Though he did wish she was less critical of his cleanliness, when she walked up to him, sniffed carefully, and said, “Shower before dinner, mylove.” It was really strange of her, considering she’d lived in the downlevels all her life(she talked about how when she was ten her parents went out of their way to take her upward enough to properly see the sun, and how she rarely did) and just about everything down here was dirty. But apparently she’d read something by some traveling wisebeing once(a lot of those visited the downlevels these days, where they were arguably a menace), who had emphasized to her and to the others he had met the importance of being clean to health, and when she, sadly, had lost her only child to disease, she had taken to his words zealously, spending over an hour each day scrubbing her apartment no matter how long she’d worked or how tired she was, showering twice a day despite the bill, and lecturing everyone she met on it, even as she admitted her first eviction might have had to do with her doing so.
Hoorir didn’t argue; just headed for her fresher and got the water running. Aware of her water bill he tried to go quickly, but he found he enjoyed it, the feel of the hot water pounding him mixing with the smell of her cooking getting close to ready, and the sound of her audiofeed as she turned it on to listen to the evening news. She didn’t have visual, and had said once it was nicer because it meant she didn’t have to watch any more pompous asses posture about.
Until he turned off the water he couldn’t make out any words, though he recognized the voice of Ants Ryder, anchor for one of the many rival news shows currently engaged in a cutthroat battle for viewers/listeners. He was the type that catered to the young listener, like his niece; he didn’t know if she listened to him much, but she’d once mentioned one of her friends was crazy about him. Not the type he’d expect Aggtyla to listen to, but perhaps she’d picked him out at random; he was pretty sure she did that sometimes. Nor the type that suited him much, but he hadn’t come here to listen to the news, and, on the contrary, he found he didn’t mind in the least having an newsbeing who wouldn’t bother him with too many headlines that were relevant to his daily life.
When he emerged it sounded like he was talking about some celebrity who might be pregnant without an obvious candidate around for the father. Apparently there were people who disapproved of this whom Ants Ryder felt the need to complain about, though Hoorir doubted the celebrity herself cared much what those people were saying about her.
He was still talking about it when Aggtyla came back out of the kitchen. “What would we do if I got pregnant, I wonder?” she asked, lightly, but maybe she was more worried about it than she let on.
“You wouldn’t have to worry,” he assured her. “I’d take care of both of you. You know that.” Even if he couldn’t promise he would be able to acknowledge the baby publically, he would certainly make sure he or she had a good life, and he would try to be there as a father as much as possible.
That might not have been what Aggtyla had meant, of course, and as she looked wistful, he asked anxiously, “You’re not actually pregnant, are you?”
“Of course not,” she snapped. Then she sniffed, and said, “Lastmeal’s ready. Sit down.”
Aggtyla’s table wasn’t really built for two, though at least she had found a second stool somewhere. When she put the plates down, they were pressed against each other, and whenever they both had their heads forward to eat they were practically breathing each other’s breath. Of course it wasn’t as if either of them minded this. Hoorir loved the intimacy he felt from it, the way her breath was all over his face when they talked in whispers about her day and neighbors and mother, and the novel they’d both been reading in their spare time, though, as Hoorir had noted to himself more than once, neither of them had much of that these days, albeit for very different reasons.
The audiofeed remained a pleasant background drone initially, drowned out by the whispers and even the taste of the barfish; she’d made them perfectly, and his own opinion they could have been worthy of being served in Coco Town’s finest restaurants, though he was aware others might not agree. At one point, when they heard Ryder mention Tapos Security, Hoorir felt the urge to listen closer, but suppressed it;. If it was really important, he reminded himself, he was sure to hear about it the next day.
It wasn’t until she’d cleaned her plate and he’d nearly cleaned his(people down here didn’t let any food go to waste) that there was a momentary pause in the radio chatter, which there hadn’t been, so it got his attention. And then Ants Ryder said, “Brother and sister beings, I have literally just now received word of some shocking news. Fighting has broken out in the Slice!”
