by D Jordan Redhawk
The Lichii Ba’Cho—the Red Wolves tribe—defend what is theirs in a world where corporations rule and technology is only available to the rich. After weeks of intermittent firefights with the Aryan Brotherhood and dodging the persistent attacks of the Azteca, Dusky Holt and her clan intervene in a skirmish where a lone woman appears to be the survivor.
Sam Elias thought she knew what she was getting into when she agreed to be a courier for Canadian GovMin into the United States. With data loaded safely into her cerebral processor, all is well until her escort is ambushed. The arrival of Dusky Holt and her Ba’Cho saves her life…for a few more hours.
The data Sam holds in her head is wanted by powerful forces who will kill anyone in their way. Dusky knows Sam is a danger to her people—and her peace of mind. With a world in turmoil, and her people at risk of dying out, the desires of her heart should not matter. But they do…
GCLS Goldie Awards
Lichii Ba'Cho — Finalist, Lesbian Science Fiction/Fantasy.
(For immediate distribution)
TRAVEL ADVISORY: NORTHERN IDAHO
INTERSTATE 90, STATE HIGHWAY 95
Wednesday, May 9, 2057
The Idaho Transportation Department, in conjunction with the Washington State Department of Transit and local authorities, has issued a travel advisory for northern Idaho and parts of northeast Washington. There have been reports of extreme violence between the local Aryan Brotherhood and a marauding nomadic motorcycle gang that has drifted into the area. The aggression has included multiple drive-by shootings of established compounds as well as nomadic encampments on both public and private land.
INTERSTATE 90, STATE HIGHWAY 95
EXTREME CAUTION IS ADVISED
WHILE TRAVELING IN THIS AREA!
Any sighting of the Lichii Ba'Cho Nomads should be reported to the police immediately! They are predominantly of American Indian descent and are identified by small feather tattoos at the corners of their eyes. Their patch is red on black, a stylized wolf's head with "Lichii Ba'Cho" across the top, and a rocker patch beneath with "Established 2025."
INTERSTATE 90, STATE HIGHWAY 95
DO NOT ENGAGE!
THEY ARE ARMED AND EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!
* * *
"Thanks for the update, Mindy." She looked at the agenda before her. Scanning the conference table, she noted a smug grin on one man's face. "Hal, how's your project going?"
Sitting straighter, she ignored the gentle murmur from the others present at the weekly staff meeting. "Completely?"
Hal nodded, his grin widening on his homely face. "Yeah. I just got the last of the tests back an hour ago. The programs and counter programs are ready to go whenever you're ready."
"That is outstanding!" She slapped the conference table with one hand, wishing she could express her exuberance in a more natural way. Dancing on the table was frowned upon in the corporate world. One has to make do. "It works as expected?"
"Oh, yeah." Hal gave a rueful chuckle. "I've totally pissed off Acquisitions with this project."
"I'll bet you have." She touched her wrist, bringing up her personal calendar. As she waved her hands in the air before her, she canceled and pushed back various meetings, creating a block of time. "I want to see you in my office immediately after this with a full report."
"You got it, boss."
She dropped the screen, and forced herself to return to the agenda. Her team had worked for three years on this project. The desire to rush through the final stages almost overcame her common sense. Yet now was the time to be even more cautious than before. This project had to succeed if this country were to survive. "Daphne? How's the Corporate Export Regulation Division doing this week?"
* * *
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* * *
With a groan, Sam rolled over on her tiny cot and slapped at the irritating alarm screaming into her ear. Her aim wasn't good after four whiskey sours the night before, and it took three tries before the incessant whine stopped. She breathed a sigh of relief and dragged herself into a seated position. Her movement triggered the lights and video unit, both blinking on to brighten her day and keep her informed of the world's activities. Rubbing sleep out of her eyes with one hand, she arched her back and stretched out the other arm, nearly touching the opposing wall of the cubicle she had rented for the night. She swung her feet over the edge of the cot. The video unit was programmed for national news and, as she used her fingers to pull the worst of the tangles out of her short hair, a newscaster discussed the recent troubles in the United States. Some corporation or other had actually had the audacity to declare war on the government, and several experts had been brought in to discuss the matter. "Volume down." The vid-unit obeyed as she braced herself for the coming day. Standing, she turned and shoved the cot into the wall. It disappeared into its slot, leaving her more room to maneuver. A low hum emanated from behind the partition as the mechanism within sucked the used sheets off and sterilized the thin plastifoam mattress. She pulled a smaller drawer out of another wall at waist height and used the tiny sink to splash water onto her face.
