Below is the next bit of my novella, Dropping Slow, which I am posting serially during the month of June, as part of the Every Single Day Challenge to raise money for Sharon the Light. If you’re enjoying the story, please feel free to donate via my Crowdrise page ($10 minimum donation) or directly, at this link (no minimum donation). Everyone who donates will receive an ebook copy of Dropping Slow, once it’s all posted (if you donate directly, please leave a comment to let me know!).
The shuttle trip from the station to Thuuiss is uneventful. They discharge her officially just before departure, which reverts her to civilian status and therefore makes her a head of state, necessitating her own quarters. It feels strange, but she doesn’t have an audience for her physical therapy exercises, so she lets it feel strange.
It’s quiet on board, the shuttle’s crew and passengers all part of the Corps and therefore wired. Tace tries not to think about cameras, about gossip or uploads to the Net. She goes to the mess hall for meals, leaning on the cane she, by the end of the day, actually needs to stay upright, and eats by the viewport, watching the stars and dreaming of the blue orange green of ionized gas and dust. She lets it fill up her head as she eats, lets words and the constant reaching and searching for them go, sinks into the images and feelings that are still most of her thoughts, now. Relaxes, for that half hour, and drifts.
There is no privacy on the Braid; the expense of building the thing prohibits any luxury in its few passenger modules. Instead the twenty or so people–military, journalists, business people, and dock-workers–making the days’ long descent to the planet are given berths that double, with some prodding, as beds and seats. Retractable screens give them all some illusion of privacy; Tace pulls hers to exercise. In deference to her status and her injuries, she’s given a berth in the back with push-button controls and extra allotted time in the bathroom–not even the Cisara’s sister can get up and walk the module with impunity.
There are stares when she makes her trips to the head. Some of these people are reporters; she’s tired and everything from her skin to her bones aches, but her back straightens into Corps posture against her cane as she stumps her way to the forward aft compartment; her face arranges itself into the Flogyston stoicism she was taught to wear in times of crisis as a child.
It’s noisy here–not everyone is wired, and therefore the air is filled with conversation and the beeps and chirps of tech–but the volume goes down whenever she gets up.
In her seat she tries to sleep. She contemplates watching vids on her handheld–the same one she left with, familiar and probably an antique by now–but the idea of catching up on the bulk of a series seems like too much. Too much story, too many words. Instead she watches the nebula behind her eyelids and concentrates until she hears the rumble of the engines underneath the human noise.
The photos start as soon as she’s out of the module, leaning on her cane and gripping the handle of her rolling duffle. It is much less subtle than during the trip down the Braid but also not unexpected, so she tries to ignore it as she looks for her security detail. Part of her brain is spinning panic–worry–panic at the idea that Javi or Lin might see photos of her here before–and her brain banks left to avoid the idea of messaging them, flies right into a new cloud of worry–panic–worry, and then …
She knows these faces from the vids. Trini hasn’t just sent her security, she’s sent two of their old team. This man and woman chased the two of them round as toddlers, as kids. They’re both graying and the woman has a scar along her chin, but they stand solid and she knows them, even if she can’t remember their names. Her heart slows down; she takes a breath.
The woman takes her duffle, and the two of them smoothly place her between them to lead her to the exit that, Tace hopes, will lead to a car that will, in turn, lead to a bed. She’s leaning heavily on her cane, starting to breathe hard, and her knee hurts.
When they walk through the doors it occurs to her that she’s standing planetside for the first time in nearly five years, but she’s too tired and aching to do more than take note. Once she’s in the car and they’re moving, though, she can’t take her eyes off the mountains.
The sun literally feels as if it’s burning her skin as she climbs out of the car at Holtzdorrne House. It’s a mild discomfort, strange and, luckily, distracting from the wide sky above her and the crowd of reporters on the other side of the gate.
Trini is the one who opened the car door–she pulls Tace into a hug as soon as she’s completely out of the car, then keeps her close as Tace’s security detail and Trini’s merge to close ranks around them. They start up the walk. There are shouts and the sounds of more photographs being taken, probably video, too. Tace focuses on breathing the warm, damp air and walking, one breath at a time, one step at a time, to the house.
“Mum and Dad are on the terrace,” Trini murmurs.
Panic bubbles up into Tace’s chest. “There’s–I can’t bow,” she whispers, frantic.
“You don’t have to bow. Salute Dad, nod to Mum, you’re good.”
Tace can see them at the top of the front steps. Steps–gods and hell and ancestral curses, why do they have so many steps? “Are you sure?”
“You realize the only person in the country with the authority to execute you is me, right?”
Tace looks at her grinning sister and–surprised–laughs. It’s been a long time since she’s done that, laughed, and it feels good in her muscles and belly. She smiles, tightens her grip in Trini’s waist, and turns to attack the stairs.
copyright 2017 by Laura E. Price. Feel free to link to this story–signal boosting is welcome!–but please don’t reproduce it without permission.