“Oh no!” exclaimed his companion; she was soft in her heart. Hoorir had no time for sentiment; he was already running mental calculations about their holdings in the Slice. Since they’d lost Wing Besh in the courts, all but three of their planets were in the area, and six of them were on the two big trade routes. He quickly shushed his mistress so he could hear details about where the fighting was going on.
“Information is limited right now as to just where the fighting is,” Ryder continued, much to his listener’s frustration. “We have been assured it is confined to only one solar system, but I don’t know that we have any source of news about this other than the corporations, and given how many times their claims have turned out to be untrue, I hope they’ll excuse me if I’m just a teensy-tiny bit skeptical.”
That truly made Hoorir furious, hearing some ignorant radio head spout such assumptions, when he bet Ants Ryder didn’t actually know anything about the Expansion Region or any of the people he was making his veiled accusations against aside from whatever he’d heard from other people and other media sources, half of which were obliged to sling mud at the enemies of whoever was giving them sponsorship money. Of course everyone got a lot of mud on themselves that way.
“Do you think it’s spread out further?” Aggtyla asked him, sounding far more anxious about the matter than she ought to be. He shushed her as Ryder continued, “Three corporations total have expressed a belief that their people are involved, though all three insist they are awaiting confirmation,” he sounded skeptical about this, which put Hoorir in two minds; on one hand, he did know bigger corporations did put off confirming things like this longer than necessary, on the other, you wanted to wait to be sure about news from the Expansion Region. “Tapos Securities says it is concerned about the activities of all of its employees located in the Cyrillia System, where Birr and Torik and MobiSec also hold offices, and they too have expressed concern, with Birr and Torik even going as far as to say they have confirmed injuries to multiple personnel, while declining to give any details, citing medical privacy.” Which is was only right for them protect, Hoorir thought crossly, as he then added, “They do insist, however, that so far there have been no fatalities.”
“Once someone dies they can’t keep that concealed for long,” Hoorir told Aggtyla, which made her look a lot easier.
“This is a developing story,” Ryder was concluding, “and we hope for more details shortly, and of course I’ll announce anything else I find out as soon as I know it. Perhaps I’ll even have more information after this break,” and the audio feed went into advertisements.
“You want to listen further?” he asked her, hoping she’d say no; he scooped up the last of her dinner to swallow while she answered.
She looked surprised as she said, “I would think you would.” She knew more about who he was and what he did that she once had, unfortunately. Or at least she made good guesses; she was no fool.
“I can hear it all from more reliable sources tomorrow,” he said, and actually went to turn the feed off. She made no attempt to stop him, and on the contrary, cleared the dishes off the table and went to wash them. She took a lot of time doing that, of course, even when he went to the bunk and lay down, but it was just as well to only lie there and clear his mind of what he’d just heard, because now was when he wanted to forget all about it, concentrate on the feel of the hard bunk below him and the smell of dinner still lingering in the air and the sound of the sink running and Aggtyla moving about.
He would have kept himself from thinking about it, he was sure, had Aggtyla been able to keep her eyes open after they were done making love. But it must have been an exhausting day for her; she fell asleep within five minutes. Hoorir would have liked to do so himself, he felt tired too. But the day and the news had left him in an unfortunate state he got into sometimes, where he just could not turn his brain off long enough to drop into unconsciousness.
For an hour he tried. He thought about relaxing things, other evenings he’d spent here with Aggtyla. He thought about being at home on Lansono, which he hadn’t been back to in far too long, about spending many hours in his childhood scratching about in the sandpit behind the housing complex his family had lived in and run. He thought about the pictures he’d shown Kristen. Then without intending to he spent a few minutes wondering what Kristen was doing at that moment. It wasn’t that late; she and her friends might not have even had dinner yet, and they’d be out for hours still. That wouldn’t help him sleep, though, so he forced himself away from thinking about it and tried thinking about the calmer places in Coruscant that he sometimes went to when he had a break during the day, like the little park near Domine’s offices, or the walkways attached to the building’s upper terraces that were often deserted in the late mornings and early afternoons; sometimes that felt like the only place on Coruscant where he wasn’t crowded in by all the large amounts of people who lived there.
