This is the next novel in the queue, which should be out in April or May. I thought I would share a bit of the story. This is a science fiction tale from my Inner Worlds Council universe.
Devlin stood beneath the high wooden benches and tried not to wince every time she heard a creak or groan from the wood. The last set of bleachers collapsed ten years ago, killing more than fifty people and maiming others. Safer now people assured her, but she didn't believe them. Devlin didn't trust low tech work on backwater worlds.
And she didn't think much of Forest anyway.
Devlin's plans hadn't included coming to see the show today. She'd watched one Bear Dance and found the show a disgusting display of brutality. Pitting a human against a local animal was barbaric, and she didn't know how these people could watch.
Devlin couldn't decide why anyone would send someone of her rank and tech abilities to such a low tech world. Someone from the office could have filed these reports. She'd enjoyed working on Caliente better than here and she'd despised that world. Forest might be a lovely planet, but she hated the people. Hated them all and knew she'd lost her objectivity.
The reason she came today stepped out into the ring. The locals rated Dancer as the best Bear Dancer ever to enter the ring, which was apparently why he held the name rather than Wind, Silk, Cloud or the like. She thought he must be the oldest of the elite group, though he couldn't be more than in his early twenties. He wore close fitting brown pants with his bare chest showing a couple scars, which meant he'd survived at least one dance gone bad. His dark hair curled around his face, but she could see his calm, almost serene expression. Unlike the last dancer she'd watched, this one didn't acknowledge the crowd. She suspected he didn't care if they watched or not.
The bear stepped from a tunnel at the far side of the ring: a tall, golden-furred biped with arms held down, and head moving from side-to-side as the creature watched the people. He came closer and towered over the human, whose hand didn't even move towards the powerblade at his belt.
The crowd began shouting his name: Dancer, Dancer, Dancer.
The bear began to sway. Dancer lifted his head and mimicked the move and within a couple heartbeats they seemed to be fully in sync with one another. Devlin watched in awe, almost hypnotized by the movements as they swayed and swayed. Both turned, leapt and swayed and turned once more.
Enthralled, Devlin moved closer to the open area. The crowd fell silent, breath held for this amazing show. She saw nothing barbaric in this performance. Devlin felt all her convictions drop away. . . .
A change in sound swept through the benches. At first she thought the crowd showed signs of growing restless, as though the spectacle wasn't enough for them. Then she saw the real trouble as two more bears rushed into the arena.
A shout went up from the crowd and for a moment Devlin saw desperation on Dancer's face, though he never missed a beat. Sway, turn, leap and never slow. He did what she thought would have been impossible, and caught the attention of the other two bears until all three of the creatures danced.
But the people shouted louder, startling the bears. Dancer lost them from one sway to the next, and she saw a clawed hand draw bloody furrows across his arm and side. The other two leapt in to attack as well, and he barely moved out of the way as he drew his powerblade to defend himself.
Devlin reached for her laser pistol and damn the local regulations which stated she couldn't carry such a weapon in town. However, Dancer reacted faster than she could get a clear shot. He killed two bears, leapt out of the way of two bears, and finally killed the last. Quick kills, despite his own serious injuries.
He went to his knees. She expected someone to go help him. She expected --
Anything but the sounds of displeasure from the crowd.
The words rose in a chorus by others, punctuated by other shouts of anger. Part of the show. A dancer had to walk away from the ring.
Dancer bled from deep wounds and the longer he knelt there, the more she feared he wouldn't ever get back up. He shivered and his hand brushed very gently, across the fur of a dead bear.
She shoved her pistol away and lifted her wrist, ready to call in the port medic and everyone be damned again, but she saw someone going out to Dancer. People in the bleachers booed and stamped their feet while some headed her way to leave the arena. She heard people talking about disgrace, which was a local form of ostracism.
Finding an Inner Words Council soldier dressed in the usual white uniform did not improve their mood. She didn't want to be the start of a riot -- well, not unless she thought she could beat some sense into these fools. Devlin stepped aside, bowed ever so politely (so they couldn't see the anger in her face) and let the groups pass while she worked her way, step-by-step, into a shadowed recess where they could not see her.
By the time the crowd cleared out, Dancer had disappeared and she hoped to get care. The locals knew the IWC threatened intervention if they left anyone to die from wounds which could have easily been healed. Even the Founders, with their perpetual battle of wills with the IWC, didn't take the warning lightly.
With everyone gone, Devlin slipped out of the shadows and slid along the edge of the arena, glancing at the dead bears with regret she must have borrowed from Dancer, remembering how he had so gently touched the one dead animal.
Devlin made her towards the area where the bears entered the ring, walking down the dark incline of the tunnel until she came close enough to spot the cages. Blue light cubes lit the area which she hadn't expected. Tech.
A man stepped out of a room to the side, anger in his face. "Not allowed here, porter."
"I have questions," she replied. "How did they get loose?"
"Not your concern." He out bulked her, but Devlin knew she could take him. She didn't want a fight though. Well, actually she did, but knew it wouldn't help.
"If you don't tell me, you'll have to deal with the port commander. Do you want me to send him here to ask questions?"
He scowled. "They got the locks open."
She glanced past him. Palm locks on the cages. High tech for Forest.
She nodded and said nothing.
The man lied, of course.
She head back out, intending to return to the port and write a report: A non-judgmental, even-handed report on how these barbarian bastards would have let the boy bleed to death for their damned show and lied to her about what had happened.