Today's the big interview. Drying her hands and face with her personal towel, she rummaged in her rucksack. She changed into a fresh pair of skivvies, tossing the soiled ones into the incinerator chute. Sniffing at the jumpsuit she'd worn the day before, she wrinkled her nose. She donned it anyway, promising herself a stop at a 'suit kiosk on the way to the GovMin complex. As she entertained herself with possible outfits, she pulled a mirror and makeup case from the bag. After several minutes of careful application, she studied her face with approval. Running a brush through her hair, she mourned the lack of credits needed to have included a shower in the price of the room. Being freelance and between jobs was a bitch. Hopefully this interview would pay her enough to not only upgrade her storage capacity, but also buy a few essentials. If it also opened a few doors for future lucrative work, she wouldn't complain.
Sam packed her belongings and glanced around the now bare cubicle. The video still flickered and mumbled, suggesting she buy a popular product that would stave off baldness. "Time to get a move on." She shouldered her rucksack and exited the cubicle.
Dusky leapt across the creek embankment, its sudden appearance hardly breaking her stride. Behind her, she heard Remy panting. He's getting too old for this shit. Ahead, she caught sight of Shake crouching along the water's edge where the creek doubled back across their path. He touched a rock, lifted his head and peered at a mark farther on. Dusky slowed her pace, one ear open for pursuit though they were too far into the Coeur d'Alene National Forest for that to be a serious threat. She reached the next track before Shake did, pausing to examine it. A left boot print, still wet, the sole torn where the little toe would be. Remy's arrival was heralded by a light footfall. Dusky looked up. Using sign language, she gave them direction, and they were off again—past the creek, through a copse of sallow trees. Snarling in silent victory, she spotted their prey ahead of them staggering through a small hollow. With another quick series of hand signals, she ordered Shake to flank left and her uncle right.
They'd been chasing this bastard for two days. Oblivious to the presence of his enemies, he looked the worse for wear as he stumbled through the undergrowth, his clothes soiled and tattered by his wild flight. As Dusky drew near, she smelled urine and the sour sweat of fear. Good. He has reason to be afraid. He didn't know how close he was to the end of his life, didn't hear her quiet approach as he huffed along, his feet making more noise than a herd of cattle. Not that many herds of cattle roamed the countryside these days; most protein production in the United States was either vat-grown or crammed into huge slaughter yards of the Midwest. Bushes reached out, snagging the man's clothes as he passed. He'd tied his greasy hair back with a strip of cloth. The long strands had fallen into his eyes anyway, hampering his vision. His camouflage shirt hung open, ripped and stained, the hated patch on one shoulder half torn away to flap with every lurching step.
Dusky vowed to wipe her ass with that patch and mail it to his fucking mother.
He tripped on a tree root, hitting the ground with an audible grunt. Before he could push to his feet, she pounced, putting all her weight between his shoulder blades. The soldier exhaled sharply, filthy hands scrabbling at the dirt in useless terror. Dusky leaned all her weight upon him, pinning him like a bug on display.
"Stay put." Remy spoke loud enough for the struggling man to hear. Her uncle materialized in front of them, the well-worn rifle loosely aimed in her direction.