Finally he had to give up. With something like what had just happened in the Slice he had to at least talk to someone before he would get any rest that evening.
The corridor outside Aggtyla’s apartment was so narrow Hoorir couldn’t have spread his arms out completely; he didn’t think any larger species lived in this building. He had the feeling sound would travel through the walls, but it wasn’t like anyone here would really understand what he was talking about. He hoped. Still, as he commed Limos, who he knew would answer, he reminded himself to speak quietly.
Limos, too, had heard the news, and he’d already made a few comms to certain friends he had. Also to the other members of the board, but so far the only one to respond had been Kryna, who had told him to bother her again when he could say just how his news affected Domine Supplies. “The actual conflict is between Tapos and Birr and Torik,” he said. “MobiSec is more or less just caught in the crossfire. The real worry is if it carries over to all the other places in the Expansion Region where both companies are present. They both have claims on Holt, by the way. Also they both have now undisputed rights to worlds near four planets for which our claim is undisputed, and also near Yanoi. The worst case is Taqala Dorn, because they’ve split the other four planets in that system between themselves; Tapos has the inner two, Birr and Torik the outer two, and ours is right in the middle. On the other hand, we could conceivably turn that situation to our advantage, if they decide to come to our planet to buy for their conflict rather than fight it on our soil.”
“Would that we could be that lucky,” sighed Hoorir, somehow he doubted they’d be. They never were.
Of course, he was the sort of guy who timed his arrival at the end of Senator Diamint’s open hours, which the silly creature let go on for far too long anyway. Many individuals who played his role for other companies would have been surprised at his doing this, thinking it would mean he would have to hurry through his words and try to impress someone who, after a long day, would be more impatient and less inclined to listen. And it was true that he had to deal with a much crabbier Senator than they did. But even when he was in a hurry for his day to be over, Senator Diamint was burdened with a nature that would not stop Yalcow from accompanying him out to his car, so he often ended up with more time than he would had his meetings with the Senator taken place entirely within the chronometer. It also meant not always having to deal with his aides, whom he sometimes let go ten minutes or so early. Also, his words would be what Senator Diamint thought about most on his way home.
It was true, on the other pod, that being predictable also had its own set of problems. Especially when the moment Yalcow stepped into the Senator’s office, having passed too many other people on his way in, but at least cheered the harried aide up and sent her on her way home smiling, and, more importantly, grateful, Senator Diamint smirked and said, “I knew you’d be here right now, at least once it became clear you were the one being sent. I ought to advise you: I have already talked with two different parties from Tapos, as well as one from MobiSec, and six more from other companies also concerned with this new development. None of them spoke highly of Birr and Torik, and I have heard three different outrageous accusations, two of which I can’t say I automatically disbelieved, though I admit they did seem farfetched.”
Those sounded like the kind of accusations he couldn’t address without consulting with the higher-ups first. Best he stick to his talking points. “I doubt,” he said, “that those three claims will be anything I ought to dignify with a response. Although I suspect I know what Tapos Securities will claim, indeed, perhaps, as well as their official representatives, you have heard from your daughter on the matter.”
“I have not talked with her since the news broke,” the Senator told him coldly. “I suspect right now she is asleep, and has not heard anything yet. And if she knew about anything beforehand, which, by the way, I doubt,” that was indiscreet of him, to even say that much, but at least he only finished, “she did not impart her knowledge to me. The representatives told me they found evidence that your people had been on Sauff, which they have contracted with the Cyrillians for exclusive control over, and they decided to travel to your offices on Cyrillia to request an explanation, and when they requested entry to your main office building in the capital, they instead received blaster fire and two of their people were injured. They are still gathering information what happened next.”
