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Here Lies Sarah Eaton: Part 3
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<arthur_wellesly@hotmail.com>
Date: 8 September 2006, 3:56 am

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       Sunlight crept slowly into the musty hotel room, peeking timidly through the thin curtains. As the gentle morning glow gradually illuminated her brother's face, Sarah Eaton was once again struck by how different Michael was in appearance to herself. Shorter than she was, he also had a layer of fat that obscured a considerable frame. His skin, too, was much darker. Certainly, he had spent much time under the hot Corsini sun while she was kept under the unnatural light of the fluorescent bulb, but nevertheless he seemed naturally swarthier.

       He was her brother, though; of that, no doubt lingered. She felt so different in his presence, hearkening back to a time far beyond what she could recall. She could not put a word to it, could only describe the physical sensation: warmth. For so long she had felt so cold, forever shivering whatever the temperature, as if the chill had come from within, emanating from her core. Yet here in this hotel room, talking of what had happened since their separation, the soothing heat embraced her almost tangibly, as a blanket would.

       Presently, Michael was taking a long drink from a sizeable flask. He seemed to take an inordinate amount of pleasure from the contents, sighing blissfully after each hearty swig. She was not certain, though it seemed to her that drinking at sunrise was not proper behavior.

       Of course, little here seemed to fit what she was taught to be proper behavior.

       After swallowing his latest mouthful, Michael tipped the flask in his sister's direction and gave her an inquisitive look.

       Sarah shook her head and held up her hand. "I don't drink," she said quickly.

       He retracted the proffered flask and gave a short, nervous laugh. "Of course not."

       Elisa had still not risen and Michael did not want to disturb her rest. In any case, sleep was the last thing on his mind. Many things were still to be discussed with his sister and her mysterious return.

       Michael twisted the cap back on the container and dropped it to the floor, turning to look at his sister directly. "It still stretches my belief that I am talking with you now," he confessed. "I must ask how you came back to me. For that matter, how you left me."

       "I was taken from our home," she said, struggling to recall. "The last memory I have of home was in my bed, trying to get to sleep. Sleep found me quickly and instantly, and I awoke next on Reach, told that we would be trained to be humanity's vanguard."

       Michael's eyes opened in sudden understanding. "I recall the day well," he said suddenly. "The morning after the night you speak of, you were much changed. You had trouble performing the most basic tasks and could not remember the faces of many outside our immediate family. But more than that, you lost your fire, your spark." He squinted as he closely examined her. "It was your eyes most of all—my God, how blind I must have been not to see it: the brilliant green of your eyes that danced and glowed as they do now was replaced by a dull sheen, as if nothing was truly there…"

       "None of this I knew," Sarah answered gently. "All I could understand was that everything had changed, and nothing would ever be the same again."

       "But you escaped?"

       "I did. It was barely a challenge: a perimeter fence was all that separated us from our freedom. They had depended so long on our fear keeping us captive, and for a very long time they were right. I resisted for years becoming what they wanted me to be—on no moral grounds, I assure you. The very concept of morality was taught to us academically rather than intuitively, and as a topic it was generally considered negative and counter-productive to our mission. Yet after a time, after they taught us to…" She could not go on. "It was killing me. I had to leave.

       "I was sure it would be my end, but I was careful and I knew the land well. It was so easy to slip away and blend in with the crowd of civilization, and then to steal a civilian shuttle. I left Reach and headed for Vesta."

       At this, Michael's face darkened. "You traveled to Vesta?"

       "Yes, but upon arriving I found nothing there and no one left. The sight of my home in ruins, even if it was such a distant memory as to be naught but an ideal, filled my heart with the greatest sadness. It was with much difficulty that I tracked you here."

