Doubleblind (Sirantha Jax #3)

7,125
07.03.2019

I feel that loss every minute of every day. If I compartmentalize it, if I don’t let it drive me crazy, well, that’s the best I can do. But the longing never goes away. I want it like my next breath. But I have to focus on stupid shit like diplomacy when I want to start screaming.

Constance interrupts the sad loop of my thoughts. “You said you might require my assistance. What service may I render?”

I have hours before I’m expected at the merchant summit. “Would you play the next entry in Mair’s journal?”

“Accessing.”

Closing my eyes, I wait for the familiar rasp of the dead woman’s voice.

“We lost Tanze today.” The words come stark and unadorned. I can hear the grief in Mair’s voice. Here in the dark, it’s more than eerie, as if she’s reaching for me from the other side. Adele would probably say there’s something of Mary’s grace in the technology that allows me to hear Mair’s words after her death.

“One of the diggers blew, taking out half the supports . . . and Tanze. It’s going to take months to get things running again. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. That boy of mine has been useless since his wife died, but I have hopes for the girl. Men.” She makes an exasperated sound.

“I don’t know why I bother sometimes. Just like that mean, ungrateful bastard. If I didn’t know Tanze wanted me to try and save him, I’d have him shot. Never met anybody so difficult and hardheaded.” Amusement laces her voice, but then her tone drops lower, as if she’s confiding something to her journal that she doesn’t ever want anyone to hear. “But I hate how much I’m hurting him. Breaking him down and rebuilding from the ground up is the only way to go, but he doesn’t understand why at all. I can see it in his eyes, and he’s scared to death.”

Breaking him down? She means mentally, right? She didn’t hurt him, did she? Then I remember March saying he spent the first three months tied. If I have to treat him as a dangerous criminal, tie him up and torture him in order to reshape his mind, I’m not sure I can. The very idea makes me queasy.

Surely there’s another way.

Though it’s probably a long shot, I ask, “Do you know anything about the way Mair treated March when he first arrived on Lachion?”

Constance shakes her head without even searching her data banks. “Unfortunately, my knowledge of that time is limited to the information Mair chose to input by various means. I much prefer my current incarnation.”

I make myself smile though I’m not sure if she can see me. “Glad to hear it.”

“Would you like me to play another entry?”

Pulling my knees to my chest, I nod, grateful for her company. “Play as many as you can before daylight. Maybe Mair left something that will help us.”

The voice of the dead woman fills the darkness.

CHAPTER 18

[Timestamp: 23:04, 114.55.980]

It’s been a month since Tanze died. I’m going to ramble a bit here because I can’t grieve in front of anyone without showing weakness, and I’m not allowed to be weak. But here in my room, surely I can be permitted a few moments to remember my best friend. I can be a scattered old woman whose best turns are behind her.

Tanze. I didn’t realize how much I’d come to count on her. In the past few months, she was more help than Jor. I wonder if people would have accepted her as my successor if she’d lived. They might have challenged her, but I’d have put any number of credits on her fighting.

When that ship stranded her here, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. Jor found her sitting at one of the automated hangars and brought her home like she was a stray. It was rough on her at first. We aren’t always friendly to outsiders, especially not with people muttering how her people came at us during the Axis Wars. I just wish I’d told her how much I came to appreciate her over the turns. Maybe I did that when I adopted her formally as my own, I don’t know. I’d like to think she knew at some level. It’s just not right for an old woman to outlive the people she loves.

I’m trying not to show how much I miss her. The clan expects me to be the tough-as-nails old bird, so I deliver, but it’s wearing me out. In the mornings, my joints hurt more than they used to, and meditation only goes so far. I can’t turn the pain off anymore, not even by directing my chi. I can only dull the ache.

Saul tells me there’s nothing he can do either. This old body is just wearing out, and we don’t use Rejuvenex, for obvious reasons. Besides, I don’t want to see 150. I’m plenty old enough.

Keri is coming along nicely, though. I’m glad to see she’s inherited some of my steel. I know she misses her mother–and Tanze, who was like a surrogate to her–but she’s bearing up well. Her lessons are coming along, but I have to keep shooing the little rat away from where we keep our resident madman.

She seems to think she can save him, but I’m not letting March near her. He’s dangerous, and I don’t know if he’d hesitate over killing a kid. I haven’t made nearly enough progress with him to risk letting him loose among the rest of the clan. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the fact that I promised Tanze, I’d have given up on him.

He’s got a strong mind, which just makes it harder to break him down. The barriers he has in place are all but impossible to get through–and it hurts me as much as him when I manage it. People sure steer clear when the screaming starts.

The irony? It’s enhancing my rep. Word has gotten out that I’ve taken a hostage, and I’m torturing him for fun during my free time. The other clans are starting to contact me, putting out feelers to try and discover who we’re holding. By the time I’m finished, they’ll think I’m ruthless enough to do almost anything.