“Did they tell you the manner in which they requested that entry?” Yalcow responded. “I don’t think they did. They didn’t come to the normal entrance for guests. Instead they showed up at the employees-only entrance, and with their guns loaded and pointing straight at us. We’re not even sure who fired the first shot, and I doubt they are either. Also, I have certainly heard nothing about Birr and Torik making any kind of intrusion onto Sauff, and I can’t imagine we’d ever do so, if only out of respect for the locals, which, by the way, we have more of than Tapos Securities does. Are they sure it was us who made the intrusion? Did they confirm they have evidence for more than just some company was there, that it couldn’t have been any of them besides Birr and Torik?”
“Well,” said Senator Diamint, “I can tell you you’re wrong about one thing. The three surviving members of the party all swear your people fired first.”
“I certainly never heard any such thing,” Yalcow replied. Momentarily he wondered if they had, but that wasn’t his job to know that. Instead, he could add, “I admit I have not been told they fired first either, but if we fired first, I assume I would have been advised of that before making this visit.”
“Are you calling them liars, sir?” the Senator asked, lightly, and dangerously.
“I’m not saying that necessarily,” he replied, equally lightly. “After all, in a situation like that, rare is the species whose memories will be completely accurate afterwards. And once of them becomes convinced they fired first and says so enough time, the others may find themselves remembering it that way too, even if they didn’t initially.”
“True,” Senator Diamint conceded. “Now, how do you explain why within an hour of blasters being fired on Cyrillia, similar violence erupted between you and not only Tapos Securities, but also MobiSec, on four other planets? As I said, Tapos said they have insufficient information to give anyone an official account right now. Are Birr and Torik quicker with the facts?”
Here, at least, Yalcow has been provided with higher ground. “That is in fact my reason for coming here,” he said, “to complain about that. While I admit I have not been told directly who fired first on Cyrillia, I can say with absolute certainty that on at least two of those, our pair in the Prazhi system, MobiSec attacked us first. And I mean without any provocation at all they came to our doors, took our their blasters, and informed us that were to evacuate that system or they would forcibly remove us. We asked what grounds they had for dismissing us, and they claimed the locals wanted it. We told them they would have to do better than that, and they opened fire.
On Prazhi itself they at least only used stun guns, and no one was seriously hurt before they were repelled, but on Prazhi IV we have four injured, one in critical condition; he may even be dead by now. I do not know what MobiSec has told you on this matter, but I am sure it is only a matter of time before the entrance monitor footage is recovered, and will prove this; we take it for all of our offices. Indeed, I wonder why Tapos Securities does not do the same; then they too would be able to present it and then you would have no need to doubt whatever true events they told you of. Or have they? You have not mentioned anything about them having footage.”
“They did not say anything about it,” said Senator Diamint, neutrally, but surely he knew that meant they didn’t have it. With many a politician, in fact, Yalcow would now be confident that he had won, that the being he was talking to would promptly assume the wronged party on one world was the wronged party on the other. But Senator Diamint, when he was a fool, was a fool in the opposite manner, by being too clever, and assuming there must be some catch, some detail to the situation he did not know, possibly one Yalcow was keeping from him, and his suspicions of the activities of Birr and Torik were as likely to increase as to decrease. And while he might claim himself as completely unaffected by his daughter’s employment, no being at all could be; unconsciously, at least, his mind would search for excuses to not lay blame on her employer.
And it was not a good sign when the Senator’s next words were, “I believe my office hours are now officially over. You will not hold me here unreasonably, I would hope.”
“Of course not,” he said, and took himself out of the path between the Senator and the door. But as he put several datachips in his pocket(newest design, Yalcow noted; they each probably had an amazing amount of data in them), he continued, “If they don’t have it, quite honestly, I think that by itself is suspicious. Did their cameras fail at such a remarkable time? Or do they not have them at all? If they do not, sir, quite honestly I see that as even more suspicious of them. When one considers the ways in which, sadly, some of the natives behave, having security cameras is simply a common-sense safety measure, and I can think of only a few reasons they wouldn’t have them, none of which reflect well on them at all.”