No, this wasn't going to be easy.
Devlin still felt as annoyed the next day and knew she dared not go near the locals. In late afternoon she took an aircar and headed off into the wilds. She couldn't land the aircar anywhere on the soft, unstable ground but she could make lazy circles over a river without worrying about anyone else in the air. There were a total of four aircars on the entire world, and three of them belonged to the IWC troops stationed at the port. The last belonged to the people at the Bear Camp.
Her assignment had been very specific: Learn what she could about bear dancing and about the bears in particular. The people who ran the Bear Camp wouldn't let her see the animals. The Bear Dance was as close as she came to seeing a bear.
She couldn't do this job. She spent the day thinking through her few options. Devlin hadn't walked away from many assignments in her career, even when she went against some surprising odds.
As though a sign from the heavens, she saw the odd, tell-tale contrail of a shuttle coming in. This one wasn't on the usual schedule, but she didn't care. The shuttle meant she could leave this world.
She turned the aircar towards the port although she needn't hurry. Regulations said the shuttle must remain grounded at least ten hours while crews went over the craft. She had time to return, pack her few belongings and tell Commander West she intended to leave.
A glance towards the ground showed a group of bears at the edge of the water. Devlin wished them well. Wished it more to them than she could to the humans at this point. She couldn't stand by and watch another kid get mangled in the ring for the pleasure of these fools. Knowing so might make her wise in many ways.
Heading to the port brought her close to the Bear Camp. After a moment's hesitation, she turned and flew over the scattered buildings. The aircar's vid system would record the scene below, and she could add the scene to her report.
Devlin had gained more cooperation from rebelling port rats in the midst of war than from these people. Hell, she'd had more cooperation from the Lindy Pirates when they settled on Caliente.
She passed the camp and saw the tiny town of Woodvine to the right. On the higher ground sat Founders Hall, a huge gothic structure and out of place here. The people who ruled the world lived there. The Founders held strict power. The last few of the second generation Founders were old, though, and Forest would be a mess when they died. They'd ruled too long. Someone should have stepped in before now.
Not her job. Not even her assignment. She swept past Founder's Hall and on the port, which lay far off behind the Hall and hidden from view, so no one thought about the outside universe.
She went over the tall trees growing at the edge of the port and landed in the small, cleared area near the shuttle. A fortune in those plants, but the Founders controlled all exports.
"Lt. Devlin!" someone shouted.
That couldn't be good. The Bear Camp must have already sent a complaint.
"Commander West wants to see you, Lieutenant." The young man looked her over with a little frown. Everyone knew she couldn't be a regular soldier with the way she came and went at will. "As soon as possible, if it's no problem, he said."
He didn't use the commlink to contact her. Interesting. Something he didn't want the people at the Bear Camp to know, since they were the only people with the ability to hear. Ten minutes later, she took a seat in his office. West was an older man, his hair a bit gray along the edges, his dark face showing creases of worry. She regretted flying over the Bear Camp and making more work for him.
"I shouldn’t have flown over," she admitted with sigh. Admitting to mistakes wasn't one of her better skills.
He waved a hand, dismissing the words. "They complained. I told them to file a report with the Inner World Council."
Good. She could imagine who much those word would have annoyed Governor Spring. Then she realized he must have called her here for another reason. "There's something else? The shuttle?"
"The shuttle brought an Etech, Cha Hao Chan. He's one of the IWC's top ecoscientists."
"Damn. I know the name, though I've never met him. What the hell is he doing here?"
"He's come for the 50 year ecology check. Forest is about due for one. But I get the feeling there's more going on. He's too high ranking for a scut job on this world."
She nodded. "I need to talk to him and as soon as possible."
"He headed straight out to see the Founders," West replied and gave a surprising little smile.
"He got an invitation?"
"No, he did not." The smile widened as he tapped his comp and turned the screen to her. She saw the face of an oriental man who appeared to have some prodigious credits. Not many of pure oriental blood showed up in the IWC, even a century after the Bio Plague decimated much of Earth's oriental population. A true rarity, in fact. "He met Governor Spring within half an hour of landing, and she took him to the hall after he threatened to have the guards take him in instead. And he has the ability to order it, too. He got in."
"Hell. Now I am impressed," she admitted, sitting back and rethinking her plans.
"They'll cooperate rather than have the science board send in a full team, and perhaps station people on world. I would like you to go and pick him up and stick with him. He obviously doesn't understand the dynamics of the world, and he could set things off. He could use a guard and an official liaison. His position isn't going to protect him from most of the people."
"Why not one of your own people?"
"Two reasons. You've spent more time outside the port than any of them, and I thought you might find this useful to work with someone who is also looking at the world."
Good points. But damn. She wanted off this world. The regular ship would be here in two weeks. She could give this a try and see if working with him helped.
"I'll watch over him." Devlin tried to sound professional and not annoyed to find her wonderful plan to escape come to such an abrupt end.
"Good. Thank you. Take your aircar to the Founders Hall and collect him. When I was taken there, they left me to walk back to the port, at night and through the woods. Damned lucky a treedog didn't get me. Oh, and he plans to stay in town. I've already arrange for him to have house 7 out in the new sector and sent his equipment on with a guard."
"Equipment? Tech stuff? In Woodvine?"
"They have to allow his equipment for the official IWC study of the world and I think this is another reason why he needs you, Devlin."
Devlin agreed. She thought this might even be interesting.