at him and sipped her drink as if she were calm.
But Jack had played poker with her, taught her the first of her tricks for handling the mood of a table, so he knew when she was digging in her heels. “Edgar won’t be happy if you go out without him the day after you were injured,” Jack said, “and I need him here.”
Katherine shrugged. “So tell him to stay here.”
“Spells leave you useless for a fight,” he said evenly.
“And you’re useless at spells. You need me on this one, Jackson. Just a shooter isn’t enough, or you’d be arguing more.”
Jack had tried to think of a better solution while he’d sat in the dark with his drink and his dead lover, but she was right. For most jobs, he had shooters aplenty. The Arrivals were all people who’d been on the wrong side of ethical at one point. Katherine had been a gambler and fancy woman, and Jack had been a gambler and shootist in his day. Early on, the first few people who’d come through to the Wasteland after Jack and Katherine were cut from the same cloth: willing to pull a trigger, but mostly as a consequence of the lifestyles they’d known or the skills they’d needed for survival. Most of those early Arrivals died—or joined Ajani. In more recent years, those who arrived were a mix of different sorts. Some were rough because of the things they’d had to do to survive, but more were folks whose moral compass was a bit unsteady. One of the few things they all had in common was that not a one of them since Katherine had been able to do spellwork.
Jack downed the rest of his drink. “Get your gear. I’ll tell Edgar.”
After a silent nod of acknowledgment, Katherine stood, walked over to the bed, kissed Mary’s forehead, and left. Once his sister was gone, Jack sighed. He did need her help, and they both knew it. He’d needed her to make the decision, though. Even after all of the years he’d spent raising her and the years they’d spent in this world, he could still be surprised by the choices she made. He’d expected that neither one of them would cope well being trapped in camp while they waited to see if Mary woke, but he couldn’t always be certain when it came to Katherine’s opinions or reactions.
A short while later, Jack and Katherine were ready to set out across the Gallows Desert. It was a two-day journey to Covenant if all went well, so they’d packed water, bullets, and provisions. They only took one bedroll, which Jack currently carried, as they’d have to sleep in shifts.
As they’d approached the gate to exit camp, Edgar looked directly at Jack and announced, “If she’s killed, I’ll have to shoot you.”
“I know.” Jack nodded at him and stepped outside the gate to give Edgar and Katherine a moment.
Katherine, however, huffed at her on-again, off-again lover and walked past both him and Jack.
If Jack thought for a moment that he could trust anyone else to keep order in his absence, he’d have taken Edgar along on the journey, but no one was more competent than Edgar at handling the group in Jack’s absence.
The trip across the desert and past the tiny town of Gallows was spent mostly in silence. That was one of the great joys of spending time with his sister: unlike some people—many of them women—Katherine had no patience for idle chatter. Aside from the essentials, the siblings remained quiet that day and much of the morning. As they traveled, they saw collapsed mines, starving Wastelanders, and scars on the ground from carelessly set-off explosives. Jack had already seen enough of Ajani’s footprints on this world over the years, but the destruction left behind by Ajani’s greed reaffirmed his deep-seated hatred of the man. The use of explosives in mining meant that able-bodied men were injured regularly in pursuit of riches that they’d never craved before falling under Ajani’s influence.
As Jack understood it, until Ajani had taken over the mines, mining was largely handled by those born to it. The native miners used only natural methods, as if teasing the ground to give up treasures. They never took more than what was necessary for the production of weapons or tools. They didn’t strip the grounds for the sake of stockpiling.
Then Ajani bought out, stole, or simply took over most of the mines. Now people not meant for work underground tunneled into dangerous areas, creating unstable ground on the surface, and were far too often killed in tunnel collapses. Boomtowns like Covenant had sprung up, growing too fast and resulting in dens of chaos and violence. Then, as soon as a vein was exhausted, the town died.
It was no wonder Garuda, the Wasteland’s most important bloedzuiger, hated Ajani with a depth of passion that rivaled even Jack’s. There was nothing wrong with progress, with the evolution of a society, with developments in technology, but when avarice directed progress, the natural order of a community was destroyed. Lives were lost, and the Wasteland itself was being decimated.
When Jack and Katherine entered Covenant the next day, he wasn’t sure if the uneventful journey was a blessing or not. He’d half hoped for some sort of fight to help relieve his mood, and he knew his sister wouldn’t mind a bit of outlet either. At least the exertion of travel was better than waiting next to Mary’s body.
“Not a monk in sight,” Jack said as they walked toward the governor’s quarters.