“I will look into all of that, then,” said Senator Diamint, walking out of the office, but not trying to run, so it was easy for Yalcow to follow.
As he did, he mentally ran through all the points he had to make; there was time for two more. He chose them quickly: “There are two more things I would like to say, Senator, very important things. The first is that we in fact are not entirely surprised by this turn of events, because of things Tapos has said to us before. No outright threats, mind you, nothing we could have reported, not even of the ‘it would be a shame if this terrible thing happened’ type; they were more clever than that. But whenever we’ve met with them to negotiate the handling of things on neighboring planets and neighboring star systems, they’ve always been a little hard-edged, emphasizing about how they’re not afraid to defend their rights, and sometimes they’ve said that about rights they don’t have.”
“Do you have any examples recorded? That would be enlightening.”
Yalcow wasn’t sure if the Senator was mocking him or not on that one, but he could play that game. “I can search for them,” he said. It might be a good element of surprise to show up next time with a recording in his hand. Or it might backfire, if the Senator was in the wrong mood that day, but it was probably worth it to search for the recording anyway.
For now, he went on, “The second is that we also are concerned about another one of our offices. The one on Metellos. As you no doubt know, practically everyone involved in the Expansion region has offices there. Ours are very close to MobiSec’s-I’m talking twenty minutes walking at most. The last contact we had with them was about an hour before all this business started, which was a routine transmission; they check in with us every thirty hours. Since then, we’ve called for a report in for all our offices-can’t be too careful, you know. Everyone’s responded but them. It could be for any number of reasons, of course, but you must admit these circumstances are suspicious.”
“Not much I can do with that kind of information right now,” said the Senator. “Of course, if anything comes of it, I am sure news will come to me very quickly. If I see you tomorrow morning, should I brace myself for distressing news?”
He was mocking him, but calling him on it would probably be a bad idea. “If I do visit you tomorrow morning, I am afraid it most likely would be.” They were heading down the plank towards the car, now, so Yalcow stopped his step, and said his last words, “I just hope you’ll be watching the news as your prepare for bed tonight. It is pretty late, of course, but they’ll provide you with a more complicated picture, being more objection than anyone who’s spoken to you so far.” They might genuinely be, the general newscasters. At any rate, they would make a good impression of being to those who wanted to believe them to be so.
“I always watch or listen to whatever I think will inform me the most,” smirked the Senator as he climbed into his car. “My aides have been making recommendations lately; I don’t need any from you.” That finality silenced Yalcow as he detached and fly away.
Not that Rtyyttle O would’ve dared touch any of those things anyway. The problem with being a Faranel was the inhabitants of the greater galaxy always got anxious when you touched anything. Never mind that the residue her enders left, while thicker and more visible than that of most species, didn’t really contain anything damaging and mostly evaporated after half an hour or so-it was very close to human sweat in chemical makeup.
But she’d come to Coruscant, leaving her home world in the Deep Core, and Rtyyttle loved it here. She loved the hustle and bustle and diversity and change of this planet, so different from Gio, where only Faranel lived, and life was dull and predictable. She loved her job, too, and her co-workers were starting to get used to her. As was she to them; she no longer minded how high-pitched their voices could sometimes get, and despite initially being mutually repulsed by each other’s smells, she was especially becoming friends with Mana Wox.
Still, she was surprised when she hurried in that night, called in due to the breaking news, and found her friend standing by that holo, not even staring at it, really, just facing it while her face looked like it was a thousand light-years away-Rtyyttle was starting to get good at reading human and near-human faces like it, as well as a couple of other similar species. “What is it?” she asked, stopping by her. There was a new intern, who stopped and looked at her funny when he heard her voice, but she was past getting upset about that sort of thing now.
