Gurn (detail), by Gil Formosa
 

Fair Warning
by Scott Leslie

 

It didn’t matter how many times Jobim had mapped out this day in his head. All he knew was it had come — there would be no turning back. He lowered the case carefully to the desk and slid his hand over its cool steel edge, the catch sliding open with his touch. Jobim’s eyes flashed, fingers counting row upon row of gold credits, the grimmest of smiles coming to his lips.

Turning his chair, Jobim regarded his study with its ten-foot alabaster ceilings, his scientific awards hanging against the walls like so many works of art. He had taken a lifetime to gather them, to build this tower around him. Jobim rolled an obsidian paperweight in the palm of his hand and set it back on the desk. It would be a terrible shame to throw all this away, he thought. If only they had listened...

“How’s this, Father?”

Jobim looked up to where Six stood. Across the study chamber, the empath gazed into a full-length mirror, and finished a few tugs on his pale-blue tie. The shimmer of his metallic skin darkened in the dim light of the study.

“Fine, Six. When the Skylar arrive, you know what to do...”

Six turned to face him and Jobim marveled at how stunning, how perfect the empath looked. And why not? It was an identical copy of himself. There were the same high cheekbones. The same blue-grey eyes that had seen fifty Allutian summers. And the lean, impassive features, calm. Cool.

Waiting.

“I’m flesh of your flesh,” replied Six. “I know all I have to know.”

Jobim looked down again at the open case.

“Good,” he said, gathering the last of his effects from his desk. “It will make all our lives that much easier.” His chair turned with a gentle hush.

And Jobim sighed, knowing everything was in place. All he could think of now was Amber, waiting for him in the hangar below. Yes. Two-thousand credits... and her lithe, naked body. They would make a perfect combination. In the last few weeks, he had taught her how to love him. He had even heard her speak the words. Somehow there was cold solace in it all. But there was no other choice. Not any longer. Jobim took out his keys and turned to lock the case.

Six walked by and stood at the window. The empath’s suit — like Jobim’s — glinted a deep ebony in the waning daylight. Jobim watched the empath stare into the canyon beyond their window, the cetiapaths scurrying about the laneways beneath the crest of the Central Plaza, each of them attending to their own little matters. Six stood very still before it all.

“Father,” he said, “there is a problem.”

Jobim’s key snapped off in the lock.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I’m not ready to die.”

Jobim pounded his hand against the desk, staring at Six like an irate teacher. This can’t be happening, he thought. The window of opportunity was closing, fast. He had come too far to let it slip away.

“We’ve discussed this before,” he said, shoulders bristling. “Think of it as... a learning experience...”

“Is that why you’re going to Lorelai? For a ‘learning experience’?”

Jobim rose to his feet.

“The only reason Amber and I are going to Lorelai is to get away from this wretched planet. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“I’ve never seen Lorelai,” said the empath.

“Listen.”

“Nothing but this tower... since the moment I was born.”

“When the Skylar arrive for me, Six, you will kill every one of them — every last soldier — until they kill you. You will fight to the death. There will be no loose ends.”

The empath stared out the window, his back still turned to Jobim.

“Do you understand?”

Beyond the window, the windsleds moved in the cloudless mauve sky, filling the air like so many gleaming sparks. But not a sound from the city entered the chamber. The empath stood watching it while Jobim fingered the broken key in his palm. He tossed it back onto the desk and rubbed his eyes in defeat.

“Damn them all,” he muttered. “I’ve warned them... fought them tooth and nail...”

But there was no use fighting any more, going through the long, tired charade. That’s what it came down to, hadn’t it? Ten years of arguing with Skylar Council over the Solar Fields project, pleading with them to stop its contamination, and what had it got him? The hostility of his fellows. A front row seat to a dying planet.

Six made no move, his eyes still looking for some answer in the Allutian skies. Jobim put a hand on the empath’s shoulder. He pointed an outstretched finger at the Plaza below.

“We have eight months — a year,” he said quietly. “It will happen slowly. First, the atmosphere will rupture. Then the sun’s radiation will pour in. One by one, the people will fall in the streets. Like so many sheets of paper. And once those fools on Council realize what’s happened, it’ll all be too late.” Jobim looked at his watch, considered the time. “Amber and I will be far from here.”

“With their money,” said Six.

He stared past Jobim to the briefcase, as if waiting for some sort of explanation.

“Fourteen years,” said Jobim, “Fourteen years on Council, eight as High Bio-Med, and the Skylar haven’t taken up a single one of my initiatives — not one!” Jobim tapped the case. “If this is my payment for trying to save us all, then so be it. I deserve this as much as they do, don’t I?” His fist slammed hard against the case. “Don’t I?!”

The empath moved from the window to face him.

“I think you know the answer as well as I, Father.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Only that I would have felt more at peace knowing Amber and I... knowing we were created for more... noble purposes.”

“Noble?” cried Jobim. “She is my companion — and you are my saviour!” Jobim held out his hands for the empath to see. “Look. These are the hands that made you... gave you life.”

“And those hands take it away--”

“Enough! From the time your cells coalesced to this very second, you’ve known this. You’ve always known. You were created for this moment.”

Jobim took the empath by the arm, pointed to the hologram of Allutia shimmering in the air behind him. His finger traced the arc of each continent, every mountain range, the globe’s clouded surface coursing and flowing like an open body cavity.

“I won’t sit here and watch my people die, Six. I won’t. If I had the time, I would show you all the marvels... the wonders this world has to offer. But I don’t. You have... we... have no choice. This is the only way out. The trail leads here...”