The soldier froze, easing Dusky's struggle. Handcuff him? She decided against the measure. Much more satisfying to watch him wiggle when I pluck off his legs. Shake emerged from the forest, his young face hidden behind orange and red stripes. He squatted a few meters away to watch the proceedings, trusting her to avenge them. Remy's warpaint consisted of blue and yellow spots, and he'd braided feathers and fetishes into his beard. Green eyes never left their prisoner, yet he gave her a slow nod. Time to finish this.
As much as Dusky wanted to drag this out, make their prisoner suffer for all the misery he and his friends had inflicted on her family, she knew there had to be a quick end. Though her dead called for vengeance—for hot blood to spill over her hands as she skinned her enemy alive—she had an appointment to keep and was being pursued by the law. Regretful, she pulled her Heckler & Koch USP auto-pistol from its holster, the slither of metal against leather louder than the soldier's heavy breathing. Wrapping her free hand in the man's hair, she grimaced at its oily texture. Her knee ground into his back as she turned in place, aimed and shot out the back of his left knee. His scream was welcome, but she nearly lost her balance as he jerked with pain. He wouldn't lie still, so she tightened her grip in his hair and tugged his head back to keep him from throwing her. Grinding the hot barrel of her pistol into his cheek, she leaned forward. "That's for Remy's brother, Ice. My father. The man you crucified for not submitting to your racial dominance."
Her uncle nodded in grim satisfaction, the beads and bone in his beard and hair rattling.
Dusky pulled the pistol away before she could prematurely blow off the soldier's face. This was the last of them; she had to make it count. She turned and shot his other knee, this time better prepared for his violent reaction. "That's for Shake's mother, Lucinda, an old woman your convoy ran down in Post Falls last week."
Across from her, Shake gave the soldier a vicious smile, his teeth startling white against the colors striping his skin.
She pushed off of him, knowing her quarry couldn't escape now. He rolled over, writhing in the bloody dirt, crying in pain. Bits of bone showed through the mangled flesh and filthy pants, and he grasped at his thighs as if wanting to hold the wounds. "You fucking squaw bitch!" he sobbed. "Fucking bitch! All you spics ought to be dead!"
Dusky stood over him, aiming for his head. He clung to the last vestige of his hatred as he glared at her, daring her to finish him off. Too easy. She wasn't willing to allow his release so quickly. Better he die in agony, his blood soaking into the sacred earth to replenish what he and his kind had taken from her. She lowered her pistol and shot his manhood. His scream was high-pitched as he rolled onto his side, grasping for something no longer there. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw both Shake and Remy cringe from her judgment. She knew neither would interfere and that Remy, at least, understood why this punishment was bestowed. Shake had been scouting when they'd discovered the final resting place of the last of their people, fortunate to not have seen what this bastard's friends had done to their families.
She pushed the soldier onto his back, foot on his shoulder to keep him in place. Blood loss, pain and exhaustion served to tame him as he whimpered beneath her. "That was for my sister, Camilla." She leaned forward to stare into his face. "She was nine years old. Your people raped her to death three days ago." Finally she saw shame as he closed his eyes and turned his head. Satisfied, she holstered her pistol and pulled her knife. With three quick movements, she scalped him, holding it up for the others to see. It was easier to do than she'd thought, glad that Remy had given her pointers before this encounter. "This is for the Lichii Ba'Cho, the Red Wolves. Your Aryan Nation is dead, just like you are. We prevail; you're shit."
Dusky tied the filthy hair to her belt. She remained long enough to rip the offending patch from his shoulder and spit in his face before walking away. Moments later, she trotted into the wilderness, leaving him to the tender mercies of her people. When they finished with him, they'd follow. They were her clan, her blood, and she their chief. She'd wait at the motorcycles for their return.
Justice had been served.
Sam got off the public transport tram in the center of Vancouver, British Columbia. She gave her datacomm a quick glance, accessing the GPS signal, and proceeded west toward the Canadian GovMin complex. Pedestrians, bicycles and electric cars crammed the streets. Blinking neon vied for consumer attention, their lights as garish as if it were full dark. A colorful mix of people filled the sidewalks—stodgy business folk in their designer suits of the day, people in utilitarian jumpsuits much like Sam's and a colorful rush of teenagers with neon hair and the latest cyber-rage of cat's eyes and whiskers. On the outskirts, near the alleys stood the occasional booster gang member, slinking around in leather and enhanced musculature, sporting blatant metallic limbs and cyberwear. It was too early in the day for the real freaks to be up and around yet.