“Nothing,” said Mana, in that voice that made Rtyyttle certain it was something, but probably not something she wanted to discuss here. She made a mental note to bring it up later, next time they went out together.
Which might not be for some time now. Possibly days, or even weeks, if this sequence of events turned crazy enough.
In fact, there wouldn’t have been time to talk about this anyway, because a face popped itself into the room. “O! Wox!” called Yup Synders. “You’re both wanted on Level 5!”
The building had six levels, but the sixth was mostly dedicated to managing the technical details of their broadcasting; the big offices were all on Level 5. But he hadn’t said the Head Office, so Rtyyttle tried not to get too excited. On a night like this, there were probably all sorts of things going on on Level 5. Most of them dedicated to the top news story, perhaps, and she had already expected she’d be involved with that, but that didn’t mean she was necessarily getting the big role, or that Mana was.
Although Mana looked mostly human, and might even be mistaken for a human with her hair artificially dyed pure-laser red and styled to stick like hard reeds out of her head, in fact what was one her head wasn’t hair at all. Rtyyttle hadn’t entirely understood what it was when Mana had tried to explain-the Enavci word for it was tou. It gathered a lot of sensory data, making Mana especially sensitive to things like air density and temperature, things most species couldn’t easily sense. It also shook when she was nervous.
All through that lift ride, it was rattling so hard Rtyyttle’s ears started to hurt, although she thought that was possibly the sound pitch as well; for some reason it the sound was higher than it usually was for vibrations. She was relieved when they reached the fifth level and the amount of din was relatively low; there was a crowd of people in one corner of the corridor talking, and she could hear further murmurs behind most of the walls, but no shouting or loud droids or computers.
The current head of the organization, a Corellian by the name of Chet Zuyrns, actually had a device in his office which report to him when anyone got off the lift on the fifth floor, so they weren’t surprised when he stepped out of his office and beckoned. The three of them had to crowd together to get in; the office wasn’t exactly small, but the sheer amount of shelves and bins meant it was not a place with comfortable standing room for three people. That surprised Rtyyttle; she would have thought this place would be more accommodating that way.
Until Zuryns said, “You two should count yourselves as privileged. This is only the second time I’ve held a meeting like this here for the last three months. I wouldn’t, except there are no cameras here, and the walls are soundproofed. What I tell you were are about to do does not leave this room until we are ready to do it, do you both understand that?”
“Yes,” Ryyttle told him, and Mana repeated it, but her tou started shaking again, and harder than before.
“Very well. Now as you know, when it comes to covering the affairs of the Expansion Region, we, along with the rest of the settled galaxy, have always had to rely on media reports from the companies overseeing the settlement and development of the planets there, especially since it can in fact be very hard to get any reporters actually out there. However, I have decided it is time for some independent reporting on what it going on there, starting with the Cyrillia System.
Now,” he continued, “we do not think it is safe to send you there right now, when the fighting might still be going on. But hopefully within a couple of weeks’s time, order will be restored. When it is, we have managed to get a ship, and we will hire a pilot to take you two to the Cyrillia System. We haven’t worked out the details yet of where on it you’ll go and who you’ll talk to; unfortunately we’ll be dependent probably on MobiSec to give us information with which we can make those determinations. Not ideal, obviously, but we have no source besides these companies, so we’ll have to work with them.”
Mana had stopped bristling once she’d heard they weren’t going immediately, but she didn’t look that excited either. Ryyttle didn’t get it. She could hardly believe her own ears. Coming to Coruscant had been amazing enough, but to see more of the galaxy… “Whenever you say, sir, I’m ready,” she said, not even trying to hide her eagerness.
Thankfully he just smiled at it, and said, “Good. I suggest in the meantime you too start doing as much research as possible. Everything that’s available. We’ll make a new building on those foundations, I suspect. They might be the ones going to the Expansion Region, but we’re the ones who bring true knowledge of it back.”