Chapter 4

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A harsh voice ordered: "Stop right there and state your designation."

Jamie started taking evasive action, looking strangely reminiscent of the rabbit footage I had tracked down for a project on former wildlife of Asiatearoa when it was still called New Zealand. I seemed to recall they had also become a pest and been eradicated. I hoped my guide wouldn't meet the same fate. My good mood dissipated, merging into the foetid smells prevalent on the outskirts of the nets. I did not need my only lead to my great master work shot like a pre-apoc bunny and more importantly, I really did not need to deal with the owner of that harsh voice. I sighed and thought rapidly.

"You, girl. Stop," I projected loudly at the stupid ghost girl. She didn't need to know I knew her name and neither did he. "Do not forget your mission. Do not forget that I own you."

To my amazement she stopped, quivering, just before the Nori patrol took her down.

Good. Now just stay there and do that disappearing thing you do while I distract them.

I was pretty sure that's exactly what the girl would do. Now she had stopped running, the patrol wouldn't move without an order.

"Commander Connell," I said, my voice ice. "One would have thought a high-ranking member such as yourself would recognise their own regiment." I wouldn't have tried this with a senior commander but Connell shared my rank and at one point had aspirations to share my bed. In hindsight I should have rejected him more gently. The broken arm was excessive. He may even hold a small grudge.

"Commander Brinder," he said, matching ice with frost. "One makes a point of it, especially noticing when one's regiment goes off the grid".

Yes. Definitely still a sore point.

The rest of the patrol stood poised, crossbows at the ready, waiting to see how this would pan out.

"Get the pakeha filth," he snapped. They peeled off in formation, bewildered as to her disappearance. We ignored them and took a familiar stance, Connell versus Brinder, eyes locked in formation.

"Sir, she's not here," one yelled back, from her voice, a female.

"Then find her," he barked.

"I suggest you call off your team." I spoke loudly enough for them to hear me. I could have called them dogs, just to annoy him. "I have clearance from the Abbah for a time critical mission. And you are getting in the way of that mission."

"I don't believe you," said Connell, probably the worst insult anyone could give to a Brinder, whose word was bond. "What's the mission?"

"That information is classified," I said. "I don't believe you have clearance."

"You'll have to wait until we apprehend the pakeha and get confirmation of your so-called mission," sneered Connell.

"No, I won't." I kept my hands in view of the patrol as I reached for the clearance permit, personally marked with the seal of the Abbah. I was glad of their presence. I wasn't sure what Connell would do if witnesses weren't around. Probably shoot me and destroy the permit or delay me long enough that I failed and then feigned ignorance. He wasn't a man used to rejection.

"Sir?" said a young man, who was clearly his deputy and from the body language, quite possibly his bed mate as well. Connell would not want to lose face in front of his team, especially as they would not hesitate to go to the next person in the chain of command if he went against protocol. In this case the protocol was clear, the will of the Abbah was sacrosanct.

I decided to give him an out, let him graciously withdraw. Subtly this was worse, immediately elevating my status and denigrating his. "As I said Connell, this is time critical. I understand the perimeter patrol is of great importance, but this pakeha is under my charge and I have the correct documentation. On my return I will report your valuable assistance to the Abbah. They are more than gracious with good citizens".

Although the action looked like it cost him more willpower than he knew he had, Connell nodded. I knew he wouldn't rest until he discovered what I was up to and found some way to sabotage it.

"Regroup," he barked at the patrol and moving in formation, they cleared the area.

I waited until she was sure they were out of earshot before I called: "Hey, girl, where are you? We have to keep moving. It's safe now."

All I could hear was the echo of my voice wandering through the broken landscape. I swore, briefly and loudly. Seemed Connell had messed things up after all. I tried again: "Girl, let's go. Now. Jamie!"

Still no reply. I tracked her, one smudged footprint, one blood trace at a time. Until I found the disc with its strange markings. The stupid girl was obviously so frightened of the patrol that she'd dropped the disc and fled once I had called off the patrol. Unless of course she'd deliberately dropped it, knowing that those markers led to the location and hoping I would follow the trail further. I dismissed the thought, not crediting the half-starved creature with that much intelligence.

Slipping my domes on, I deciphered the co-ordinates using a module for globing constellations, and settled into an easy, loping jog designed to cover kilometres without fatigue. I had less than four hours to get to the rendezvous point before the gang packed up and left. My chances of completing my doci would then be nil. I'd be lost, wandering the badlands with no chance of affiliation with another group and no chance of re-entry into the Lotus Cities. To do so would shame my family's name forever. How pleased Connell would be to see me right now. The bastard. He had done it again.

Amazing image by Kenstein Hansberg: DeviantArt

A/N:

I can't believe I'm here again, watching the relatively early birth throes of a new book in creation. Be happy little doulahs please - vote, cheer, comment and for goodness sake, catch this squirming mass of words as it flies towards you. Be tender :-)

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