“No one else knew about the meeting, Jack. If it wasn’t the brethren, that means the governor . . .” Katherine’s words trailed off.
“I know, but that doesn’t make a lick of sense.” Jack gave voice to the thought that had plagued him for much of their hike across the desert. He’d weighed it out in his mind, trying to find a reason why Governor Soanes would send them into a trap. They’d worked for him from almost the time they’d arrived in the Wasteland, hunting down those who broke laws or those who were skirting close to breaking them. In some cases, they’d delivered warnings; in others, t
hey’d executed more final orders.
“Maybe it’s personal. The brethren haven’t ever been very tolerant of the law,” Jack mused.
“Could be, but why? We haven’t taken them to task for anything.” Katherine had obviously been pondering some of the very same thoughts he had. “If Soanes had word of a threat, he should’ve told us. If he didn’t, the brethren are playing their cards awfully close to the vest.”
“Just keep your eyes open,” Jack murmured as they approached two of the governor’s guards who stood on either side of the door to the squat, faded building.
The guards hadn’t expected him, but they’d known Jack long enough that they simply nodded in greeting. One of them gave Katherine a far too friendly look, but instead of her usual harsh words or occasional physical demonstration of exactly how much she did not like being leered at, Katherine merely smiled.
Jack opened the door, and as she entered he asked in a low voice, “What was that?”
“Groundwork if we need another pair of eyes,” she answered just as quietly.
The thought of needing spies in the governor’s office wasn’t one that set well with Jack, but he was, regrettably, already suspicious enough of the governor that he didn’t object. Once they were inside, they waited while the next guard sent his partner in to inform Governor Soanes of their presence.
As they walked into the governor’s office, Jack studied the Wastelander who had been his boss of sorts for years. He was a man who’d grown increasingly larger and slower from too much time behind a desk. Unlike a lot of the residents of the Wasteland, Soanes aged at the rate Jack associated with people back home. When they met, not long after Jack arrived, they’d been close in age, but after twenty-plus years, the governor looked like he was old enough to be Jack’s father. The Arrivals did more work for him than anyone else, and Jack had believed they’d had a common goal: preserving order as much as they could, helping divert crises even as Ajani worked to amass wealth and influence. Now Jack had to wonder if the governor had changed his stance.
“Jack, Kitty,” the governor greeted. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
The problem, however, was that the squat man didn’t appear to be at all surprised by their presence. His words and his expression were at odds, and Jack couldn’t tell whether it was simply because the governor was good at hiding his surprise—or if he was lying.
When Kitty had walked into Governor Soanes’ office, she’d had to stamp down the impulse to start trouble as a test of his mettle. He wasn’t in any shape to fight, a detail that irritated her even in her most generous moods. She had no love for Ajani, the man who caused most of their problems, or for Garuda, the bloedzuiger her brother called friend, but at least those Wastelanders were able to defend themselves in a conflict. Soanes, however, had the look of something bloated. His gut protruded like a woman at the end of pregnancy, and his face had the look of a dog she’d had as a girl: jowls flapping about like the skin had started to stretch. Yet, much like that dog, he seemed more lazy than dangerous. The idea of him exerting himself to send the brethren after the Arrivals seemed to go against his persona.
“The brethren attacked us,” Kitty said as she dropped into one of the pair of chairs in front of the oversize desk where the governor sat. She twisted sideways, bending one leg and draping the other over the arm of the chair. Her dust and sand-coated boots would leave a mess behind, but it was in keeping with the demeanor of pure cussedness that she adopted around Governor Soanes. Since that day over two decades ago when she’d left home to follow after Jack, she’d learned to play a number of roles. When she was with Jack or Edgar, she felt like she could sometimes set all of that aside, but this was business. In dealing with Soanes, Jack would undoubtedly be polite, so Kitty would be brash.
The governor gestured to the empty chair beside Kitty, but Jack pointed to his holster and said, “Unless I’m disarmed, I’m more comfortable standing.”
Soanes nodded, but a slight frown crossed his face before he turned his attention to Kitty. He asked, “Did you . . . eliminate the monks?”
“Eliminate? We were supposed to be negotiating with them in peace; that was the order, wasn’t it?” Kitty flashed him a smile that was as falsely friendly as his always were.
And right on cue, with a warning tone in his voice and a hand on her shoulder, Jack said, “Katherine . . .”
