Part 3: Talon - Chapter 7

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When light pierced into Geranium's eyes she wondered how such a small sun could be so bright. Of course, it was the same sun she'd known all her life, the same one that shone on the Earth, but here on Mars it was half the size while somehow still retaining all its painful intensity. She put a hand over her face and told the AI to shut the curtains.

The light continued unabated. Removing her hand for a moment and squinting, Geranium noticed there was not only no AI, there were no curtains either.

Where was she? Whatever she was lying on was hard and uncomfortable. A feel of her clothing revealed it was damp. The light could only mean being outdoors somewhere.

'Sarti!' she groaned.

The Helot's face appeared, frowning; Geranium was in trouble, then. She closed her eyes again.

'What happened?'

'I tried to stop you, miss.' Sarti had become adept at keeping her voice at a monotone. Helots were flogged for daring to chastise wayward Elite. 'But you insisted on drinking.'

Ah, so that was it.

'You were at a night club,' the slave continued. 'There was music. You...danced. It wasn't a pretty sight.'

'Yes, yes, I remember.'

Yesterday was her fifteenth birthday, and Geranium had decided to celebrate. There had been a young man at the night club, a good looking young man. A vision of his face swam into view in her mind. There had been dancing and a bit of close body contact. Oh, crap, did she...? No, it was obvious she hadn't gone home with him, but the memory of having been tempted rose up as well. Perhaps Sarti had intervened to prevent Geranium from ruining the family honour.

'Excuse me, miss, but I took the liberty.'

The Helot pressed something against Geranium's arm and instantly a cool sensation passed through her. The headache vanished, the dry mouth eased up, the nauseous feeling in her stomach passed—even the Sun seemed to diminish to a bearable level. She sat up and looked around.

They were in a park. A few metres away a fountain played, the water changing colours every few seconds. Elm trees formed a small copse around the fountain, which fell into a shallow pool. Sarti stood beside her holding a small injector.

'How did you get that?' Geranium asked. The antidote to her hangover was welcome, but now she could think again the questions in her mind had changed.

'As I said, miss, I took the liberty.' Sarti squirreled the injector away and held out her mistress's fone. 'I thought you might need reviving, so I used your credit to purchase this antidote from an all-night pharmacy. It was expensive.'

'How did you know my password?'

'Well, sorry miss, but you did tell me once yourself. Just in case, you said.'

Geranium growled, took the fone and slipped it back on her wrist. A quick check of her remaining credit revealed it wasn't as bad as she'd feared. Helots who stole from their masters—and it sometimes happened—didn't live long. But Sarti was smart enough to appreciate her position as a slave to the deForêt-Bassyngthwayghtes entailed a special level of trust.

'Don't use my fone again!' she snapped. 'Ever. Do you understand?'

'Sorry, miss.'

The look of chagrin on Sarti's face broke Geranium's bad mood. It was hard to be angry at someone who knew so much about her, who had dressed her and washed her dirty laundry and nursed her when ill.

'Just...forget I said anything. Thanks for the cure.'

They'd eaten last night before the binge-drinking session, but now the bile had been chemically neutralised in her stomach it was calling for something more substantial.

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