That can only shore up our position here. It’s been a constant struggle since we lost production in the mine. The Gunnars are snapping at our heels and the McCulloughs are right behind them. Just thinking about it all makes me so tired, I’m tempted to head for the caves, slit my wrists, and wait for something to eat me.

I won’t do that to Keri until I’m sure she’s strong enough to take over, though. Mama didn’t raise any quitters, or I wouldn’t still be here, fighting on. Especially not when my only child seems to have given up. I’m worried about Jor, no lie. Sometimes I think he’s aiming to follow Janel into the grave.

Sometimes I ask myself if the freedom is worth it. There are so many dangers. We could pull up stakes and move, join an easier colony. But then we’d have people telling us what we can and can’t do, making us follow their rules. I never did well with that, which is why I wound up here in the first place.

I guess I feel like I’d be insulting the memory of everybody who died, fertilizing this place with our blood and bone, while we tried to eke out a living. Now we’ve sunk our roots deep, and maybe we’re not altogether safe, but who can say they are? Even beneath the titian skies of Gehenna, there are rapists and robbers within the dome, monsters in human skin. At least ours come clearly marked with fangs and claws.

Ah, frag me, I’m tired. I need to sleep. I have to tackle March first thing. More in the morning.

[Timestamp: 12:47, 115.55.980]

Brutal. That’s the only word I can find to describe what just happened. My head feels like somebody hit me with a hammer, but honest to Mary, I’m lucky that son of a bitch didn’t kill me. He surely tried.

[Rustling sounds, dictation pauses]

I never knew anybody who could do that, but . . . untrained Psi are rare. And he’s the strongest I’ve ever met, maybe even a level ten. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he’s killed with a pure rush of power straight through the brain. Started a fatal aneurysm. The first thing I need to do is check that.

I don’t want to neuter him entirely, but I can’t leave him with that ability. It’s too easy, too tempting. If he wants to kill, he should be forced to use a weapon.

It felt damn good to turn the tables on him. When he went for me, it opened him up, and I went in hard. I hope that taught him once and for all that if he hurts me, I’ll give it back a hundred times over. He was still screaming when I left.

At the same time, I feel like I just kicked a dog that doesn’t know anything more than being kicked. Once you push an animal past a certain point, it can’t be saved. All it knows is pain and rage. It doesn’t know any other way to respond; it’s been burned into its brain. I’m just not sure if that’s the case with March.

Maybe I can teach him something else. Maybe I can rewire him from the ground up. But I won’t succeed through hurting him, I know that much.

This morning, when I checked the bounce, I found a copy of his file from a merc outfit on Nicu Tertius. I asked for that weeks ago, but the satellite relays are none too good out here. Most times I don’t mind the isolation . . . that’s exactly why we’re here.

March apparently served two tours with them before starting his own company. He’s known to be a ruthless bastard who takes the jobs nobody else wants. His men don’t have a high survival rate, but those who do walk get paid like conquering kings, so there’s no shortage of men looking to sign on with him.

Why am I working so hard on this? Apart from that promise to Tanze, frag me if I know. Just . . . the more he fights me, the more I want to win. I guess I’m as stubborn as he is. He’s a challenge I won’t walk away from unless I have no other choice.

I’ll say this, though. If I can’t win, then he’ll have to be put down. Power like his, unchecked by care or compassion, just can’t run free. I hate to agree with the Corp, as Farwan tends to be full of self-important tight-asses, but at least their Psi program prevents the creation of monsters like this.

When I went to him, I caught Keri on the verge of going inside. If she wasn’t such a huge pain in my ass, I’d be proud of her determination to get what she wants. The little rat must’ve been spying because she had my security codes. I changed those and shooed her off to run some drills. Intuition tells me the future lies with her, not her father, so I can’t let some lunatic merc cut her off at the knees before she’s barely begun.

Mary, I love that girl, but I’m too old to have the raising of her. I try not to resent Jor for the way he’s abdicated all his responsibilities. I know he’s grieving, but I want to kick his ass. The only thing stopping me? He’d just let me with a hangdog look, then go back to staring at old vids, while chewing on his cigar. There are quiet ways to die where the body just doesn’t notice that the heart is gone, I guess.

Well, whether I like it or not, I have work to do. If I don’t keep this clan going, nobody will.

[Timestamp: 22:55, 125.55.980]

Connections are everything. Without them, the system stops working. When too many connections break, the center cannot hold.

I’ve never been this tired in all my life.

I broke a man today.

It’s a terrible thing, and I won’t know for months yet whether there’s any putting him back together. I’ve never done the like to any living thing, and I wish there had been some other way, but if there was, I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t fix what was broken without smashing him into pieces and starting from the ground up.

❮❯