Saturday, June 30, 2007

Friday Snippet

Okay, I'm just a little late!

This is part of the opening to a novel, Vita's Vengeance, which I have on my short list of t0-be-edited-real-soon-now material. I have one other partial novel to get done before it, and if I can just get past feeling awful and start concentrating on things again, there's a chance I'll get to it!

When I did the picture to the left, I had this novel specifically in mind, though not the scene I'm going to post here. This is somewhat long. I hope you enjoy it.

***

Alsandor ineffectually protested as the medtech held him down, his face pressed against the sofa's rough cushion.

"Problems?" someone asked.

"No sir, I can handle him," the woman said, her voice a harsh growl, and her hand pushing hard against the back of Alsandor's neck. "He's too drunk to be any real trouble."

She shoved an injector against Alsandor's neck with enough force to bruise. In the next heartbeat, something burnt through his body like fire rushing through blood -- and he went from dead drunk to so clear-headed sober it made him ill.

"Damn!" Alsandor growled as the stocky woman stepped quickly away.

He sat up, taking quick short breaths to fight away the queasiness. The small, private cabin of the shuttle stank of liquor. A bottle of something -- empty -- lay on the floor by his feet. He didn't see a glass. He hadn't drunk straight from the bottle had he?

Damn, damn. He hated this. Alsandor ran his hand through his long, snarled hair wondering how it could get so bad in the few short hours since he left the ship for the shuttle.

"Orders, sir," Captain Hanson said from the cabin's doorway. The man shifted from one foot to the other. "From Madame President herself."

Elisa's instructions -- of course. They wouldn't have dared treat him like this without a command from someone higher in authority than his own mere claim as co-owner of the ship line. Wealth, and the temporal power of the rich, meant nothing in the face of a dictate from his older sister, Madame President Elisa Vita Taren.

"Councilor Vita?"

Alsandor scowled at the title. It meant less here than it did in the council chambers in Kaiton, which was damned little enough.

"The shuttle lands in less than an hour," the Captain said when he looked up. "I trust you will...be ready?"

"I've put enough Anticol in him that he can't get drunk again," the medtech said, an angry snarl of words as she went out the doorway.

"Ah, you see, Captain," Alsandor said, his voice soft and without rancor. He'd been trained all his life never to show his emotions, especially when it might be politically inappropriate. Always remember how it will reflect on Madame President. "I'll look quite presentable when we reach the capital."

The Captain nodded, and left the private VIP cabin with the frowning medtech a step behind him. "Such a damn waste," she said out in the hall. "Why does she bother --"

The door slid shut, saving Alsandor from listening to the familiar tirade: Why does President Elisa Vita Taren bother to keep him around, let alone appoint him as her advisor to the Kai Council?

Alsandor knew the answer, and it was a shame no one bothered to ask him. She kept Councilor Alsandor Vita because he did anything she asked -- Voted for what she wanted, researched what she needed, and said what she wanted said when it was ill-advised for her to do so. No other politicians in her cadre could be quite as well trusted, even among her most ardent followers. Elisa wasn't a fool. She knew the worth of a brother who had learned to let her run his life at a very early age.

People asked why she bothered to keep him around, but no one asked why he stayed. It was probably just as well. He had no blithe, easy answer.

A cleaning bot scurried out from the wall and grabbed the bottle and the glass wedged under the sofa. See the glass was a small salve for his pride.

A glance at the desk's comp display confirmed what the Captain had said. Dasan completely filled the screen with blue mountains, green and brown farmlands, and the rugged coastline lining the wide aqua sea. The Sofi Islands slipped over the edge of the screen as he watched.

He wished Elisa had given him a little more credit for not being stupid. Before he started drinking he'd taken a timed Anticol dosage. In fact, it kicked in as he thought about it, redoubling the headache with enough force to make him gasp and close his eyes, waiting for the drug's first wave to burn through. He would have been completely sober when he reached the port without her interference. This had been intended as his last -- and private -- binge, banished with Anticol before he stepped out in public.

He wondered if he would hold to his resolve this time. It had been easier, away from the pressures he faced here, not to drink.

The war is coming. His mission to ask aid of the Inner Worlds Council had been a total -- though not unexpected -- failure. The IWC hadn't helped the other Aquila Fringe worlds of Jade, Milanda or Enil, either. Nevertheless, Elisa sent him. It had been tedious, futile work, done for the sake of propriety and nothing more. They couldn't leave such an obvious stone unturned for her political enemies to exploit when she most needed everyone's cooperation.

General Jarak wouldn't have much trouble taking Dasan. The Kai and Anon Districts, still embroiled in their perpetual border dispute, prepared for the larger war but hadn't come to terms with each other -- dividing any strength they might have had. The Sofi Islands remained quiet and neutral, and the half dozen other, smaller districts couldn't have gathered enough military forces to fend off an invasion of cleaning bots.

Restless now, as well as sober, Alsandor watched a few minutes of the Vidline feed, grimacing at the sight of Jarak everywhere in the news. He'd grown tired of looking at the man. Besides, Jarak looked too much like his daughter, Idela. At the unwelcome thought of his wife, Alsandor reached toward the liquor case, and stopped with a curse, remembering why he had such a headache.

Maybe he'd get lucky and Idela had finally gone home to Verdi during his long trip to the Inner Worlds. He didn't know why she'd held on for the last two years despite her obvious dislike for Dasan, and her hatred for him.

And why hadn't he let go? Ah, he easily answered that one: because Elisa, who had suggested he marry Idela, had not yet bothered to suggest he divorce her.

Damn bitter thoughts and he shook his head, welcoming the bite of pain from the headache because it chased away the other thoughts. He grudgingly turned to the work of looking presentable for the people who would judge Elisa by his behavior.