       "Much has happened in your absence, Sarah," Michael told her heavily. "Three years after you were taken, war gripped our system. Palmyra, a nearby colony, had felt slighted for a long time as they were not granted Earth-equal status in the Council as Reach was, despite having comparable population and economic power. It came to rebellion in 2519 when they kicked all the Marines and UN personnel off the surface, killing a good many of them, too. There the UNSC thought the conflict would stay and eventually end, as Palmyra, like all colonies, had no navy. But they converted their vast civilian fleet into a makeshift fighting force, carrying an army of nearly half a million men. They traveled to Vesta, to our home, the closest colony to them which boasted substantial shipyards.

       "No one saw it coming. Never before had rebellion spread beyond a colony by military means. The Palmyrene rebels overwhelmed the small fleet defending our planet by sheer numbers and by mass boarding. With control of the air, the surface surrendered forthwith." Michael shook his head regretfully. "They couldn't have known, but what a mistake it was to let them seize us on a whim!

       "Once on the surface, the rebels made life miserable for us. They imposed Martial Law and imprisoned the ruling party. They took Mom soon after arriving… I never saw her again…

       "We all wondered what the UNSC was doing. Of course mobilizing one of the largest fleets in history while dealing with any number of Outer Colony Rebellions took time, but that meant nothing to us as we suffered under their oppression. Over the next year, the rebels transported an additional million men to Vesta. Cities were ravaged as they were turned into veritable fortresses, for the strategy was to stay in urban areas as it was thought the UNSC would be unwilling to utilize its inevitable air superiority in the dense cities. Our city, Massilia, was devastated, its beauty crushed beneath the boots of nearly two million soldiers. You and I were forced into crowded shelters as your condition worsened, and I began to think no punishment would be severe enough for these rebels.

       "The UNSC finally came a year later with about half a million Marines and a fleet of nearly a hundred warships. The rebel fleet, comprised now of several captured UNSC ships, fled immediately in the face of such firepower to defend their home world. They ordered their men on the surface to fight as long and as hard as possible, so that the war might become so devastating that it would force the Council to recognize Palmyrene independence.

       "And it was devastating. Thousands died on both sides as the fighting quickly devolved into urban warfare, and thousands more civilians were caught in the crossfire. Millions fled the planet as the Marines began liberating much of the planet; those that could leave. Many of us were still trapped in the hell of the big cities, dying in such numbers each day as to leave a scar on all our souls.

       "Yet the war was being won. With lines of supply open to the UNSC, more troops arrived each day as the rebels were battered down. At last, the weight of arms was so heavy against them, the rebels decided to flee the cities, though they exacted a terrible toll as they left: nuclear bombs were detonated in all the urban centers upon their retreat, reducing what was left of the beauty of our planet to utter ruin. Civilian casualties soared into many millions. The rebels then began to fire chemical and nuclear missiles across the surface, rendering huge swaths of the planet uninhabitable and killing untold numbers of Marines and civilians. The UNSC then did the only thing left to them: they evacuated the planet, Marines and civilians all, after which they began their own massive orbital bombardment of the colony, to drive the rebels from the expansive wilderness.

       "It worked, of course. The rebels had no choice then but to surrender, but the bombardment further ravaged our home. The war was won, at the cost of an entire world and over seven million dead. The UN, however, then had to deal with a new problem: twenty million civilian refugees that needed a new home, for Vesta had been rendered entirely uninhabitable. For most of them, the problem was solved easily enough—many had family on other colonies or at least the money to buy their way elsewhere. All that was left was the bottom of society; the poor, the destitute, and, like us, the orphaned. Four million of us. So they found a newly terraformed and uninhabited planet to settle us. And that was how we came to Corsini."

       "So they just dumped you here?" Sarah asked in subdued astonishment. "Four million people of no means on an undeveloped planet?"

       "It was not entirely their fault," Michael said, though his bitter tone indicated otherwise. "You see, after the first nuclear detonation on Vesta, the Palmyrene government immediately condemned the actions of their own army. They surrendered at the end of 2521, months before the rebels on Vesta offered their capitulation. The UN, realizing Palmyra still posed a formidable threat, were light on retribution given the destructiveness of the war they were responsible for. The terms were an extra tax levied to help pay for the damage done and a temporary suspension of Colonial rule; beyond that, the people of Palmyra suffered little more. Combined with the fact that the UN let Vesta be taken so easily and then contributed to its destruction, much resentment was bred among the refugees of Vesta.