She passed a full-sized interactive panel, drawing to a halt as it depicted a pristine 2023 Suzuki Hiro-Masuka Special in midnight blue. The picture faded into darkness, and "MOV" flashed three times before the words "Museum of Vancouver, Archaic Automotive Exhibit" slowly reappeared. In small print below, it gave dates for the exhibit, hours of operation and price of entry. Sam sighed. Canada had adopted an electric-only vehicle system twenty years ago, first by banning the sale of petroleum-based automotives. Laws had become more stringent as time had passed, and now it was illegal to build or maintain most combustion engines. I need to find another hobby before I get arrested. Shaking off the thought, she continued on her way.
The GovMin complex was a series of staunch gray buildings covering four city blocks. Here the hue of pedestrians shifted, the vibrant colors of the younger crowd all but disappearing in favor of impeccable business outfits. The difference was striking enough for her to worry whether she'd made the wrong choice when she'd chosen the dark blue jumpsuit from the kiosk on her way here. The color was just light enough to make her stand out in the crowd of people waiting for admittance into the Admin building.
In the foyer, she was split off from the workers, queueing behind a much smaller crowd of visitors. At her turn, she put her rucksack on the conveyer for examination and awaited instruction to pass through the scanner. Do I want a job here? The idea of having to go through this rigamarole on a regular basis put a damper on the idea of having a steady job. She put her hands up and turned sideways so the scanner could get a good image, glancing once at the workers slipping past security with their ID cards and minimal checks. I guess if you pass the background check it's different.
"Okay." The guard, a burly fellow dressed more for a riot than an office job, waved her forward with a meaty hand. "Destination?"
"Communications Department. I have an appointment with…uh…" Sam paused a second, fleeting panic in her mind as she tried to recall the information. Her phone was in her rucksack, and she had the Terminator glaring at her with suspicion. "Robert. Robert Barry."
"Name?" The behemoth looked at a datacomm, a thick finger scrolling through the day's appointments.
Another split second of panic. "Sam Elias." She blew out a breath, feeling silly for almost forgetting her own name.
He held his hand out. "ID." Fumbling, she produced her ident card and watched him study it with fierce concentration. It must have passed his test, for he handed it back to her and directed her to a small alcove. "Over here, Ms. Elias. Stand against the wall." A line of numbers ran up the side, indicators of height. He moved a camera on its stand, raising it level to her face. "Look into the camera." Flash. By the time she could see clearly again, she was on her way to the elevator with her rucksack. She lifted the visitor ident card clipped to her pocket, seeing her upside-down visage—short blond hair, wide blue eyes and a slight expression of befuddlement on her face. One seventy-five centimeters? I need lower heels.
It took her forty-five minutes, four more security checks and three waiting rooms before she was ultimately escorted into an office that wasn't much bigger than the cubicle where she'd spent last night. A small desk with two chairs adorned the room, with a state-of-the-art computer contrasting the drab appearance. The only attempt at ornamentation was a potted plant. Left alone, she sat in the available chair to wait. Surreptitiously, she reached out and touched the plant, admiring the texture of it. Wow! It's real! She resisted the urge to filch a leaf, forcing her hand into her lap. Despite the tiny size of the office, owning a real potted plant in this age of nearly total environmental breakdown was a sign of wealth and power. It scared her a little. She wondered what this job would entail if someone this high up the governmental hierarchy was involved.
She didn't have long to speculate. The door behind her opened, and a man entered. He wore his brown hair short and neatly groomed, with a slight touch of iridescent hair gel to indicate he was still young and in touch with the younger set. His jaw was chiseled, and he wore his sideburns to a point along his cheekbones. "Sorry to have kept you waiting, Ms. Elias." He smiled and offered his hand. "Thank you for coming. I'm Robert Barry."