“No, no. Kitty has a point,” the governor placated. “The objective was a peaceful negotiation.” He leaned back in his chair, which creaked but didn’t spill him to the floor. “To clarify, I see you here, so I’d surmised that the monks are no longer a problem. I chose my words poorly.”
“They killed one of ours.” Jack didn’t let any emotion into his voice, but if anyone knew him, they’d hear the emotion all the same.
“Dead dead or temporarily dead?”
Before Kitty could reply, Jack’s grip on her shoulder tightened in a restraining way, and he said, “We won’t know for a few more days.”
He squeezed again, this time with a couple of quick pinches, and Kitty took that to mean she was to speak now. “The brethren’s attack was unprovoked,” she started. “That kind of thing doesn’t usually happen without reason.”
“What my sister means to say is that we were wondering where you got your information before you passed it on to me.” Jack still sounded even-tempered, but the hand that was on her shoulder felt like a steel grip.
“Now, Jack, you know I can’t answer that,” Soanes said.
“Actually, that isn’t what I meant, Jackson,” Kitty said. “What I meant to say was that it seems suspicious that a peaceful meeting led to bullets and magic.” She came to her feet and stood beside her brother, positioning herself beside him rather than in front of him in case there was violence. She didn’t imagine that the governor was particularly adept with any weapons he might have concealed within his reach, but that only made him dangerous in a different way. An armed fool could be more dangerous than an experienced shooter.
“If you have some information that would make this clearer, I’d be mighty relieved to hear it.” Jack stared directly at the governor. “I’ve fought for the good of the Wasteland for half my life.”
“And we’re grateful for that, for all of you, but that doesn’t mean I can violate the responsibilities of my office by telling you things that are brought to me in private.” The governor tilted his head back so as to stare up at them from across the expanse of his desk. “If all of these years together aren’t reason enough for you to trust me, I’m not sure what else to say.”
For a long moment no one spoke. Kitty waited for Jack to make the call. That was how it worked: he made the decisions, the rest of the Arrivals—herself included—obeyed his decrees. Someone had to be in charge. In their little group, that person was and had always been her brother. It wasn’t a task she wanted for herself, and she certainly wouldn’t give her allegiance to anyone else.
“You’ll follow up,” Jack half asked, half demanded.
“Of course!” Governor Soanes beamed at them. “You’ll let me know if that death is a permanent one, I assume, and you’ll take care of the monks?”
“We took the job,” Jack said. “We’ve never left one unfinished before.”
“I never could abide by demon summoning.” The governor’s expression was one of blatant disgust, and for the first time Kitty thought he was being completely honest. He might be hiding things, probably more than even she suspected, but his feelings about the brethren were crystal clear.
A few moments later, Kitty and Jack stood outside the governor’s office.
“I’m not ready to travel,” she admitted. The thought of trekking back out to camp today was daunting. “A cold drink and a long nap would go a long ways to making the trip back to camp easier.”
“If we stay here tonight, we’ll still be back the day before Mary’s due to wake,” Jack allowed.
The siblings walked toward the tavern.
They’d discuss their thoughts on their visit to the governor, but not here where there were too many witnesses—all of whom were undoubtedly well aware that Jack and Kitty were the two Arrivals who’d been in the Wasteland the longest. Even if they did talk, however, there wasn’t much to say. The governor knew they had doubts, and he’d answered in a way that was typical for this world: retreating behind the idea of tradition as if that were the only answer he could give. Admittedly, it was sometimes the answer, but politicians were politicians in every world. He’d not disclose everything he knew unless he had no other choice. A different man might have gathered evidence before presenting his doubts to the governor, but Jack was as direct as politicians were cagey.
They’d almost reached the tavern they usually frequented while they were in Covenant when Jack tensed. “Stay out of this, Katherine,” he murmured low enough that only Kitty would hear him.
She followed his gaze to where a tall man who looked a lot like a better-dressed, longer-haired version of Jack was hitching up the Wasteland version of a horse to the rail outside one of the less savory taverns in Covenant. Not coincidentally, it was also the tavern Kitty preferred.
“Daniel,” Kitty greeted in her friendliest voice. “Did you come to your senses or are you still an idiot?”
“I came to my senses years ago, Kitty.” Daniel stepped away from his animal. “Ajani gave me the life I deserve. He’d give you everything.”
“Except the things that matter,” Kitty corrected.
“Are you alone?” she asked, looking around the quickly emptying street. None of Ajani’s other lackeys appeared to be in sight, but that didn’t mean that they—or Ajani himself—weren’t nearby.
“The boss isn’t here, but if you wanted him, I could send—”