       "There was a small group of intellectual elites among us who painted a wonderful picture of a world free from UN influence, and the bitter survivors rallied around the idea. This group formed the Governing Body of Corsini, and the UN granted the new colony complete, indefinite autonomy with only a limited mandate. The UN was quick to agree, eager to unload the burden and unworried about the threat from a colony of only four million. What no one had realized, however, was that along with the bottom rung of society came all the criminals of old, who seized upon the situation quickly to further their own ends. No sooner had the Governing Body been established that they were bought or bullied into the crime lords' pockets. Now we all live under the thumb of these corrupt kingpins; there is no law, no order."

       "But that man, the man in the bar…" her voice trailed off at the memory, but she shook her head and continued. "He identified himself as a police officer."

       Michael snorted. "As part of the mandate which granted us autonomy, we were required to have a bare minimum of social services, including a police force. These 'officers' are no more than bagmen for Dayan; that they are emboldened by their badges to greater violence is perhaps their only notable trait."

       "Dayan?" Sarah asked.

       "Eyal Dayan. He is the criminal ruler of this sector. This city we are in, New Massilia, is the largest settlement on this colony right now, of two and a half million people. North of the bay went to Tokugawa Yakuchi; the south is headed by Dayan."

       "And this Lansing works for Dayan?"

       "Alexander Lansing is Dayan's lieutenant," Michael said, nodding.

       "I am to understand that you work for this man?"

       Michael angrily dismissed her accusatory gaze. "I had little choice in the matter. Working for them is the only job that pays on this planet, and I both you and Elisa to provide for."

       At this, Sarah merely shrugged. "And we are to meet this man?"

       "No," Michael said steadily, "I am."

       "If I am clearly the source of discussion in this meeting, I think it would be appropriate if I accompanied you."

       Michael sighed deeply, shaking his head. "Lansing wants to see you dead, Sarah. If you come, he will kill you where you stand. Remaining here would perhaps lend me the time to plead for your life."

       Sarah rose from the bed and retrieved her pistol from beneath her pillow, causing her brother to back up a few involuntary steps. "I do not believe you have adequately assessed the situation. Criminals operate successfully by rule of fear; if Lansing wanted us dead, he would mobilize his men and scour the city top to bottom, gathering as much attention as he could. He would make an example of you, and use the opportunity to intimidate the people and assert his absolute power over them, as well as impressing his superior. Quietly asking you to come to him suggests he wishes to keep what happened under wraps so he can further whatever agenda he has that in some way involves us. Besides," she continued, sliding the weapon's clip into position, "if I stand before this man and he threatens my life, I would not be the one you need worry about."

       Leaving no room for argument, Michael had no choice but to follow his sister from the room, the look of a man unsure of what has just happened upon his face.

       Elisa had taken much persuasion to remain at the hotel, but Michael convinced her she would only make Lansing less charitable. When Sarah had asked what he had meant by this, he pointedly ignored her.

       Presently they were driving down a dirt road which led through the city towards Lansing's Saloon. The tenements which rose on each side of the narrow street were made mostly of wood, though some looked as if they were just prefabricated shelters stacked on top of one another. In either case, the buildings looked dangerously precarious, as if a gust of wind would knock them all down in a single sweep. As the car could only crawl down the road clogged with people, Sarah could clearly see the shabby residences, even see through their windows where weak lights illuminated cramped and filthy interiors. A foul odor wafted into the vehicle despite all the windows being tightly closed.

       "They call this 'New Town'," Michael said wryly as he watched her studying her grubby surroundings. "The UN contracted workers from the other planet in this system, Pegasus, to build the city. But when the criminals took over, they kicked them all out immediately as they were wary of any UN personnel on the surface. It was up to the refugees to build the rest, but being mostly skill-less, this was the product of their labors."