“And it must end here,” echoed Six.

The windows hummed with the surge of a shuttlecraft passing over the city and Jobim looked at Six. Jobim wondered at the lights of the city below, their flicker swimming in his irises. He could discern the immaturity of youth. The calm resignation in his metallic features. But that’s all he could see.

Fifty years in mere months. He could barely fathom how the empath had grown, taken shape and stature right before his eyes. Jobim regretted having to leave Six to the wolves like this. But what else could he have done? Created an army of himself? A legion of Jobims to tear the soldiers apart where they stood! Every damned one of them. But such a ruse would only breed suspicion of his escape. No, it would make little difference. Six was doomed either way... as much as this very planet.

And Amber. What could he offer her now?

He remembered years ago when he was a young adolescent, his parents had hired a servant to be his private tutor— a woman. A young dark-haired beauty named Amber. For weeks, they had worked together at his studies... her lips so close, her slender body bent over Jobim night and day. One day, he could take it no longer and pulled her roughly into his arms. But she didn’t try to struggle. Instead, she did something that thrilled... no, terrified him. Amber took his hand, placed it on her heart.

“If this is what you want, Jobim,” she said, “Let me show you a better way...”

That afternoon in the farthest depths of the library, Amber took him aside and discarded their robes. It was there, without fear or reservation, she taught him the secret arts of the flesh, glories he could never have imagined. And never forget. The flush of her cheek. Her long supple limbs. Amber’s new ardent flesh wrapped around his, her voice whispering for him. Consuming him...

Until his father found them.

Between screams, he beat her— beat them both— senseless. Later, his father threw her from the front doors into the open arms of the soldiers, sent her away for sentencing. And her name never entered the house again. It was Jobim’s mother who took over his schooling later that week. Her instruction was rigid, formal. Cold.

He never saw Amber again.

And now what had he done? Taken a single strand of hair... breathed life back into a dream? Traded a forsaken planet for a forbidden love? There was no comparison, surely. But there was still a lifetime of learning ahead. Perhaps a new world to found on their love? Jobim didn’t know. He only knew he had to try and find some peace before it was all over.

He adjusted his own pale-blue tie, staring at the empath like an image in a mirror. Looking into Jobim’s face, Six remained the model of obedience, making no movement at Jobim’s inspection.

“Can I ask a question?” he said at last.

Jobim nodded curtly.

“If I must die...”

“Yes...”

“What can I expect in the next life?”

Jobim stopped, let his hands fall away from his suit.

“That I cannot answer,” he said. “It’s like a curse... we can never solve that mystery until life plays itself out.” Jobim looked out into the depth of open space, imagining its invisible taint rising in the air. “You see. Sometimes we’re all just waiting to die, Six.”

“But if you don’t have all the answers, Father, how can I trust you?”

Jobim glared at the empath. He held up a hand to silence him.

“The die has been cast,” he said. Jobim rounded the desk and rechecked the case, leaning on it with a hard metal ‘CLACK.’ “Besides, it makes no difference. I expect we’ll all learn a great deal in the hours ahead.”

Almost as an afterthought, Jobim reached for his desk drawer. He pulled it open, the light sliding inside, the cold darkened glint of a pistol emerging, finally coming into view. “Please. Make them feel at home, my friend...”

But the empath paid no attention to his words. A sudden rise came to the empath’s features, a metal glove spreading rapidly around his hand. Jobim gasped in terror.

“Six...”

“Run...”

“Six, you--”

“Run!” he cried.

Jobim grabbed for the pistol but it was only then he realized what was happening. Two pinpricks of light appeared in the air behind the empath, another to Jobim’s left. Each light, a halo materializing into view. Six stepped to the side, the weapon crackling in his hand as he screamed at Jobim.

But Jobim stood like a man stricken. As the halos expanded, took form, Jobim’s heart stopped — and he knew. The blue-and-white insignia of Skylar commandos.

Ion rifles at the ready.

Jobim’s shout was brief, cut in half as he raced from the room, and Six brought his gloved hand around the first commando’s neck, a burst of light igniting him. The empath threw the limp body across the room. Outside, the tunnels rebounded with the rush of footsteps, the pulses of scattered energy. Another commando lunged for the empath and a fist sent him reeling. But one officer stood back. He raised his weapon to fire and the bolt caught the empath, spun him around. He crumpled suddenly like a loose puppet, his head toppling forward across the desk before sliding over onto the floor.

Several moments later, a squad of commandos entered, their rifles set aside. Carrying him on their shoulders, the soldiers settled Jobim reverently by the other. Laid them side by side. One of the soldiers bent over, puzzled, and nudged them both with his rifle.

“Empath,” said the officer.

A commando called him over and gestured to where a comlight winked on the desk. The officer pressed it. A soft, wary voice filled the study.

“Who--”

“Amber. Is this Amber One?”

“Yes... it is.”

The officer examined the case intently, slid his hand over its cool steel edge.

“You did well to warn us, empath. This business... it all smacks of high treason.”

“We are eager to serve,” said Amber. “But Jobim? Did you tell him I... did he understand..?”

For what seemed like minutes, the officer stared down into the two impassive faces of Jobim. As the stars of Allutia began to peek over his shoulder and into the room, he could make out their same high cheekbones. The same blue-grey eyes. And the lean, impassive features calm. Cool.

Waiting.

“They did,” he said.



Story © 2004 by Scott Leslie


Illustration © 2004 by Gil Formosa gil.formosa@free.fr

Website: http://gil.formosa.free.fr/



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