Part 3: Talon - Chapter 20

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They were kept in the room for five days. Guards remained outside the door; they could hear them walking about, and the occasional rumble of low voices. They were permitted to use a toilet next door and once a day allowed to wash in the small basin there. At those times a female Helot would stay with them, a sour-looking woman who carried a carbine as easily as the men. Geranium, particularly, found it hard to strip down and clean herself with the woman never shifting her gaze away. They were fed twice a day, and the food was reasonable, but all they had to drink was tap water, which they suspected came from the same basin in the bathroom.

For Sarti, the treatment was the same. Since her refusal to join the Talon, she had been relegated to the status of a prisoner. The woman said little, and spent most of her time next to her mistress, seeking comfort. Geranium felt she had little to give, but at least having her old slave there was some consolation. The woman said she had entered their hotel room as ordered, to collect there things, but there were already two Helots there. They had fired a warning shot to stop her running, and brought her at gunpoint to this house. There they demanded she become one of them, and threatened to sell her in the slave market if she refused. She would be there now, no doubt, had the other two not arrived. Perhaps it would have been a better fate.

They spoke in whispers as they sat together on the thin mattresses that were the only furniture in the room. Leaning against the white, cracked walls, staring at nothing, they at first discussed possible plans for escape, then languished into details of their past lives and families. By the third day, there was almost total silence while they sat and stared at the walls.

In these talks, Maddy informed Geranium of the plan she'd uncovered in the ghost: transmissions between Zeus and someone named Ursula—who was nevertheless linked to a man called Stefan Rix—regarding the mining ship Shepherd Moon. It seemed crazy, that anyone would wish to bring an asteroid so close to Earth and destroy the Earth or the Moon with it. But it was clear that was the intention. Just as insane was the idea that Zeus, the main AI information system of the galaxy, would seek to be part of the plan.

'But that's the Syndicate doing this!' said Geranium. 'The Syndicate wouldn't destroy itself. It doesn't make sense. You're wrong!'

That it didn't make sense was the most disturbing thing about it. She hoped she was wrong, that the messages the ghost had intercepted were simply a hoax, or code for something else, but it was too dangerous to take that chance. She tried several times to speak to Reed, but the guards didn't even pretend to listen to her demands to see him.

On the third day they heard some sort of argument going on in another part of the house: Reed and Campillo shouting at each other. Perhaps there was a dispute over Geranium's proposed ransom. The words were mostly indistinguishable, with Reed much more the speaker. The face of the guard when food was brought to them afterwards was strained. Perhaps the argument had been settled violently.

But by the fifth day, as hope faded that Reed intended to do anything about what Maddy had told him, they lapsed into almost total silence. The hours ticked by. Geranium in particular found without her fone that she lost track of time completely. As there were no windows, she was unable to tell whether it was morning or evening. She spent most of that day dozing. Maddy sat propped against a wall, hands on her knees.

They were roused by sudden noises in the next room: a series of shouted words, a slammed door, running feet. Geranium raised herself on one elbow and glanced at Maddy. The woman had her eyes open, head on one side, listening.

Voices in the next room, and the distinct sound of a carbine being cocked. Then the door opened and two men came in, a guard who pointed his weapon at the women and Reed Hasur. The Helot leader was putting on a shirt as he entered.

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