       "Is there an 'Old Town'?" Sarah asked without looking round to him, busy studying a pair of men dragging a screaming third into a dark alleyway.

       Michael nodded. "The contractors did get some of the building done before the refugees arrived. That's called Whitehall District. There are some very nice homes and community centers there, as well as the marble seat of government for which the area was named. It was all seized by the new rulers, of course, to house themselves and their employees—to keep them loyal."

       "Do you have a place in Whitehall?"

       "Yes," he answered shortly and guiltlessly.

       Judging by the crowds which surrounded the car it seemed the Corsinians spent every free moment they had out-of-doors, enjoying the only small comfort of their circumstance: the beautiful weather. Placed just above the equatorial belt as its namesake had been, New Massilia had warm and sunny days for almost the whole of the year broken only by a short monsoon season whereby it would experience brief but torrential rains. Right now, under the clear blue sky above and with a gentle breeze preventing the heat from becoming too intense, the discarded people of this forgotten planet tried to garner what pleasure they could from their miserable lives.

       "We're coming up on the saloon," Sarah said suddenly, still taking in her all there was to see.

       "That's right," Michael said, impressed she so quickly recognized her surroundings amidst an endless sea of nearly identical tenements. "Whitehall is down further a little more. The saloon is built on its edge, just outside the district proper." The quality of the road soon improved greatly, widening and with pavement now beneath the tires. He was finally able to bring the car to a faster clip. "Let me talk to Lansing, Sarah," he said on the final approach. "I don't want him asking you too many questions."

       She seemed annoyed at the advice, but said nothing as the vehicle came to a halt at the curb in front of the saloon. She leaped out quickly, before Michael even had a chance to switch off the ignition; she was trembling with energy, pent up and ready to explode. He did not even try to calm her, unsure of what response that might produce.

       The saloon was of vastly better make than most of the city, being of solid wood and lit with gaudy signage. Despite this, however, on any other planet but this one it would be regarded as an exceptionally seedy establishment. Its image was not helped by the clientele, scruffy looking men with all manner of weapons holstered visibly across their bodies. To these people, it was one of the few places on the surface to escape the crushing reality of their existence. Sarah imagined what pittance was paid to them went quickly back to the pockets of the criminal overlords in saloons like this one.

       She waited until her brother reached her side before pushing the bar doors open. Their entrance earned them piercing stares from the two men who stood guard at the threshold. One of them approached Michael and placed an arm gently on his elbow.

       "Mr. Eaton, please come this way, sir," the man said respectfully.

       He nodded silently and beckoned Sarah to follow. As they passed, they heard the other guard quietly announce their arrival into a handheld radio.

       Up the staircase which led to Lansing's office, Michael's nerves began to kick in. What confidence he had was robbed of him; his bowels seemed to turn to liquid, his legs to jelly. He was surrounded by men who had both the means and the cause to kill him at any moment. Corsini was a big planet—why had he not run?

       When they reached his office, their guide opened the door for them and led them in. He closed it once they had entered and continued standing beside it so that he was positioned behind them as they walked towards the center of the room. The thought made him stand on edge, and he braced for a shot he would never feel.

       Lansing sat attentively at his dark oak desk. The room was unassuming; it seemed small and cramped, what little space there was crowded with papers, filing cabinets, and the only luxury Lansing allowed himself: a small mini bar running along the side wall. The only impressive aspect of his office was a two-way mirror behind his desk which afforded a wide vista of the saloon floor below.

       "I wasn't sure if you were going to show up," Lansing admitted, speaking at last to fill the gaping silence. His voice had the consistency of gravel and filled the small room with unwavering authority. Wearing a fine suit, Alexander Lansing had handsome features framed by grey hair and a slightly darker beard, all painfully well groomed. He certainly looked his part, even if his office did not. "You show the same courage and good judgment in doing this that I've come to expect of you, Eaton." He jerked his head towards the guard standing at the back. "Search them," he ordered. He looked to Michael with a small, almost apologetic smile. "I don't yet trust you that much, I'm afraid."