When the shuttle disembarked at the Kaiton Port, Alsandor Vita passed the Captain at the airlock with a friendly, parting smile. Hanson looked surprised and then pleased. Vita charm -- it was one of the few things Alsandor could honestly say he had in common with Madame President. He also shared so much of the same facial features that he'd taken to wearing a short beard and longer hair in attempt to end the constant comments about how much he looked like his sister.

The short walk down the well-lit corridor took him to the port's entry gate. A group of second-string local reporters had turned out to meet him. Obviously, it was a slow news day.

Alsandor straightened his jacket and hurried to the semi-opaque glass of the scanning arch where the computer verified his identity. Scan lights blinked, held, and blinked again, showing the machine had been set for the highest priority, although the full genescan took several seconds longer to complete. People would complain, of course. For Alsandor, though, this proved the first real indication of serious trouble on Dasan. Something had changed since he left ten months before.

He started to step out of the scan booth when a small screen came on, and he found himself unexpectedly looking at his sister. She sat at her desk, shuffling through some papers. The words recorded message flashed in small red letters at the bottom left.

She looked up at him. "San, I checked the schedule and see your shuttle will be down in time for today's council meeting. Try not to be late."

The picture faded. No words of welcome. No hint that she was glad to see him back. A please would have been nice.

"Scan and messages are completed. Please move on."

The computer was more polite than his sister. He looked over his shoulder to gauge the distance back to the shuttle. He owned the damned craft. The crew couldn't turn him away.

The computer chimed on again. "Please state the nature of your problem so we may summon proper aid."

A half dozen answers sprang to mind, of which I hate my life seemed the most appropriate. However, he moved forward into the lobby's main room, with the redstone floor and the pristine white walls. The chairs where people waited for flights were mostly empty but the place still seemed busy. Guards stood in a few locations -- more than had been on duty when he left Kaiton.

Alsandor stepped into view of the reporters with a smile set on his face. He buried the anger at Elisa's message along with any feeling of despair, before the reporters could see it in his eyes.

They asked a flurry of the usual questions, to which he gave the equally usual, meaningless answers. Excellent trip, no problems. No sign of trouble. I am not at liberty to discuss the mission before I report to Madame President.

He started to turn away, preparing to go to Council. He had wisely written his report before the ship slipped into the system, and had spent an hour on the shuttle going over it before he opened the liquor cabinet.

His head pounded still.

"I suppose you're anxious to get home to your pretty wife," Bela from Kai Times said as the others started to pack up their equipment.

"She's still here, then?" he asked absently.

A chorus of laughter erupted from both the reporters and the few people gathered nearby. Idela would have his head.

"Yes, Idela Jarak Vita is still at the estate," Bela said. Alsandor could see her delight with the sound bite. "You're not anxious to get home?"

"Oh, I can't wait to get home," he quickly answered, and it was even true. He loved the estate. "But, alas, I've already had a message from Elisa to come to the Council Meeting. I had better get there before it's called to order. Thank you."

He gave a polite nod, ignoring her frown. He'd already given her more than enough to get him in trouble. He walked away, a quick but polite parting.

"What a surprise. Sober," Bela said loudly behind him.

He didn't allow his step to falter or the smile on his face to waver while the others watched. Elisa wouldn't like a scene within the hour of his return home. Which was why he wasn't drunk, of course.

Someone patted his arm. Alsandor smiled (always be polite, never bring disgrace to Elisa's name), but the man had already turned away. At least it had been a little show of kindness.

Alsandor walked another half dozen steps before he realized his arm hurt, and in the next breath the pain spread through his body. He paused in mid-step and his legs gave out. As he went to his knees he inanely thought the reporters would believe him drunk after all.

It hurt to breathe, and his sight blurred with each gasp. Guards arrived at a run, and a view of the familiar black uniforms reassured him. Safe....

When he started to fall forward a guard quickly knelt and caught his shoulders. The touch brought a fire-like pain through his arm, and it radiated through the rest of his body. He looked down to see his right hand already covered with tiny blisters.

Trine poison.


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7 comments:

Crystallyn said...

wow! What a spot for a cliffhanger! This scene is so well-executed--in every bit there is a sense of who all the players are, the impressions of the people around them. Very well done.

The whole anti-drunk drug makes me smile. We have a friend who works for Alkermes, a biotech firm in Boston who actually makes an anti-drunk drug, which gets injected into the derriere and eliminates all feelings of an alcohol buzz/high. You still have the effects but you don't feel it, so what's the point. Not quite as effective as your depiction however!

Gabriele C. said...

Crystal, you mean, one is drunk but doesn't feel it? Where's the fun in that, lol?

Great snippet, Zette. Alsandor (lovely name, btw) comes across as sympathic despite his drinking habits. But he needs a life away from Elisa. ;)

Dawn said...

Poor guy. Here he was, desptite his feelings, *trying* to do the right thing. I wonder who's after him...

Jean said...

Always good to leave burning questions at the end of a snippet. Very devious to leave the subject of the snippet burning, too.

Very interesting, Zette.

cherylp said...

I remember reading this---I think it was on your snippet blog, or something. Liked it then, liked it now. This guy is going to stop being everyone's patsy real soon now....

Joely Sue Burkhart said...

Woo-hoo, an assassination attempt! Great snippet and cliffhanger.

Bri said...

I did not see the end coming! I was worried when the guy in the crouch touched him - and you built up amazing tension in the scene with the reporters. Also - Alsandor's characters is wonderful and completely sympathetic. I enjoyed his sarcasm and sense of humor. Can't wait for next week :)

bri