The touch of cool metal met her touch. She looked down to note the cybernetic limb. "Please, call me Sam."
"Of course. Sam." He gestured for her to remain seated as he sat at his desk. "If you'll excuse me for just a moment." His smile was apologetic. "I haven't quite had time to review your file." He logged in to his computer, clicking at the keypad.
"No problem." She utilized the time to study him. He was good looking and had a well-polished air about him. Though he was probably ten years older than she, the sideburns suggested he hadn't become a stuffy old politician just yet. He exuded an intense calm and pleasantness. She wondered if he was on the political track. The lack of data implants would stand him in good stead with the traditionals, yet the cyberarm would give him an edge with the wetware crowd. He had that winning smile and "real people" look going for him.
He looked up from his files, interrupting her perusal. "You've come about the courier job. Do you have any idea what it's about?"
"Actually, no." She gave him a rueful grin. "A friend of mine has taken work through GovMin—Trace Foster?" He nodded in acknowledgment of the name, and she continued. "He was already on another assignment when this job came up on the GovMin data stream. He's the one who suggested I apply."
"Have you been in this line of work for long?"
She wished she could elaborate the truth a little, but chances were that he had her entire life on that computer screen before him. Lying would guarantee she wouldn't get the job, and she had bills to pay and a need to eat. Besides, getting a government contract—even on a short run like this—could net her more work in the future. "About a year."
"I see." He flicked through more computer files. "And how many jobs have you completed?"
"All told, I've had six runs. The first three were minor. The latest one, however, was a two-fifty gig file for Consumer Affairs." She reached into her rucksack for a data sheet. "If you'd like a copy of my rÃ©sumÃ©—"
"No, that's quite all right. I have it here." Robert indicated his computer screen. "How much storage capacity do you have?"
"I hold up to five hundred gigs at present. More if it's compressed." She refused to fidget under his frank perusal, drawing upon years of fighting for what she needed to succeed as she smiled back with confidence. He didn't need to know she trembled so hard inside that she felt she'd explode at the slightest provocation.
Robert straightened in his chair. "I think we can take a chance on you. Your records are in order and the references you gave us all attest to your dependability and professionalism." Before she could react beyond her eyes widening, he raised his hand. "You haven't heard the details, yet. You still have time to turn the job down."
Fat chance! "I doubt I will, but give me the details."
"We need you to transfer approximately a terabyte of compressed, highly classified data. It'll be encrypted. Transportation and security has been set up. You'll be entering the United States for delivery to Boise, Idaho."
Sam blinked. The States? The thought of getting her hands on a real combustion engine flashed across her mind. The United States had yet to sign the Saareban Protocol and was one of the largest exporters of automotive materials. "Who'll be my contact?"
Robert smiled at her. "Not until you sign the contract."
Sam madly worked out the details. The States. Travel between the two nations was frowned upon; Canada GovMin thought their southern neighbor was a safety hazard to their people and with good cause. The strife between global corporations and Uncle Sam had gone on for decades as the two entities struggled for power. It was a normal news day to see the worldwide results of their guerilla actions against one another wherever they had outposts. "You said transportation and security have been set up?"
"What about the return trip?"
"Transportation is provided. Obviously, security won't be needed at that point."
She made her smile as winsome as possible. "Any chance for a…um…layover?" Robert grinned, and she was glad he understood. An old man would never have made the connection so immediately or looked upon her favorably for her desire to do more than make a data delivery.
Robert cocked his head. "How long a layover?"
"A couple of hours maybe? In Seattle." She rolled her eyes. "I would love to see the open-air market there. I've heard so much about it."
He leaned back in his chair and regarded her. "I'll tell you what. You sign the contract, we send you out tomorrow. I'll reschedule your debriefing back here for six days later. That should give you plenty of time to get back."
"You've got yourself a courier, Robert."