       The guard approached Sarah first, patting his hands down her sides. She seemed to spring to life at this like a coiled spring, the energy that had been building during the uneventful car ride unleashing on the man in a single, fluid motion. Seizing the man's left wrist, she twisted it brutally and brought him to his knees with a swift kick aimed behind her. At the same time she brought out her pistol with her other hand, pointing it squarely at Lansing's head.

       He flinched slightly at the sight but showed little more emotion at the spectacle before him. He reached a consoling hand towards her, gesturing for her to lower the weapon. "I'm not looking to see anyone die in my saloon today, sweetheart," he said calmly, staring at her unblinkingly. "I can guarantee your brother's death if you fire at me now even if I'm not convinced you would meet your own."

       These words seemed to penetrate Sarah's clouded mind and she at once lowered the pistol and released her grip of the guard's wrist. She took a deep breath to regain her lost composure.

       "Go to the clinic and have that seen to, Ben," Lansing told the agonized man without looking at him. "And why don't you wait outside for now," he told Sarah, who complied wordlessly and followed the limping man out of the office.

       Alone now with Lansing, Michael found it difficult to remain standing. He was hesitant, however, to sit in the room's only other chair without invitation. Instead he brought himself to meet the steady eyes of his employer. "I apologize for my sister."

       "You never told me you had another sister, Eaton," he answered, relaxing in his chair once more, perfectly aware of Michael's discomfort.

       "It's a long story."

       "I'm sure. Much of the money you earned here went towards keeping your other sister alive, correct?"

       "Yes, sir."

       Lansing nodded to himself as if he hadn't already been sure of the answer. "You were much distraught at her death, as I remember. And now to have this second sister arrive mysteriously at my saloon… she stirred up quite a scene, too, or so I'm told. A shock it was to me, but I can only imagine your surprise. A relief, also, I would think, to see another surviving sister, though I think you were struck by a pang as well. To have something you thought lost brought back to you would make it all the more painful if it were taken away from you; this you understand. And I daresay you won't be expecting any more missing siblings appearing at your doorstep."

       Michael swallowed, though there seemed to be nothing there to swallow. He wondered how much Lansing knew. "No, sir," he said at length in barely more than a whisper.

       "Then let us get to the business at hand. Your sister has twice shown herself to possess remarkable physical ability. As such, she is an intriguing wildcard in this unique and fluid situation we find ourselves in; the sister, no less, of one of my more competent employees. A man who might actually be able to control her and make use of her productively. One wonders how to use her abilities to further our ends here, and defend what we have sought to create."

       "You are looking to start a turf war with the north, sir?"

       "If it comes to that," Lansing said slowly. "But that is not what I speak of. There are events in motion now on Corsini which may bring about the end of our operation, and the danger they present are far more complex than that of the Bakuto. But," he said, getting to his feet and walking over towards Michael, "I've not the time to talk about it now. Take your sister to your home and I will call you later today. Mr. Dayan wishes to speak with you personally."

       Michael raised an eyebrow at this. He had never met the leader of the Red Hand before, and rare was the occasion that he wished to have words with a lowly bagman. He wondered what the meeting would entail. "Yes, sir," was all he said.

       "Then I will see you later." As Michael turned to leave, Lansing called him back. "Oh, and Eaton?" He reached a hand to his shoulder and brought upon him a vice-like grip, causing him to flinch in pain. "May an easy death find you swiftly if ever I have a gun pointed at me again by one you know," he hissed maliciously into his ear. "Do we understand each other?"

       "Sir," he nodded, being all he could manage.

       Lansing at last released his hold on him. "Good. I would keep an eye on her—she seems one to stray from sense."

       Michael Eaton retreated quickly from the room.